May 28th, 2012
10:44 AM ET
Hidden from the public’s eyes, seen only by those with special access, Washington D.C. sits on a treasure trove of unique spots off limits to the average tourist. For instance, a view from the top of the US Capitol building requires special permission. A tour of the Oval Office demands an escort and a secret service agent. Another one of those special spots sits right under the White House press briefing room.
A sign on a door reading “Restricted Area” leads down the stairway to an indoor pool built for President Roosevelt in the 1930’s. The pool was covered up during President Nixon's administration and the press briefing room was built on top of it. Today, the walls of the former pool are filled with hundreds of signatures of journalists and celebrities who have visited this secret place. Autographs include the likes of music legend Bono and actress Sarah Jessica Parker. Bono even drew his face! Baseballer Bernie Williams left his mark, so did former President George H.W. Bush. Other not so famous people, but those with special connections, have left their marks as well.
The famous swimming pool, now virtually hidden by TV equipment and miles of power and Ethernet cables, was used by many presidents, some even holding swim races with their Cabinet members. Now, it is a simply a restricted area, according to a paper sign taped right outside the door.
As I tried to refresh my memory about who I have seen head down those steep steps, I recall First Lady Laura Bush, national security advisors, the Jonas brothers Nick, Joe and Kevin and many, many more.
Some of the signatures are now faded, but you can still spot Ben Stiller, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace, Steelers’ Troy Polamalu, Matthew Broderick, even signatures from the band Styx. The more I try to decipher some of the names, I find former White House press secretaries Tony Snow and Mike McCurry, along with FOX News' Bill O'Reilly and CNN’s Anderson Copper.
Recently Vice President Joe Biden came by the press briefing room. He was showing members of his family where the pool was located, but he stopped short of the door. Though he didn’t see the treasures on the tiles, his entourage did. Can you imagine people touring the briefing room only just peek their heads inside? In doing so, they totally miss the gems on the wall!
If you are on the regular House tour you might get lucky enough for a First Lady sighting or run into Bo the dog, but you’ll have no access to this restricted area. But if you ever do get the chance to take a look around this portion of the White House, make sure you have a sharpie on hand, ask to see the pool and maybe you too can sign (just don’t get caught).