02.03.13

President Obama Eyes New Oval Office While the White House Undergoes Renovations

The president is likely headed to a bureaucratic backwater as his famed office is renovated. Lauren Ashburn on the importance of location, location, location.

If I were President Obama, I'd be pretty bummed. Seems he's heading off to Siberia.

Now it's true that the Old Executive Office Building, where Obama may relocate while the Oval gets an overhaul, is a grand and stately edifice. It's also right across the driveway from 1600 Pennsylvania. But still.

So long, Rose Garden; hello, big bad backwater. It may as well be a zillion miles away. Anyone who's worth their salt in this town knows the action is in the smaller, more cramped, less stately West Wing, where the president works. The EOB is home to, well, Joe Biden.

Who, when on the prowl at a bar, likes to say, “Oh, I work in the EOB”? Way cooler to say, “Did I tell you I work in the White House?” It's like living in Fairfax County, Virginia, but telling everyone you meet on vacation that you're from Washington.

According to RealClearPolitics, workers are busy creating a new Oval in what's officially called the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and Obama could move in by August so the West Wing can get begin a two-year face-lift.

Don’t get me wrong, the EOB is a beaut with its neoclassical structure and baroque features looming large on Pierre L’Enfant’s storied avenue. It was originally known as the State, War, and Navy Building. Architectural purists rejoiced when Jackie O rescued the “finest example of French Second Empire style” from the wrecking ball.

Imagine—if EOB had been knocked down—a postwar milquetoast, boxy structure in its place. Guarantee this prez wouldn’t be camping out there, even if his new digs are an exact replica of the real thing.

During a recent presser, Obama admitted to being lonely in the White House now that his daughters are older. How's he going to feel padding around the two miles of black- and white-tiled corridors over there? Not to mention those eight gigantic, granite curving staircases—artfully topped with 4,000 individually cast bronze balusters, natch.

It’s like living in Fairfax County, Virginia, but telling everyone you meet on vacation that you’re from Washington.

Maybe that’s why they’ve decided to build an exact replica of the Oval for him—so he feels more at home. But it seems kinda silly, even extravagant, when unemployment is 7.9 percent and the place already has 500 other rooms. That includes the most expensive, the Indian Treaty Room, which cost more than any other room thanks to marble wall panels, gold leaf, and 800-pound bronze sconces. I'm all for traditions, pomp and circumstance, and pageantry for our leaders, but I draw the line at creating an identical office a few dozen yards away.

It may be hard to fathom, but by calling the EOB home, he’ll have a lot more in common with Richard Nixon than we ever thought possible. If you believe the press corps, Obama is not a backslapper, hates going to parties, and can be a distant, pensive leader. So was Nixon—along with a few other choice adjectives like steely and coldhearted. Nixon had a hideaway working office in the EOB during his presidency, one of the places where he secretly recorded conversations with staff and visitors. Now Obama will be in the same building. I hope the comparison ends there.

Who knows? This whole project could be fruitful and dredge up even more dirt on Nixon. Past construction projects on the EOB revealed secret papers and original documents in the walls, sweeping signatures written underneath chair rails, and a document plotting a revolution in Bolivia. Although when researchers hunted down the names on that paper, they found them in a Washington Post article about comings and goings on the social circuit. Sounds like an earlier version of the Salahis.

At least Obama will still have the house with a heckuva backyard, incredible views of the Washington Monument, and a ceremonial guard at the front door.

He doesn't have to leave the Lincoln Bedroom that Bill Clinton loaned out to his fat-cat donors, or the third-floor family room where he plays games with Sasha and Malia. It's just an office move, right?

Wrong. I've been through one renovation too many know that this two-year time frame for completion is pie-in-the-sky malarkey. There’s a good chance he'll never work there again and that Hillary could wind up redecorating the faux Oval when she moves in.