Written By Tracy Robinson, DAR Director of Archives and History & Joy O'Donnell, DAR Archivist
Today marks the 17th anniversary of the premiere of NBC’s award-winning political drama The West Wing. The program ran from 1999 to 2006 and scenes from the series primarily took place in the West Wing of the White House. The plot revolved around the tria ls and tribulations of the fictional President Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and his staff. The West Wing filmed at DAR Headquarters nine separate times, more than any other location in Washington, D.C. Many of the same production/location scouts and crew who worked on The West Wing at DAR brought other film projects here because of the very positive experience they had working at DAR Headquarters.
Often used as a double for both the interior and the exterior of the White House, DAR Headquarters has been used many times as a stand-in for the real thing. One example of this is the Netflix series, House of Cards, an adaptation of a BBC series of the same name. Set in present-day Washington, D.C., it follows power-hungry politician, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), and his equally ambitious wife, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright). House of Cards filmed at DAR Headquarters during its third season.
Amy Poehler star of Parks and Recreation, along with cast mate Aubrey Plaza, posed with Senator John McCain during a filming break in the Pennsylvania Foyer. The sitcom aired from 2009 to 2015 and followed the career of mid-level government workers in a fictional Indiana town. Parks and Recreationfilmed at DAR Headquarters for number of scenes for a Washington, D.C. themed episode from their final season which included political cameos such as Senator McCain, Senator Barbra Boxer (filmed in the National Officers Club Room), Senator Cory Booker and Senator Orrin Hatch (filmed in the Connecticut Board Room).
The 2010 action/drama movie Salt, starring Angelina Jolie as secret agent Evelyn Salt, filmed at DAR Headquarters for 12 days in 2009 using many different parts of the buildings as interior White House rooms. Jolie herself was on set in the building for about three days. The final 15 minutes of the movie are primarily scenes shot at DAR Headquarters including the climactic scene in the stairwell.
The HBO television series Veep, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the vice president, is a political sitcom; it premiered in 2012 and will return for a sixth season in 2017. Much of the pilot episode was filmed at DAR Headquarters. The cast and crew also returned to DAR to film scenes for the fifth season. This photo shows the crew setting up for a scene on the C Street Portico. The caged turkeys in the left foreground are waiting to “star” in a scene featuring the Thanksgiving presidential turkey pardon.
Filmmakers who wish to use DAR facilities for their productions work closely with NSDAR’s Events and Meetings Manager Susan Blankenship. Susan recalls that the Veep crew were on site for two days, and unlike most hush-hush film productions, they tweeted about and posted photos from their experiences filming at DAR.
Moviegoers may also remember the dramatic opening sequence of the 2004 film, National Treasure, showing a historic White House that was actually the front of DAR Memorial Continental Hall on 17th Street. The crew was here for 48 hours and transformed the front of the building to look like the circa late-1800s White House including laying gravel on the circular drive and using horse drawn carriages. They also brought in massive rain machines for the scene.
In addition to the use of DAR Headquarters to represent the White House, other types of filming have occurred here as well, such as movies taking advantage of the DAR Library and television shows using Constitution Hall. In 1967 the Gomer Pyle Show was filmed on the stage of Constitution Hall.
A key scene in Suspect, the 1987 courtroom drama starring Cher and Dennis Quaid was filmed in the DAR Library. The suspenseful scene is set in a “major law library” where the two main characters are trying to avoid being seen by the judge (John Mahoney). Who Do You Think You Are? is a television genealogy documentary based on a British version of the same name. In each episode, a celebrity is aided by genealogists and historians in tracing his or her family tree. Occasionally, the search leads to a visit to DAR when the celebrity has possible ties to a Revolutionary War patriot. Rob Lowe, Bill Paxton and Scott Foley each filmed parts of their episodes of the show in the DAR Library.
Additionally, many large scale productions such as televised tribute concerts, comedy specials and gameshows use DAR Constitution Hall to film their productions. Constitution Hall hosted JEOPARDY! for two weeks this past April while they filmed special episodes for Power Players Week, as well as final rounds of the Teachers Tournament and Teen Tournament. JEOPARDY! rarely travels to film episodes of its game show on location but has filmed at Constitution Hall four times in the past 20 years more than any other venue away from their Hollywood set.. Area JEOPARDY! enthusiasts were so excited to watch the DC tapings of the gameshow that the free tickets sold out immediately and crowds of people stood in line for hours to be a part of the audience.
We are so pleased that DAR Headquarters is considered among the beautiful locations in Washington, D.C. for filmings and so proud that the professionalism of our headquarters staff brings back industry professionals who want to keep returning to film at our versatile building.