The room in 2008, looking west
From Swimming Pool to Press Pool
As the men and women of New York opened copies of the New York Daily News on March 14, 1933, they learned of a campaign to raise money for building the president a swimming pool at the White House. The effort was a way to honor President Franklin Roosevelt, a New York native who suffered from the crippling disease, poliomyelitis. The President often swam at therapy pools at his Hyde Park home in New York or at a center in Warm Springs, Georgia.
The campaign was a success, and the workmen gathered around the pool on June 2, 1933 to listen to President Roosevelt, who spoke from his wheelchair and thanked them for their work. The pool was built inside the west gallery between the White House and the West Wing in place of the old laundry rooms, which were moved to the basement of the mansion. Arched ceilings and high rows of half-mooned windows surrounded the rectangular pool. French doors opened into the Rose Garden. The president's pool was a modern-day showcase of technology, featuring underwater lighting, sterilizers and the latest gadgets. For several years, he used it multiple times a day. Harry Truman swam in it frequently—with his glasses on.
In 1961, as a gift from his father, a huge mural was painted (by Bernard Lamotte) on three walls of the swimming pool room for President Kennedy. It featured a Caribbean scene with many sailboats on calm waters. The opposite long wall was fitted with mirrors. John Kennedy sometimes held swimming races with Cabinet members. He liked the pool so much that he made a habit of stopping by at noon, stripping down for a swim, and padding back to his bedroom for lunch and a nap in nothing but a robe. He did the same at the end of the day, dressing again for dinner. As a result, Chief Usher JB West observed, "John F Kennedy wore three separate suits of clothes every day of his White House life." During the Johnson administration, the walls were hung with dozens of bathing suits of all sizes so that guests could swim.
Nearly 40 years after the construction of Roosevelt's pool, a new wave of technology pressed upon the president to create a work space for the media. President Richard Nixon arranged for the construction of a press briefing room above the old pool to accommodate the growing demand for television news. Since 1970, the White House press corps has assembled in this small theater to listen to the White House press secretary's briefings and reports. The doors opening to the Rose Garden on the south and the West Wing drive on the north allow the members of the media quick access to outdoor events.
In the early 1980s, the Reagan administration remodeled the room, giving it the theater seats and blue decor it has had since then. On the 2005 announcement of a new renovation, journalist Elisabeth Bumiller wrote:
The Press Briefing Room was renamed the "James S Brady Press Briefing Room" in 2000 in honor of James Brady, the White House press secretary who was shot and permanently disabled following an assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan in 1981. In 2000, the room was rewired with 18 miles of cable. When workers opened the trap door leading to the pool to redirect the new cabling, they found the pool to be structurally intact. The deep end is located underneath the press secretary's podium, and the shallow end is underneath the camera crews.
HIllary Clinton, who had wanted an indoor swimming pool for the governor's mansion in Arkansas, proposed renovating the pool and moving the news media to a new media center to be built under the West Wing drive. The pool was found to be intact (capable of holding water), but the idea never got past the initial planning stage.
In December 2005, the White House announced that the Press Briefing Room and Press Corps Offices would be renovated in the coming year. On August 2, 2006, President Bush invited several previous Press Secretaries back for a final press briefing before the room was closed for operations that day.
(adapted from The Washington Post)
In 2007, the room was reopened for dedication on July 11.
When the president speaks in the Press Briefing Room (and even when he travels to other places), he uses special lecterns. A larger, bullet-resistant lectern is called "blue goose," and a sleeker lectern of similar design is called "blue falcon."
The room in 2008, looking east
Video control at the back of the room in 2008 (Time - Brooks Kraft)
Photographers at the back of the room in 2008 (Time - Brooks Kraft)
President Bush addresses the press in the new room in 2007 (White House - Eric Draper)
Ribbon cutting on the renovated room in 2007 (White House - Eric Draper)
Ribbon cutting on the renovated room in 2007 (AP - Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Veteran correspondent Helen Thomas in in the new leather seats in 2007 (Time - Brooks Kraft)
Construction being finished in 2007 (Time - Brooks Kraft)
New stairwell behind the podium down to the pool in 2007 (Julie Mason)
Press signatures on the tiles of the pool in 2007 (Julie Mason)
The room in 2006 (Ejconkey)
George W Bush briefing the press in 2006 (White House)
George W Bush briefing the press in 2006, using the "blue goose" lectern (White House)
Press Briefing Room in 2005 (Nathan Burchfiel)
The Press Briefing Room front, circa 2003 (Jeffrey James Bryan Carpenter)
Brady Press Briefing Room, circa 2003 (Jeffrey James Bryan Carpenter)
Audio-video equipment at the back of the Press Briefing Room, circa 2003 (Jeffrey James Bryan Carpenter)
Bush 2 Press Secretary Ari Fleischer entering the Press Briefing Room, circa 2001
Reagan briefing the press in the renovated room in 1986 (NARA)
Secretary of State Alexander Haig briefs the press on President Reagan's health following the attempt on his life in 1981 (Reagan Library)
Carter briefs the press on water proposals in 1980 (National Archives)
Carter briefs the press on Iran in 1979 (White House Historical Association)
A Carter-era briefing around 1977
Nixon briefing the press on Vietnam in 1973 (Corbis [mistakenly flopped])
Henry Kissinger briefing the press on Vietnam in 1972 (Corbis)
Nixon giving a conference in the early days of the Press Briefing Room in 1970 (National Archives & Records Administration)
The first American to walk in space, Edward White, gives his daughter her own flight, circa 1966 (National Geographic)
The swimming pool in 1963, with the mural commissioned by Joe Kennedy, Sr.;
note that this wall is mirrored; the opposite wall has the mural (Kennedy Library)
The White House medic in the swimming pool in 1961 (Life)
The swimming pool in 1961 (Kennedy Library)
Roosevelt's swimming pool, circa 1948 (Truman Library)
Roosevelt's swimming pool, circa 1948 (Truman Library)
Roosevelt's swimming pool 1933 (White House Historical Association)