Room 278 in the Old Executive Office Building was once occupied by Assistant Secretaries of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The southernmost room of the five room suite designed for the Secretary of the Navy and his immediate staff, the room provides an insight into the appearance of a less elaborate office of the period, when compared with the Secretary's office - with its scale, plain wood flooring, and simple window treatment.
Original floor plans, newspaper articles and period furniture inventories show that the room was first occupied by the Navy's Judge Advocate General. Once known as a number of names, such as the Naval Solicitor, the office known as the Judge Advocate General (JAG) became official on June 8, 1880. The first JAG to occupy an office in the building (Room 278) was Captain William B. Remey, U.S. Marine Corps. The JAG was to have the "rank, pay, and allowances of a Captain in the Navy or a Colonel in the Marine Corps." Captain Remey held the position until 1892. <1>
The next occupant of Room 278 was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. The position of Assistant Secretary dates from 1861. (It was dissolved in 1869; was re-established in 1890; and disestablished in 1954).
The room restoration dates to the time of Theodore Roosevelt, who occupied the room from April 1897 until May 1898 as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. The decision to restore the room to this period was based on several factors, one of which was the available photographic evidence, another that Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most commanding figures in America's political past. The other famous and dynamic occupant, Franklin D. Roosevelt, held office here during the Wilson Administration, from March 1913 to August 1920. By this time, the office had taken on the look of a modern office - all wall and ceiling surfaces had been painted white.
The room was decorated by John Herbold, whose contract with the government specified that the room be similar the Office for the Secretary of the Navy; that he "(take) the design for the main room as a guide." Originally painted in oil, the stencils have been re-created with acrylic on canvas, then mounted to the plaster wall. This type of replication allows for access to the wall surface if needed. The gilding was done in place. The stencil decorations are taken from Greek and Classical designs. Two examples are the wavescrolls and anthemion/palmette designs.
The original gas fixture was removed at sometime in the early 20th century. Evidence in the 1897 photograph shows the gas fixture with an electric one "attached" to it. There was a trend in the building to retain the gas fixture and to string from it either a new lamp, or the bare bulb itself. The current fixture is a replica of a gas light and is temporary. The marble fireplace is original and was designed by Chief Draftsman Richard Von Ezdorf for the Navy Department offices. The style appeared in eight rooms. The floor of the room is oak, with a maple and walnut boarder.
<1>U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings. May 1941.