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Located in the East Terrace, the White House Family Theatre was created in 1942 when President Franklin Roosevelt converted a cloakroom known as the “Hat Box” into a theatre. Presidents have been known to rehearse major speeches in the theatre, but its also a place for First Families and guests to relax and enjoy movies.
Presidents and their families have enjoyed cinematic experiences ranging from newsreels to documentaries to major motion pictures. Their guests have included White House staff, members of Congress, the actors and filmmakers who worked on the movie, and the real people whose stories are told on film.
Film screenings might be official events with members of the public invited as guests, or private events and intended for the enjoyment of the President, his family, and his close friends and staff.
President George W. Bush recognized the importance of the theatre as a political asset, whether bonding with rivals, supporting a cause or building international relations. In his book, Decision Points, President Bush recalls realizing that he knew he would get along with the British first couple Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie when they suggested watching the comedy Meet the Parents as an evening's entertainment at Camp David.
The theatre has had several redesigns over the years, but its basic layout remains the same. In 2004, Mrs. Laura Bush oversaw the refurbishment of the 42-seat theatre, redecorated in "movie-palace red." The wall panels were painted red, the molding was painted gold, and dark wood trim was added. Lastly, red carpeting was installed on the floor. Originally installed by President Dwight Eisenhower, the front row consists of four plush armchairs for the President, his family, and honored guests. These chairs, with matching ottomans, are decorated with a floral print and nail-head trim. Behind the special front row seats are simple hinged theatre seats. The space has a vintage feel.
During the Bush administration a wide variety of movies were officially screened touching on sports, current events, and kids books. For a list of some of the movies screened at the White House, please see the archival research guide below.
President George W. Bush welcomes Steven Spielberg to a White House screening of the movie "Seabiscuit” July 21, 2003.
- “Securing the White House.” The White House Historical Association, Accessed July 9, 2020. https://www.whitehousehistory.org/securing-the-white-house.
- “White House Movie Theater Opened for East Wing Tours for the First Time in History.” The White House. The United States Government, May 12, 2017. https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/press-release-white-house-movie-theater-opened-for-east-wing-tours-for-the-first-time.
- “The Family Theatre.” The White House. The United States Government, Accessed July 9, 2020. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/interactive-tour/family-theater.