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Lonnie Hovey
Background on the Eisenhower Executive Office Building
Lonnie Hovey
Director of Preservation, Architecture, and Conservation of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building

August 5, 2004

Lonnie Hovey, Director of Preservation, Architecture & Construction of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Lonnie Hovey

Good Afternoon. I'm pleased to serve as today's host. Let's get to the questions.

Jeff, from Indian Wells writes:
The Eisenhower Building is where the Vice President and his staff work, correct? And the West Wing is where the President and his staff works.

Lonnie Hovey
Jeff, Thanks for your questions.

Yes, you are correct. The Office of the Vice President (support staff and the Vice President) has had office space in the EEOB since 1960. The West Wing is the location for the President and staff (since 1902 when the building was constructed). However, lots of the President's staff are also in the EEOB.

zachery, from writes:
what does it mean when the american flag is not flying at the white house. school question.

Lonnie Hovey
Zachery, good question.

Unlike other countries where the flag flying or not flying signifies the monarch or president is in the residence, the American flag is always flying on top of the White House whether or not the President and First Family are at home.

Joe, from Orange County writes:
Greetings How many people work in the EEOB? When will the renovations be completed? What makes the Indian Treaty Room special? Thanks

Lonnie Hovey
Joe, Thanks for your questions.

Many people work in the EEOB in a variety of jobs. I don't know the exact number today, but it is a fraction of the 4,500 people that worked in the building during the years of World War I.

Being an old building, it is always undergoing some sort of repair or renovation to maintain this historic landmark. We are embarking upon its first comprehensive modernization in the building's history that will address all of the systems needed for a modern and efficient office environment. Believe me, it is long overdue. No comprehensive upgrade looking at how all the systems work together has occurred since the building was built between 1871-1888. The closest type of project occurred between 1914 and 1916 when the gas lighting was replaced by new electrical systems and all the plumbing fixtures were upgraded.

The Indian Treaty Room served as the Department of Navy's Library and Reception Room from 1879 to 1923. The Department of War used it as adjunct library space between 1923 and 1938 (it was presumed that their treaties with Native American Tribes were stored there, which is how the room's name came about sometime between the Kennedy and Nixon Administrations). The Department of State used it for press conferences between 1939 and 1948. Presidents Truman and Eisenhower also used it for press conferences. The first presidential press conference to be televised live occurred in the room. It has been used as a multi-purpose room since then. The room has been used for some treaty signings such as peace treaties with Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, and Romania after World War Two, as well as the United Nations Charter.

Mike, from Baghdad writes:
Hi Lonnie, Is it true that Thomas Edison once worked the Eisenhower Executive Office Building? Are any of his light bulbs still in use in the building?


Lonnie Hovey
Hi Mike:

Thank you for your questions, and for the work that you are doing in Baghdad. Hope all is well.

Yes, it is true that Thomas Edison worked in the EEOB; however, none of his original light bulbs are in use. At Secretary of Navy Josephus Daniels' invitation, Edison and his staff worked for two and a half years in Admiral Dewey's old office (room 270). They were researching ways to solve the U-boat terrorism threat to the Allied fleet during World War I. Edison felt the final report was his best work ever.

C, from Ohio writes:

Thank You

Lonnie Hovey
Hi "C," thanks for your questions. Many others have asked what is in the EEOB too.

The EEOB houses the offices of the Executive Branch that support the President, the Vice President, and the White House. It is maintained by the General Services Administration, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971. When it was constructed, it had 553 rooms.

Jeff, from Charlotte writes:
Mr. Hovey, How many employees work at the EOB, and do the employees change with each administration, or are they permanent employees at that location.


Lonnie Hovey
Hi Jeff, thanks for your questions. I don't know exactly how many employees work in the EEOB. Many change with each administration, but there are also many career employees. How many of each, I don't know.

Ben, from Murfreesboro, TN writes:
Lonnie, I've been told that the EEOB had some sunlights boarded over during WWII and they were only recently discovered and are being remodeled. Can you comment on that?

Lonnie Hovey
Ben, thanks for your question.

Yes, the EEOB has several skylights. Some are over stairwells, some decorative ones are over the libraries, and some are in hallways and rooms at the attic level. All were blacked out during WWII, and covered with concrete domes as late as 1950 (I think in order to prevent leaks). When the roof was restored in the 1990s, all the domes were restored by removing the black out paint and concrete domes.

Trent, from Washington, DC writes:
Is it true that in the 70's there was a brief movement of people interested in tearing down the building and replacing it with a more modernized structure?

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Trent, thanks for your questions.

I've learned that there have been three movements to tear down the EEOB, but not in the 1970s. The first occurred in the 1870s just after the building's construction began (some congressional reps did not like the "French style" and wanted it torn down in favor of the "Greek style"). The second occurred in 1930 when the Congress appropriated $3 million with the Commission of Fine Arts approval to remove the granite cladding to reskin the building in marble to replicate a Greek facade to match the Treasury Building, east of the White House. The third (and most vocal) occurred between 1957 and 1960 when office space was needed and a presidential commission recommended tearing the building down to build a modern steel and glass high rise office building. Fortunately, the building was spared.

Lee, from Clinton, MD writes:
Looking at the age of the building, has anyone actually died in it? Any ghosts running around?

Lonnie Hovey
Lee, thanks for your questions.

I have researched this and discovered that several people died in the building due to natural causes, accidents, and self-inflicted wounds. 7 died during the last two phases of construction between 1880 and 1888. 2 committed suicide in the building. 8 died in accidents or due to natural causes (all heart attacks). In regard to ghosts, I believe the EEOB is the most haunted office building in Washington due to many stories that I have gathered on strange, curious, and unexplained activities.

Brian, from Jacksonville writes:
When was the decision made to rename the EOB the Eisenhower Executive Office Building? I was just wondering if anyone had considered the irony that President Eisenhower was not very fond of the building, and in fact wanted to tear it down, and now it is named for him.

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Brian, thanks for your question.

President Clinton renamed the building in honor of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1999 for his years of military and presidential service in the building (nearly nine years total as an army officer). President Bush formally rededicated the building in 2002. The irony is not lost on us that it was President Eisenhower's Commission on Office Space that recommended demolition of the building.

DAVID, from WELLFLEET, MA writes:

Lonnie Hovey
Hi David:

Thanks for your questions. I look forward to coming to the Cape.

The oldest statue in the EEOB would have to be the four bronze light sconces in the Treaty Room that date to 1879. Each weighing 800 pounds, the allegorical fixtures represent "Industry." "Liberty," "Science," and "Peace and War." The last one has a Latin inscription that translates as "If you want Peace, prepare for War." The fixtures were restored for the first time in their history in 2003.

The oldest clock in the EEOB is one made for the Chief Clerk's office for the Department of State in 1875. On loan from the State Department, it resides in the EOP Library, formerly the Department of State Library.

Jenny, from Tennessee writes:
What is the building currently used for?

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Jenny, the EEOB is currently used for staff offices to support the President, Vice President, and the White House.

Luis, from DC writes:
Any old treasures or discoveries found or made as the OEOB was renovated

over the years?

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Luis, thanks for your questions.

Yes, many discoveries have been found over the years during the renovation work. Two weeks ago, a subcontractor discovered a cache of old letters, envelopes, and clippings in a closed wall shaft relating to paperwork for the Departments of State and War. After sorting and cataloguing, I realized that over 90 items were added to the collection. They dated between 1918 and 1944. Several of the paper scraps identified occupants and their office location helping us to understand the people within the building and what happened here. So I'm on the lookout for bits and pieces of the building's history everywhere.

Kip, from Holland michigan writes:
Why is this building not very well known? I have seen it--and it is very difficult (okay, impossible)s to miss--so why do people seem to not know what it is?? thanks

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Kip, thanks for your very good question.

I think the building has been overshadowed through history by its more prominent, and brighter looking neighbor, the White House. Because the building's style was out of fashion for so long, people easily dismissed it, and the history that happened within. However, through forums such as this, I can share more of the building's fascinating history. For more history, please visit our online virtual tour of the building at

While the EEOB web pages are good, the website manager assures me that he's going to make it even better, so come back and visit in a month.

Joe, from Cleveland, Ohio writes:
Do White House staff who work in the EEOB have access to the West Wing and White House?

Lonnie Hovey
Joe, thanks for your question.

Some staff do have access to the West Wing, but not all of the White House staff who work in the EEOB. Very few have access to the White House, which is the First Family's residence. Privacy for family quarters is a big reason why President Theodore Roosevelt moved the staff offices out of the White House to the West Wing.

Donna, from Ocean Pines, Maryland writes:
Dear Mr. Hovey: It is wonderful being able to see the restoration of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The architecture, ornamentation and artistic work are magnificent.

Could you elaborate on the designer, decorator and the artisans involved in the construction of this building and who decided on the final plans for construction.

Thank you

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Donna, thanks for your questions.

Please visit the EEOB tour online on another page of this web site for the answer to your questions. Briefly, Alfred Mullett was the Supervising Architect of the Treasury who designed the building. President Grant, and the Secretaries of State, War, and Navy all approved the final plans. The interior decoration was by Mullett or his chief draftsman, Richard von Ezdorf.

Tim, from Clarkston, Michigan writes:
A few years ago I interned at the White House. I think the most interesting rooms are the Indian Treaty Room, the office for the Secretary of the Navy (VP ceremonial office), and the libraries. But the Indian Treaty Room has an interesting was used for a time as the press room...could you tell us a little more about the room?

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Tim, thanks for your question. Many people who work in the building tell me that the Indian Treaty Room is their favorite room. It certainly is one of the building's most elaborate. Please look at my answer to Joe from Orange County for more information, or visit our history page and click on the Treaty Room's picture.

Amy, from Texas writes:
What have restoration has been done on the EEOB?

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Amy, thanks for your question.

The exterior facade has been cleaned and the roof restored, and all of the public spaces in the building have been restored. This includes the corridors, the monumental stair wells, the stair well domes and rotundas, and the historic library spaces. A couple of offices have also been restored, particularly the offices for the Secretary of the Navy, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of State.

Sara, from Chicago writes:
Lonnie,I have a friend who works in the EEOB. She tells me that the stairs within are very steep and that unfortunatly, some have lost their lives from bad falls...and those people now haunt the building.

Have you heard anything like that? is it true??

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Sara, thanks for your question and obvious concern for your friend.

Yes, the monumental stairs in the building can be daunting to maneuver because they are spiral. In the past 129 years, some have fallen down the stairs breaking a knee or their back (research discovered one of each). Secretary of War William Howard Taft fell down the stairs bruising his ego, but declared that new brass railings be installed for safety (prior to this order there was a wood capped bronze railing at the open side of the stair and nothing at the wall). There have been three persons who have fatally fallen over the stair (both after the new railings were installed). I have experienced some unexplained phenomenon, but would need much more space to write about it.

Josh, from Nashville, TN writes:
I have friends who work in the EEOB who say extensive renovations are underway and one entire wing has been closed. Is that true?

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Josh, thanks for your question.

Yes, your friends are correct. Extensive renovations to modernize the building are getting underway and one wing has been closed.

Rhonda, from Texas writes:
Lonnie,Have any Presidents had their office in the EEOB? or are they required to use the Oval Office?

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Rhonda, thanks for your question.

Three presidents have had offices in the EEOB. President Hoover was first in 1929 to1930 (three months) after a fire damaged the West Wing. President Johnson was second after President Kennedy was assassinated. President Nixon was the third. Nixon had a private hide-away office, in which he recorded most of the tapes that got him into trouble.

There is no law that the president use the Oval Office. President Johnson used it for ceremonial purposes and kept use of his EEOB office for day-to-day purposes. Nixon followed that precedent and had a private office in the EEOB away from the press. Nixon used the Oval Office for ceremony too. If you had an Oval Office for your use, wouldn't you want it?

Martha, from Arlington Texas writes:
Hello Mr. Hovey - Since the TV Show West Wing is so popular don't you think there should be a show featuring the EEOB? "Exec Ops"

Lonnie Hovey
Hey Martha, thanks for your question.

Yes, I agree that there should be a TV show on the EEOB. There's so much material to work from. I can see Rob Lowe playing me. While giving a tour, he'd walk through a time warp and suddenly be in the building during the WWII era and bump into Churchill walking the halls.

Bobby, from Sierra, NV writes:
Was the Bill Signing today in the Indian Treaty Room?

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Bobby, thanks for your question.

The bill signing today was not in the Indian Treaty Room, but in Room 350. The president signed the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2005.

Maggi, from St. Louis writes:
Mr. Hovey,Can you please tell me the inspiration of the design for the EEOB? I was looking at the photos and thought it might be neo-classical because it was built in the mid 1800's. I am an architect students studying in Vienna, Austria this summer and am very interested in learning more about this wonderful building in our nation's capitol

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Maggi, thanks for your question.

The EEOB's design inspiration was Pavilion Denon, an addition to the Louvre in Paris, finished in 1852. Alfred Mullett was so inspired that he went on to design nearly 100 buildings in his career based on this style, which is known in America as the French Second Empire style. The style was a short lived fad in America and many were torn down and replaced by Neo-classical buildings. Today, around 16 of Mullett's buildings survive.

Samantha, from Minnesota writes:
What do you think is the most important moment in history that has occurred in the Executive Office Building?

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Samantha, thanks for your question.

For me, I would have to say that the most important moment in the EEOB's history was when the decision was made to save it from demolition in 1960. I can't imagine anything else in its place.

Tim, from San DiegoCA writes:
Mr. Hovey,I have a friend who works in the EEOB and they said the flooring is black and white. They also said the black and white flooring in the TV the West Wing is inspired by this in the EEOB. Is this true? I'm very curious

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Tim, thanks for your question.

The EEOB corridor flooring is made of white marble and black muddy limestone. The flooring in the West Wing TV show is inspired by the black and white vinyl tile that was used in the West Wing main lobby circa 1934. The production designers for the show liked the 1934 interior proportions better than the current interior layout, which was changed during the Nixon administration.

Georgia, from Tallahassee writes:
Lonnie,When construction is done to the EEOB, are certain measures taken

to preserve the history of the building?

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Georgia, thanks for your question.

Yes, many steps are taken to preserve and protect the historic finishes when any work is done in the EEOB. We follow the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Restoration in our work.

Rebecca, from Virginia writes:
Can you tell us one of the ghost stories you've heard about the EEOB?

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Rebecca, thanks for your curiosity. I have several stories and hope to post a bunch of them on this website in October to let everyone get into the spirit of the Halloween season.

Kurt, from California writes:
Mr. Hovey,what is your favorite memoryplacestory about the EEOB?

I am very interested, thanks

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Kurt, thanks for your question.

I'd have to say that discovering that Thomas Edison worked in the building is my favorite discovery. He has always been an idol of mine.

Matthew, from Los Angeles writes:
How old is the Eisenhower Executive Office Building?

Lonnie Hovey
The EEOB was built in four different phases between 1871 and 1888. So the oldest portion is 129 years old.

Dwight, from Kansas writes:
Does the President ever come into the EEOB?

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Dwight, thanks for your questions.

You bet. President Bush was here today for a bill signing, and he comes over to the building often. Other presidents who came over to the EEOB often included Presidents Truman and Eisenhower for press conferences, President Johnson to work, and President Nixon to work and bowl at the bowling lanes within the building.

Robert, from Houston writes:
How can a building of this age serve all the technological needs of the modern White House?

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Robert, thanks for your good question.

It doesn't, that is why we are embarking upon the modernization of the building to serve the technical needs for an efficient modern office.

Rob, from Canada writes:
Thanks for taking the time to take some of our questions. Does Vice President Cheney and his staff work out of the OEOB or does he have a West Wing office? Are there any former Vice Presidents who have not had a West Wing Office and relied primarily on the OEOB one?

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Rob, thanks for your questions.

Vice President Cheney does have an office in the West Wing, and he has an office in the EEOB used for ceremonial purposes such as special meetings, receptions, and interviews. Please visit the website at /history/life/ to see the Vice President talking about the history of his ceremonial office. Much of his staff are located in the EEOB. Since 1960, all the vice presidents have had offices for their use in the EEOB. Prior to that time, they used offices at the US Capitol.

Jaime, from Elkridge, Maryland writes:
During an NBC TV special on the West Wing, the President was shown entering the Coalition Information Center in what is the Indian Treaty Room in the EEOB. The room was filled with people and computer workstations. Today just outside that room one can see a very large bundle of cables entering the room at the ceiling. Are those remains of when the CIC was in that room? Is there still a CIC anywhere in the EEOB? Thank-you.

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Jaime, thanks for your very informed question.

Yes, the CIC was in the Indian Treaty Room between October 2001 and March 2002. The cables that are visible going through an adjacent door transom outside the room dates from when the room became a utility closet for bringing power and TV cables into the room in 1955.

I met the staff person who had an office in that space, which was a former book storage alcove for the Navy Department when the room was a library. That staffer told me all about sitting in the room and listening in on the press conferences between 1950 and 1955 before he was "ejected from the room" (he still had hard feelings after all these years).

Daniel, from Michigan writes:
What are some daily things that happen in this building?

Lonnie Hovey
Hi Daniel, thanks for your question.

The daily activities are similar to any working office building. Here we have the added thrill of the historic surroundings, significant members of government coming for meetings, bill signings, and swearing in ceremonies. I not only need to track the past history, but the current activities, because today's events are tomorrow's history.

Check out the web site for the photo taken by Eric Draper today of President Bush walking down the EEOB steps back to his office in the West Wing. /news/releases/2004/08/images/20040805-3_d080504-2-515h.html

Justin, from Crockett, Tx. writes:
What is your job as the Director of Preservation, Architecture and Construction of the Eisenhower Executive Office Buliding? What is the main reason of building the Eisenhower Executive Building and what is it going to stand for?



Lonnie Hovey
Hi Justin, thanks for your questions.

My job as the Director of Preservation, Architecture, and Construction is to work with GSA (the landlord of the historic buildings) and the staff (tenants in the buildings) to ensure that the spaces are equipped to meet the needs of the staff, yet retain their historic significance. Working with my staff, we collect and record the history of the buildings and maintain the history to field questions by staff and the public.

The EEOB's main reason for being is to serve the government's need for office space.

Lonnie Hovey
Thanks everyone for your great questions. They were interesting and provocative. I had a great time. Hopefully, you all learned a thing or two about the EEOB, a "great monstrosity" as President Truman called it. I look forward to hosting this again in October for "ghost week."