In my book, The New World, Raisa and Alexander escape the White House (for a night of dinner and dancing) through a secret tunnel. Of course, this idea is not new. The 1993 movie Dave showed the President sneaking out of the executive mansion via a tunnel that surfaced in Lafayette Square. The 1997 movie Murder at 1600 claimed that Lincoln had a tunnel built to Lafayette Park. The movie was based on a book by Margaret Truman, daughter of President Harry Truman, leaving one to wonder if she had some insider information.
It’s fun to write about secret passageways, especially in the nation’s capital; the possibilities for intrigue are plentiful. But are there tunnels that the president can use to leave the White House secretly? Answering that question is a little bit tricky. Of course, there is plenty of speculation online about underground passageways and bunkers in Washington, D.C., but how much of that is true?
After some research here’s what I can say with some certainty. In 1987 a tunnel was dug which connected the West Wing with the East Wing. It was purportedly used to give secure access to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center which is located beneath the East Wing. Nixon is said to have used this tunnel to visit Reagan in the West Wing.
Beginning in 2010, a tunnel was excavated near the West Wing. It took more than two years to complete. According to officials, the tunnel is being used to access utilities. Others have speculated that it’s a new White House bunker or command center.
The most famous “secret” White House tunnel that appears to be based on facts, connects the White House with the basement of the Treasury building across the street from the East Wing. The granite vault deep in the Treasury basement was to be used in the case of an attack during WWII. Plans were underway to build a bunker beneath the East Wing, but after Pearl Harbor, a tunnel was excavated to the Treasure basement while the East Wing project was ongoing. The East Wing bunker eventually finished and became the Presidential Emergency Operations Center.
There seems to be little dispute that this tunnel exists. It was kept as a wartime secret until Republican Congressman Clare E. Hoffman discussed it in the House of Representatives in late 1941. Since then, it has been public knowledge.
Now here’s where my story comes in. According to one source I found, the basement of the Treasure building is also connected to the Treasure Annex, which is across Pennsylvania Avenue. No one is sure why a tunnel was built to connect the two buildings, but people speculate that is was for security or because of the unpleasant D.C. weather. The fun part of this story is that the tunnel is said to lead to a locked door at the back of Treasury Annex. This door is at the end of a long, narrow alleyway that empties on H Street two blocks from the White House. This is where Raisa finds herself with Alexander when she emerges in public for the first time after being taken from her home.
If you go there today, you will find an alley, with a ram-proof vehicle barrier and bulletproof secret service kiosk. Is this an alley, which leads to a door, which leads to a tunnel, which leads to the White House? I know there’s an alley, as to the rest, I can’t say for sure, but it makes for a great story.
The “secret” alley on H Street.