President's Park

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President's Park
Designation Park
Location District of Columbia, United States
Nearest City Washington, D.C.
Coordinates 38° 53′ 42″ N, 77° 2′ 12″ W
Area 18.07 acres
7.31 hectares
Date of Establishment July 16, 1790
Visitation 1,333,967 (2004)
Governing Body National Park Service
IUCN category  

President's Park, located in Washington, D.C., includes the White House, a visitor center, Lafayette Square, and the Ellipse. "President's Park" was the original name of Lafayette Park and Square.


White House

See also the full article for the White House.

The White House complex is a located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. It includes:

  • The White House, official residence of the President of the United States. Open to the public for reserved tours, but requests must be submitted through one's Member of Congress and are accepted one to six months in advance.
  • The West Wing, office of the President and staff. Closed to the public.
  • The East Wing, office space for the First Lady and other staff. Closed to the public.
  • White House Gardens. Open to public tours seasonally.

White House Visitor Center

Aerial view of Dept. of Commerce Bldg. and the East Wing
Aerial view of Dept. of Commerce Bldg. and the East Wing

The White House Visitor Center is located in the north end of the Department of Commerce Building between 14th & 15th Streets on Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. The visitor center serves as a starting point for those going on a reserved tour of the White House. The various exhibits also provide an alternate visitor experience for those who did not schedule a tour. The themes of the six permanent exhibits include First Families, Symbols & Images, White House Architecture, White House Interiors, Working White House, and Ceremonies and Celebrations. A variety of other exhibits change frequently during the year.

Lafayette Square

Lafayette Square is a 7 acre (3 ha) public park located directly north of the White House on H Street between 15th and 17th Streets, NW. The park and the surrounding structures were designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1970. Planned as part of the pleasure grounds surrounding the Executive Mansion, this park was originally called "President's Park," which is now the name of the larger National Park Service unit. The park was separated from the White House grounds in 1804 when President Thomas Jefferson had Pennsylvania Avenue cut through. In 1824, the park was officially renamed in honor of General Lafayette of France.

Lafayette Square has been used as a race track, a graveyard, a zoo, a slave market, an encampment for soldiers during the War of 1812, and many political protests and celebrations. Andrew Jackson Downing landscaped Lafayette Square in 1851 in the picturesque style. Today's plan, with its five large statues, dates from the 1930s. In the center stands Clark Mills' equestrian statue of President Andrew Jackson, erected in 1853; in the four corners are statues of Revolutionary War heroes: France's General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette and Major General Comte Jean de Rochambeau; Poland's General Thaddeus Kosciuszko; Prussia's Major General Baron Frederich Wilhelm von Steuben.

President's Park South (Ellipse)

The Ellipse, early 1900s
The Ellipse, early 1900s

President's Park South, commonly called the Ellipse, is a 52 acre (21 ha) park located just south of the White House fence. Properly, the Ellipse is the name of the 5 furlong (1 km) circumference street within the park. The entire park is open to the public.


Egg roll, 1929
Egg roll, 1929

Annual events on the Ellipse include the Easter Egg Roll, garden tours, the Christmas Pageant of Peace, and "Twilight Tattoo" military pageant.


In 1791, the first plan for the park was drawn up by Pierre Charles L'Enfant. The Ellipse was known as "the White Lot" due to the whitewashed wooden fence that enclosed the park.

During the American Civil War, the grounds of the Ellipse and incomplete Washington Monument were used as corrals for horses, mules, and cattle, also camp sites for Union Troops.

Work on the Ellipse was began by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1867. The park was landscaped in 1879, and American Elms were planted around the existing portion of roadway. In 1880, grading was begun and the Ellipse was created from what had been a common dump. In 1894, the Ellipse roadway was lit with electric lamps.

In the 1890s, Congress authorized the use of the Ellipse grounds to special groups including religious meetings and military encampments. As late as 1990 baseball fields and tennis courts existed in the park. Today sporting events as well as demonstrations are still held on the Ellipse. President’s Park South came under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service in 1933.

In 1942, during World War II, the National Park Service granted permission for the construction of barracks as a special emergency war-time measure. The temporary barracks were erected on the south side of the Old Executive Office Building and the entire First Division Monument grounds. The "White House Barracks" were demolished in 1954.

In November 1923, First Lady Grace Coolidge with the assistance of the District of Columbia Public Schools, erected a Christmas tree on the Ellipse south of the White House. The organizers named the tree the "National Christmas Tree." That Christmas Eve, at 5 p.m., President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse and "pushed the button" to light the cut 48-foot Balsam fir, as 3,000 enthusiastic spectators looked on. The tree, donated by Middlebury College, was from the President’s native state of Vermont. From 1924 to 1953 live trees, in various locations around and on the White House grounds, were lit on Christmas Eve. In 1954 the ceremony returned to the Ellipse and expanded its focus. Local civic and business groups created the "Christmas Pageant of Peace." Smaller trees representing the 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia, formed a "Pathway of Peace." On December 17, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower lit the cut tree donated by the people of Michigan. Cut trees continued to be used until 1973. Center to the season’s celebration is the living National Christmas Tree, a Blue Spruce from York, Pennsylvania, planted on the Ellipse October 20, 1978. The tree stands as a daily reminder of the holiday spirit and of the tradition each succeeding President has participated in since 1923.

The Ellipse Visitor Pavilion was opened for visitors in May 1994. This facility is used to distribute free tickets for special events at the White House such as the Easter Egg Roll and Fall and Spring Garden Tours. There also is a information, concession area, restrooms, telephones, water fountains, and First Aid area, all accessible.

If it is summertime, look for the annual "Twilight Tattoo" featuring the 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) the US Army Band "Pershing's Own" and the US Army Drill Team.

Administrative history

Transferred on August 10, 1933, to the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, the legal successor of three Federal Commissioners appointed by the President under an act of July 16, 1970, who directed initial construction. Their authority developed through acts of May 1, 1802; April 19, 1816; March 3, 1849; March 2, 1867; July 1, 1898; Feb. 26, 1925; March 3, 1933; and Executive Order of June 10, 1933. Under act of September 22, 1961, "the White House. . .shall be administered pursuant to the act of August 25, 1916" and supplementary and amendatory acts. This NPS area was originally referred to simply as "The White House."


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