The large, white-painted, brick
Victorian house on the southeast corner of 34th Street and Massachusetts Avenue
in the District of Columbia is over a century old. A typical nineteenth-century
country home in the Queen Anne style, it was built for the Superintendent of
the United States Naval Observatory in 1893 on lands that had originally been
owned by Margaret and Cornelius Barber, wealthy Georgetown landowners. In 1929,
it became home to the U.S. Navy's Chief of Naval Operations, and was named
"Admiral's House." In 1974, the house was designated as the first official
residence of the Vice President of the United States. Since that time, Vice
Presidents Mondale, Bush, Quayle and Gore have resided there with their
Born and raised in Arlington, Virginia in
the home her grandfather built, Tipper Gore and Vice President Al Gore, along
with their children Karenna, Kristin, Sarah and Albert III, opted to remain in
their home until June 1993, when renovations to the house at the Naval
Observatory were completed.
Updates to the Victorian-style mansion
included new smoke detectors, copper water pipes which replaced dangerous lead
pipes, gas heat, a new porch, and an energy-efficient air conditioning system
to cool the 12-foot-ceiling rooms during the hot Washington summers. In
addition, a guest room on the second floor was converted to a family room with
kitchen area, so that the children had a place to go when the downstairs was
being used for official entertaining.
The Gore's own graceful, traditional
stamp of decoration was introduced to the house, with the help of Albert Hadley
(a Nashville native) and the decorating firm of Parish-Hadley.
To commemorate the house on its 100th
birthday, the Gores filled it with a stunning collection of American
Impressionist art, as well as photography from America's Gilded Age to
complement Tipper Gore's wonderful collection of family photographs.
Bringing her own artistic talent to bear,
Mrs. Gore selected works by painters Mary Cassatt, William Merritt, and
Frederick Charles Frieseke, Monet's next door neighbor, and photographers
Matthew Brady and C. M. Bell. This rotating exhibit is seen today against
living room walls of butter yellow, teal blue lacquer in the library to match
the original fireplace tiles, and beige walls with crimson taffeta draperies in
the dining room. Gore family pieces appear throughout the house, as do Mrs.
In 1996, the Wyeth family's third
generation American artist, Jamie Wyeth, painted the house in a star-filled
twilight snow scene. In the foreground is the family's black Labrador
retriever, Shiloh, and, to commemorate his grandfather's work on the National
Cathedral, the cathedral spires are seen in the background. This painting now
hangs in the foyer of the house, on loan from the owner. For several years, the
foyer was also home to the family drum set (both Tipper and Albert III play), a
reminder to guests that the Residence was home to an active family. The new
basketball court next to the pool was another addition, and used frequently by
Vice President Gore and all of the children.
Recognizing the need for a full
inventory of all the official household items which had been donated to the
house over the years, Tipper Gore initiated an organizing effort that led to a
computerized inventory. Many pieces which had not been seen since the early
1980's were found in storage, properly inventoried, and put back in use. These
included pieces that Mrs. Mondale had commissioned for the house, such as a Sam
Maloof rocker (which the designer was delighted to see during a visit to the
Gores), pottery, earthenware, and glassware by John Glick, Fally Possony, and
Richard Q. Ritter.
New pieces were added to the collection
through donations to The Vice President's Residence Foundation, such as a 1910
Serapi carpet for the dining room, a magnificent Hepplewhite sideboard, a
demi-lune Hepplewhite console with eagle inlays (both of these pieces were
received during the Quayles tenure), and 18 reproduction Hepplewhite dining
room chairs to use with the Rockefeller dining table.
Mrs. Gore also started another
tradition for the house: a collection of new and antique Christmas ornaments
and decorations. The National Society of Tole and Decorative Painters donated
more than 800 ornaments for the trees in the house, including tin and wooden
American flags and Uncle Sams. Christmas ornament designer
Christopher Radko donated hundreds of mouth blown ornaments, including glass
sugarplums, grapeclusters, strawberries, and garlands of glass, all in the
Victorian style of the house. These ornaments are now part of the permanent
collection that the Gores have created for future residents.
Vice President Gore's long-standing
interest in environmental preservation prompted a unique landscaping project
for the property surrounding the house. With the help of the Foundation, a
tract of land was targeted for "reforestation," an effort that restores native
and indigenous species which are environmentally self-sustaining to the forest
patches that border the house and public areas. To bring the grounds back to
what they must have looked like around the turn of the century when the house
was built, tulip poplars, red maples, hickory, persimmon, walnut, dogwood,
redbud and American holly, along with a great variety of small shrubs and tiny
native wildflowers were introduced to areas once diffuse with non-native
species, such as English Ivy, which can choke out less hardy plants.
Elsewhere around the house, perennial,
vegetable, cut flower beds and a summer garden are maintained. Plans are under
discussion now to plant the same kind of fruit trees around the grounds that
original owner Margaret Barber would have been familiar with when she owned the
property. The project has garnered great interest from visiting dignitaries,
including Japanese Prime Minister Hashimoto and His Holiness, The Greek
Entertaining at the house often
features outdoor vistas. Tented affairs held at the Residence included the
wedding of Karenna Gore to Andrew Schiff during the summer of 1997 and the
annual, much coveted, Halloween costume party held for the press corps.
The property and neighboring Rock Creek
Park with its many running and walking paths are often graced by the Gores and
their children as they jog, bike and hike the surrounding area.
Portions of the preceeding
were excerpted from the book "The House on Observatory Hill" by Gail S. Cleere.
Photographs courtesy of House Beautiful, copyright c November 1997. The Hearst
Corporation. All Rights Reserved, Oberto Gili, photographer.