Sunday, November 3, 2019

Inside the White House: The Solarium

by Susanne Dietze

The Solarium on the third floor of the White House is often one of the First Family's favorite rooms. It is a private retreat where they can enjoy the view of the Mall and Washington Monument, spend time with friends, and sometimes entertain heads of state or staff meetings. 

The Solarium didn't exist in the early 20th century, but presidents made use of the White House roof in different ways. President Taft had a simple sleeping porch constructed for his family to sleep in during the hot, muggy Washington summers.
File:Calvin Coolidge and Grace Coolidge outside White House, Washington, D.C. LCCN2016893862.tif
The Coolidges outside the White House. Public Domain.
In 1927, the Coolidges decided to transform the sleeping porch into a permanent structure, a square room atop the Yellow Oval Room. First Lady Grace Coolidge called it her "sky parlor."In the 1920's, people took to heart the benefits of fresh air and sunshine, so sunrooms were popular in private homes. She furnished it with porch furniture, a cot, a phonograph player, a record player, and a writing table, and insisted she not be disturbed when there, unless the matter was urgent.

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt gave the solarium over to their grandchildren, Buzz and Sistie Dall, who lived at the White House during FDR's first term. Eleanor began her day by visiting her grandchildren here, and often the president would join the grandchildren for lunch, events Buzz would later describe as great fun.

Once the children were gone, however, the Solarium grew quiet. FDR took his lunches there on doctor's orders, to escape his desk and the stresses of World War II.

During the Truman renovations, the Solarium was enlarged and changed in shape, from a square to an octagon, furnished with wicker furniture, a ping-pong table, and marbled linoleum. It became a place for card parties and family suppers. Eventually, a kitchenette was added.
File:325 Solarium; View looking SW - White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest, Washington, District of Columbia, DC HABS DC,WASH,134-629.tif
Solarium after 1933, looking southwest, by Jack E. Boucher. Public Domain.
The Eisenhowers returned the Solarium to a playroom during the 1950s, and their children and grandchildren watched television there, played with toys, and visited parakeets High Glory and Pete and a canary named Gabby. Eisenhower enjoyed grilling his own meat on the deck outside the Solarium.
File:Eisenhower Cooking Quail in the White House Solarium.jpg
President Eisenhower cooking quail. National Archives. Public Domain.
When John Kennedy became president, his wife Jacqueline turned the Solarium into a preschool for her daughter Caroline. The room was furnished with bookshelves, tables, a sandbox, plants, and spaces for pets, including rabbits and guinea pigs. Up to 20 students attended, and their parents split the cost of the teacher's salary.

When Kennedy died, however, teenagers came to occupy the White House, and the Solarium came into its own as a "rec room." Luci and Lynda Johnson loved the Solarium--and freedom from the Secret Service. The room was furnished with a soda fountain, television, comfortable furniture, and record players, and the glass paneled door was replaced with a solid door so the servants couldn't peek in and watch them. 

The Nixons called the Solarium "the California Room" and enjoyed relaxing there, and while his name didn't stick, his family's use of the room did. Subsequent presidents and their families have used the room for relaxation purposes and informal suppers. The Carters enjoyed stargazing through a telescope here; the Clintons played Scrabble here and threw birthday parties for Chelsea; the Reagans ate dinners on weekends in this room, relaxed to read newspapers, and here, Ronald Reagan recovered from the assassination attempt on his life.
File:Liberty with her puppies & GeraldFord's Family at the WhiteHouse.jpg
Gerald, Betty, and Susan Ford admire Liberty and her new puppies. David Hume Kennerly, 1975. Public Domain.
Occasionally, political events do take place here, but for the most part, it is a place of retreat, and throughout subsequent administrations, First Families will continue to use the Solarium as a place of rest, refreshment, and family.


Susanne Dietze is a bestselling, RITA-nominated author. You can learn more about her award-winning romances on her website,


  1. I love this room! Thanks for sharing the information with us!

    1. Hi Connie! I confess I wouldn't mind my own solarium! LOL. Seems like a delightfully, airy, bright place to relax.

      Thanks so much for coming by!

  2. I don't know much about the White House rooms and had no idea there was a private solarium there. It's great that presidents and their families have an opportunity for refreshment and possibly just being themselves in such a room. Very interesting post, Susanne.

    1. Hi Kathleen! I agree that the White House is a fascinating place! There are so many intriguing, delightful nooks as well as grand public spaces, and each room has an interesting history.

      Thanks so much for coming by and saying hi!