Last time, we discussed water-loving presidents. Now let’s focus on the White House pools and hot tub. The first pool was built during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He needed hydrotherapy because his legs had been disabled by polio. The New York Daily News and the March of Dimes rallied Americans to contribute to the cause, with schoolchildren donating millions of dimes -- and a heated indoor pool was constructed at the White House in 1933.
Now fast forward to 1969, when Richard Nixon had the pool covered over to accommodate the growing number of reporters assigned to the White House. The space over FDR’s pool became a press briefing room; the deep end is directly underneath the podium where the press secretary stands and the shallow end at the back of the room is where the camera operators are. As the years passed, people forgot about the “ghost pool,” as it’s often called. Then, in 2000, workers installing cables descended through a trap door and discovered the empty pool, still intact. Though it probably will never be restored because no president wants to anger the press corps by displacing them, the pool remains an item of curiosity and occasionally gets visitors, who have covered its walls with their signatures. The famous scrawls include those of Bono, Sugar Ray Leonard, the Jonas Brothers, former First Lady Laura Bush, and various artists and politicians.
Avid swimmer Gerald Ford commissioned an outdoor pool to be built on the White House grounds in 1974. The National Swimming Pool Institute (now APSP), was in touch with the president’s staff, offering design ideas and ways the industry could donate to help defray construction expenses. In ’75, the pool was built by National Construction Co. Inc. of Alexandria, Va., the same firm that installed a pool at Ford’s Alexandria home, which he used almost daily before becoming president. The White House’s outdoor pool is rectangular, measuring 22 by nearly 55 feet, and has a diving board. It cost $61,417, paid for by private donations. Later, a changing cabana (pool house) with showers was added, which can be reached via an underground passageway from the West Wing. A solar heating system warms water in the cabana, pool and a nearby hot tub.
The First Families have enjoyed the pool, too. Ford’s son, Jack, took scuba diving lessons there and Amy Carter practiced diving techniques. Barbara Bush and Hillary Clinton enjoyed dips in the pool. By the way, Clinton wanted to renovate the “ghost pool” and move the press elsewhere, but not surprisingly, that did not come to pass. In 1997, she did get an outdoor portable spa installed next to Ford’s inground pool. The 500-gallon, aboveground spa seats seven and has 25 adjustable jets. Watkins Manufacturing Corp. donated the Grandee model to the White House.