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The Ellipse
President's Park South
Aerial view of White House and the Ellipse.jpg
Aerial view of the Ellipse in 2007. The White House can be seen among trees in the upper center left.
LocationWashington, D.C.
Coordinates38°53′38″N 77°02′12″W / 38.8939°N 77.0366°W / 38.8939; -77.0366Coordinates: 38°53′38″N 77°02′12″W / 38.8939°N 77.0366°W / 38.8939; -77.0366
Area52 acres (21 ha)

The Ellipse (sometimes referred to as President's Park South) is a 52-acre (21 ha) park south of the White House fence and north of Constitution Avenue and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Ellipse is also the name of the five-furlong (1.0 km) circumference street within the park. The entire park, which features monuments, is open to the public and is part of President's Park. The Ellipse is the location for many annual events.

From a mathematical point of view, the Ellipse is truly an ellipse. Its dimensions are 1,058 feet (322 m) for its major axis (east-west) and 903 feet (275 m) for its minor axis (north-south). Its eccentricity computes as e = 0.52 and its foci are 552 feet (168 m) apart, each 276 feet (84 m) from the center of the ellipse (east and west).[1]


In 1791, the first plan for the park was drawn up by Pierre (Peter) 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 the incomplete Washington Monument were used as corrals for horses, mules, and cattle, and as camp sites for Union troops.

In 1860, the Ellipse was the regular playing field for the DC baseball team the Washington Senators and was the site of the first game between the Senators and the Washington Nationals. In 1865, the Nationals hosted a baseball tournament with the Philadelphia Athletics, for which viewing stands were built and admission was charged.[2] Black baseball teams such as the Washington Mutuals and the Washington Alerts often used the White Lot until Blacks were banned from using the Ellipse in 1874.[3]

The Army Corps of Engineers began work on the Ellipse in 1867. The park was landscaped in 1879, and American Elms were planted around the existing portion of the 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 by special groups, including religious meetings and military encampments. As late as 1990, baseball fields and tennis courts existed in the park. Sporting events and demonstrations are still held on the Ellipse. President's Park South came under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service in 1933.

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

On Christmas Eve 1923, President Calvin Coolidge started an unbroken tradition by lighting the first "National Christmas Tree." The first tree, a cut balsam fir, was placed on the Ellipse by the District of Columbia Public Schools. 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 with an expanded focus: the "Christmas Pageant of Peace." From 1954 through 1972, cut trees were used, but in 1973 a Colorado blue spruce from York, Pennsylvania was planted on the Ellipse. A replacement was planted in 1978.

On August 10, 1933, the Ellipse was transferred to the National Park Service, the legal successor of three federal commissioners appointed by the President under an act of July 16, 1790, which directed initial construction. Their authority developed through acts of May 1, 1802;[4] April 19, 1816[citation needed]; March 3, 1849; March 2, 1867; July 1, 1898; February 26, 1925; March 3, 1933; and Executive Order of June 10, 1933.[5] 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."

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.

On January 6, 2021, President Donald Trump delivered a speech to his supporters gathered around the Ellipse about Congress confirming the Electoral College votes following the November 2020 presidential election. The group, which included members of organized extremist groups,[6] then did as the president said and proceeded to the Capitol. A number of supporters then rioted and stormed the Capitol.[7][8] A bipartisan Senate report later found that at least seven individuals, including police officers and civilians, died in connection with the riot.[9]



Egg roll, 1929
Egg roll, 1929

Annual events on the Ellipse include the Christmas Pageant of Peace and formerly the "Twilight Tattoo" military pageant. From 1992 to 2005, it was the site for the commencement ceremony for The George Washington University.[12] It is also the queueing location for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll and the White House garden tours. Under the auspices of the National Park Service, the Capital Alumni Network and a number of neighborhood and military sports leagues play softball and flag football games on the grounds of the Ellipse. A number of ultimate competitions are also held by various groups throughout the warmer months.

The Ellipse Visitor Pavilion, opened for visitors in May 1994, distributes free tickets for special events at the White House such as the Easter Egg Roll and the fall and spring Garden Tours. It includes an information window, concession area, restrooms, telephones, water fountains, and a first aid area, all accessible.[13]


  1. ^ Clark Kimberling (2004). "The Shape and History of the Ellipse in Washington, D.C." (PDF). Retrieved November 30, 2021.
  2. ^ Ceresi, Frank; Carol McMains (2003). "The Washington Nationals and the Development of America's National Pastime". Washington History. 15 (1): 26–41.
  3. ^ "Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum Opens "Separate and Unequaled: Black Baseball in the District of Columbia"". Newsdesk: News Releases. Smithsonian Institution. April 28, 2008. Archived from the original on January 4, 2018. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  4. ^ "An Act to abolish the Board of Commissioners in the City of Washington and for other purposes. May 1, 1802 (page 175)" (PDF). Library of Congress.,
  5. ^ "Executive Order 6166--Organization of executive agencies". National Archives. 15 August 2016. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  6. ^ "TIMELINE". January 6th. Retrieved 2022-05-26.
  7. ^ Haberman, Maggie (January 6, 2021). "Trump Told Crowd 'You Will Never Take Back Our Country With Weakness'". The New York Times. Retrieved January 7, 2021. [Trump] said his supporters should "walk down to the Capitol."
  8. ^ Dozier, Kimberly; Bergengruen, Vera (January 7, 2021). "Incited by the President, Trump Supporters Violently Storm the Capitol". Time. Retrieved January 7, 2021.
  9. ^ Cameron, Chris (2022-01-05). "These Are the People Who Died in Connection With the Capitol Riot". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-01-20.
  10. ^ (1) "Enid Haupt Fountains". President's Park. City Walking Guide. 2018. Retrieved February 14, 2021. The two Haupt Fountains flank the entrance to the Ellipse at 16th Street N.W. and Constitution Avenue. "President's Park & White House Self Guided Walking Tour and Printable Map". Archived from the original on January 4, 2018. Retrieved January 4, 2018..
    (2) Coordinates of Enid Haupt Fountains:
    East: 38°53′32.5″N 77°02′11.012″W / 38.892361°N 77.03639222°W / 38.892361; -77.03639222 (Enid Haupt Fountain (east))
    West: 38°53′32.5″N 77°02′12.175″W / 38.892361°N 77.03671528°W / 38.892361; -77.03671528 (Enid Haupt Fountain (west))
  11. ^ (1) "Patentees Monument". National Society Daughters of the American Colonists. 2018. Archived from the original on January 4, 2018. Retrieved February 12, 2021.
    (2) "Original Patentees of DC Monument". President's Park (White House): Place. United States Department of the Interior: National Park Service. October 29, 2020. Archived from the original on March 15, 2021. Retrieved March 15, 2021.
    (3)"Colonial Settler's Monument". DC Memorialist. February 3, 2021. Archived from the original on April 10, 2015. Retrieved March 15, 2021 – via SuperbThemes and WordPress.
    (4) Joint Resolution: Authorizing the erection of a memorial to the early settlers whose land grants embrace the site of the Federal City (PDF). United States Statutes at Large: 74th Congress: Session II: Chapter 64. Library of Congress. February 12, 1936. p. 1137. Retrieved March 15, 2021.
    (5) Coordinates of the Settlers of the District of Columbia Memorial: 38°53′37.5″N 77°02′01.9″W / 38.893750°N 77.033861°W / 38.893750; -77.033861 (Settlers of the District of Columbia Memorial)
  12. ^ "History of GW'S Commencement" (PDF). The George Washington University. 2017. Retrieved January 7, 2021.
  13. ^ "Ellipse Visitor Pavilion Complex". President's Park (White House): Plan Your Visit: Operating Hours & Seasons. United States Department of the Interior: National Park Service. Archived from the original on January 4, 2018. Retrieved January 4, 2018.