Before the White House: The New York City Homes of U.S. Presidents

Posted On Mon, February 15, 2016 By

Posted On Mon, February 15, 2016 By In Features, History, People

With presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Brooklyn, many have been wondering where the candidate has been living. So far, her team has kept it under wraps, but we do know that she and Bill were renting a $100,000/month Hamptons mansion in August, and that they own a home in Chappaqua, upstate. If she does make it to the White House, she won’t be the first U.S. president to fancy living in the Big Apple. In fact, our nation’s very first president lived in the inaugural presidential mansion on Cherry Street during NYC’s two-year reign as the country’s capital. In honor of Presidents Day, we’ve taken a look at this original New York presidential residence, as well as those that followed.

George Washington

Samuel Osgood House, George Washington house NYC, presidential mansion
The now-demolished Samuel Osgood House

The history of presidents taking up residency in NYC can be traced to our very first leader. When George Washington first took office in 1789, the White House did not yet exist, as Washington, D.C. wouldn’t become the nation’s capital until 1791. So he and his family moved into the Samuel Osgood House, a mansion at the northeast corner of Pearl and Cherry Streets. The first presidential mansion, it housed the president and his family until 1790 during New York City’s two-year reign as the national capital. It was a large, square brick home; inside, it had the most lavish of furnishings.

Samuel Osgood was a politician and lawyer from Massachusetts who built the mansion in 1770 for himself and his wife. Congress rented the house for Washington for $845 a year and outfitted it with a private presidential office (the first incarnation of the Oval Office), as well as the equivalent of the West Wing. The house staff of 20, which included slaves that Washington brought with him from Mount Vernon, was managed by Samuel Fraunces, who previously owned the nearby Fraunces Tavern.

Alexander Macomb House, George Washington house NYC, presidential mansion

Alexander Macomb House, George Washington house NYC, presidential mansion
The now-demolished Alexander Macomb House

In February of 1790, George Washington moved his family to the Alexander Macomb House, the second presidential mansion located at 39-41 Broadway, just north of Bowling Green. It was much larger to accommodate more staff, had views of the Hudson River, and was in an area not as congested as the Osgood Mansion. Alexander Macomb was an Irish-born merchant and land speculator. He completed construction on the four-story house in 1788, leasing it to the French Minister Plenipotentiary, the Comte de Moustier, until he returned to Paris at the beginning of 1790.

In August of 1790, a month after the national capital was moved to Philadelphia, Washington vacated the Macomb House, spending some time at Mount Vernon before making his way to the third presidential mansion in the Pennsylvania city. The Osgood House was demolished in 1856, and the Macomb House in 1940. Plaques were installed at both sites to commemorate their presidential history.

Chester A. Arthur

Chester A. Arthur House, President Arthur, Kalustyan's, NYC homes of U.S. Presidents
The Chester A. Arthur house circa 1886 (L) and today (R)

Chester Arthur, the nation’s 21st president, spent a good deal of his adult life living at 123 Lexington Avenue between 28th and 29th Streets, now known as the Chester A. Arthur House. In 1853, a young Arthur moved to NYC, passed the bar, and began working for a law firm. It was around this time that he bought the five-story townhouse on Lexington Avenue, close to his in-laws’ home on Gramercy Park. After serving in the Civil War, he was elected vice president under James Garfield in March of 1881. In July of that same year, an assassination attempt was made on President Garfield. It was at this time that Arthur went back to his Manhattan house, and in September, when Garfield passed away, President Arthur secretly took the oath of office in the middle of the night at this address. In 1884, Arthur was not reelected, so the following year he returned to his home at 123 Lexington Avenue, where he died in November 1886.

Chester A. Arthur House, President Arthur, Kalustyan's, NYC homes of U.S. Presidents
Chester A. Arthur taking the oath of office at 123 Lexington Avenue, via Library of Congress

In the nearly 130 years since Arthur’s death, his former home has undergone many alterations. Interestingly, William Randolph Hearst owned it for a bit around 1907. The facade was stripped to bare brick, the upper floors were divided into apartments, and the first two floors became a commercial space. In 1964, a commemorative bronze plaque was installed on the building, and the following year the building was designated a national historic landmark. The famous Kalustyan’s specialty food store has occupied the retail space since 1944.

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, 28 East 20th Street, NYC house museums, NYC homes of U.S. Presidents
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace and the adjacent museum space via National Park Service (L); The sitting room recreation (R)

Theodore Roosevelt was the only U.S. President born in NYC. He was raised in a townhouse at 28 East 20th Street that was built in 1848. The Roosevelt family bought it in 1854, and four years later the 26th president of the United States was born at this address. The three-story brownstone boasted a mansard roof, high stoop, and a Gothic Revival-style doorway and hooded window moldings. Since Teddy was a rather sickly child (though very bright), he created an exercise program that he did in the house’s outdoor gym. This is credited with beginning his lifelong passion for “the strenuous life.” The family lived here until 1872, at which time they moved to a home on West 57th Street.

In 1916, 28 East 20th Street was demolished, but just three years later when President Roosevelt died, the Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association purchased the site. They hired well-known female architect Theodate Pope Riddle to reconstruct the home and design a museum at the adjacent lot. The house was rededicated in 1923, and in the years that followed it was outfitted with furnishings original to the house, gifted by the President’s widow Edith and his sisters. Both the exterior and interior were recreated to look as the home did in 1865. Today, the site is known as the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace and includes five period rooms, two museum galleries, and a bookstore.

Just last month, the National Park Service, who oversees the national historic site, announced that the Birthplace would close until next year to accommodate a $3.7 million renovation. The building will get an upgrade to its fire and electric systems and become more ADA accessible.

Barack Obama

president obama's Columbia college apartment, where president obama has lived, president obama nyc apartment
Obama’s former apartment at 142 West 109th Street via Citi Habitats

president obama's Columbia college apartment, where president obama has lived, president obama nyc apartment
A picture of Obama in the doorway of his West 109th Street apartment; the photo came with the listing, via Citi Habitatas

There’s been a lot of talk lately about President Obama moving his family to New York City when he finishes his second term in office, a relocation that seems quite plausible since college-bound Malia has already toured Columbia, NYU, and Barnard and since the president himself attended Columbia and had a few apartments around the city.

President Obama started his college career at Occidental College in Los Angeles, but in 1981, during his junior year, he transferred to Columbia University. His first apartment in Morningside Heights was located at 142 West 109th Street. He shared the standard two-bedroom pad with his buddy Phil Boerner, and they each paid a measly $180 a month. This past fall the apartment was on the market for $2,300 a month.

Next, Obama moved to a sixth-floor walkup at 339 East 94th Street, where he lived during his senior year and shortly thereafter. In his memoir he described the apartment:

It was an uninviting block, treeless and barren, lined with soot-colored walk-ups that cast heavy shadows for most of the day. The apartment was small, with slanting floors and irregular heat and a buzzer downstairs that didn’t work, so that visitors had to call ahead from a pay phone at the corner gas station, where a black Doberman the size of a wolf paced through the night in vigilant patrol, its jaws clamped around an empty beer bottle.

His final home in NYC was back on the west side at 662 West 114th Street, where he lived as a boarder in a fourth-floor walkup. Known as Revere Hall, the building had also once been home to Cecil B. DeMille. Obama lived here until he moved to Chicago in the summer of 1985.

Of course, these are only the more permanent addresses of our nation’s leaders, but the presidential history in NYC extends far and wide–from Abraham Lincoln’s famous speech at Cooper Union to presidential hopeful Hilary Clinton setting up her campaign headquarters in Brooklyn Heights. Stay tuned for more…


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  • Richard Rabinowitz

    and now we stand to add Trump Tower to that.



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