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.
|The Coolidges outside the White House. Public Domain.|
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.
|Solarium after 1933, looking southwest, by Jack E. Boucher. Public Domain.|
|President Eisenhower cooking quail. National Archives. Public Domain.|
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.
|Gerald, Betty, and Susan Ford admire Liberty and her new puppies. David Hume Kennerly, 1975. Public Domain.|
Susanne Dietze is a bestselling, RITA-nominated author. You can learn more about her award-winning romances on her website, www.susannedietze.com.