White House Tennis

A brief history of tennis behind the big white house on Pennsylvania Avenue
From TENNIS magazine, Nov. 2000

The most exclusive tennis court in the country is at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., just down the street from Capitol Hill. President Theodore Roosevelt had it built (circa 1902), and as he was with many things, the Rough Rider was bully on tennis. He played whenever his schedule permitted (even on D.C.'s hot summer days and after a torrential rain), and he was very particular about his partners and opponents. He chose them "from among a group of young government officials. Some of these players became Roosevelt's close friends and advisers," writes George Sullivan in How the White House Really Works (Econo-Clad Books). Newspapers referred to them as the "Tennis Cabinet." Diplomats waiting to see Roosevelt about issues of state had to wait until his business - on the court, that is - was finished.

Although Roosevelt was the biggest tennis fanatic to occupy the White House, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were avid players too. Warren Harding, on the other hand, was strictly a spectator. In his book Starling of the White House (Simon & Schuster), published in 1946, Secret Service agent William Starling wrote, "You never knew what to expect when you went around back in those days. I once found Bill Tilden, Little Bill Johnston, R. Norris Williams, and Dick Washburn playing tennis on the White House court while the President watched."

Harding's successor, Calvin Coolidge, didn't play the game either, but his two sons, Calvin Jr., 16, and John, 17, did. The boys were playing one day in 1924 when Calvin Jr. developed a blister on his right big toe. According to Bill Bushong of the White House Historical Association, the toe became infected, and Calvin Jr. died a week later of blood poisoning.

- Joffre Myers

Teddy Roosevelt White House court
Teddy Roosevelt had the White House tennis court built.

Other presidential notes

From TENNIS magazine, Sept. 2006

Illustrated history of the White House tennis court