Room 278 is the southernmost room of a five-room suite designed for the Secretary of the Navy and his immediate staff on the east wing's second floor. Compared with the Secretary's office, the room reveals its place within the hierarchy of the period based on its size, less elaborate details and plainer features. According to the January 23, 1879 design contract, "John Herbold shall commence the work of painting and decoration...on or before the first day of April 1879...The design having been completed for the larger room only (Room 274, by William McPherson)...the four smaller rooms will be treated harmoniously but plainer and entirely subordinate to it. Taking the design for the main room as a guide, the same general tone of color will be preserved as also the principal part of the stencil work."1
Assistant Secretary of Navy Theodore Roosevelt in room 278, 1897-98. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Original floor plans and other documents show that room 278 was first occupied by the Navy's Judge Advocate General (JAG). The first JAG to occupy this office was Captain William B. Remey, U.S. Marine Corps, who held the position until 1892.2
Between 1892 and 1921, room 278 was used for the Assistant Secretary of the Navy; a position once held by Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The position was dissolved in 1869; was re-established in 1890; and dissolved again in 1954. By 1921, the Navy Department had moved out of the building and the War Department offices moved into the vacated space. Staff for the Vice President have used the room since 1961.
Between 1986 and 1989, the room was restored to its appearance during Theodore Roosevelt's occupancy between April 1897 and May 1898. Restoration of the room to this period was due to several factors such as available photographic evidence and the historical significance of Roosevelt's occupancy. Franklin D. Roosevelt, another famous occupant, held office here during the Wilson Administration, from March 1913 to August 1920. By this time; however, all wall and ceiling surfaces in the office had been painted white.
Originally painted in oil, the stenciled patterns were recreated with acrylic paint on canvas (based on an analysis of the historic paint colors), then mounted to the plaster walls. This type of replication allows for access to the wall surface if needed. The gilding was done in place. You will notice that the wall facing the windows contains a door that is no longer used. Originally, the door was the room's entrance from the corridor. The door was sealed in the 1920s when the adjacent single elevator was replaced with two elevators needing more space.
The marble fireplace is original and was designed by the Supervising Architect of the Treasury's Chief Draftsman, Richard Ezdorf. The style appears in seven other rooms. While the fireplace did not provide any heat, it was a decorative feature that was part of the ventilation system. Heat was provided through convection by a central steam radiation system.
The current light fixture is a replica of the room's second light fixture, which was equipped for both gas and electric power. The original gaslight fixture had been replaced by 1897 with a transitional fixture with the gas globes on top and the electric lights below.
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