The White House
The President's house was a major feature of Pierre Charles L’Enfants’s plan
for the newly established federal city. The architect of the White House
was chosen in a competition, which received nine proposals, including one
submitted anonymously by Thomas Jefferson. The nation's first president,
George Washington, traveled to the site of the federal city on July 16, 1792
to make his judgment. His review is recorded as being brief and he quickly
selected the submission of James Hoban, an Irishman living in Charleston, South
Washington was not entirely pleased with the original Hoban submission, however;
he found it too small, lacking ornament, and not fitting the nation's president.
On Washington's recommendation the house was enlarged by thirty percent; a
large reception hall, the present East Room, was added. Construction began
with the laying of the cornerstone on October 13, 1792.
Although not yet completed, the White House was ready for occupancy on or circa
November 1, 1800. Shortages, including material and labor, forced alterations
to the earlier plan developed by French engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant for a
"palace" that was five times larger than the house that was eventually built.
The finished home would contain only two main floors instead of the planned three,
and a less costly brick served as a lining for the stone facades. When construction
was finished the porous sandstone walls were coated with a mixture of lime, rice
glue, casein, and lead, giving the house its familiar color and name.
The building was originally referred to variously as the "President's Palace,"
"Presidential Mansion," or "President's House." The earliest evidence of the
public calling it the "White House" was recorded in 1811. The name
"Executive Mansion" was used in official contexts until President Theodore
Roosevelt established the formal name by having the de facto name "White
House–Washington" engraved on the stationery in 1901. The current letterhead
wording and arrangement "The White House" with the word "Washington" centered
beneath goes back to the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
John Adams became the first president to take residence in the building on
November 1, 1800. During Adams' second day in the house he wrote a letter to
his wife Abigail, containing a prayer for the house. Adams wrote:
“I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessing on this House, and all that
shall hereafter Inhabit it. May non but honest and wise men ever
rule under this roof”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt had Adams' blessing carved into the mantel in the
State Dining Room.
Adams lived in the house only briefly, and the home was soon occupied by
Thomas Jefferson who gave consideration to how the White House might be
added to. With Benjamin Henry Latrobe, he helped lay out the design for the
East and West Colonnades, small wings that help conceal the domestic operations
of laundry, a stable and storage. Today Jefferson's colonnades link the
residence with the East and West Wings.
In 1814, during the War of 1812, the White House was set ablaze. Only the
exterior walls remained, and they had to be torn down and mostly reconstructed
due to weakening from the fire and subsequent exposure to the elements,
except for portions of the south wall.
After the fire, both architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe and Hoban contributed
to the design and oversight of the reconstruction. The south portico was
constructed in 1824 during the James Monroe administration; the north portico
was built six years later. Though Latrobe proposed similar porticos during
the rebuilding after the fire in 1814, both porticos were designed by Hoban.
In 1891, First Lady Caroline Harrison proposed extensions to the White House,
including a National Wing on the east for an historical art gallery, and a
wing on the west for official functions. In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt and his
family moved in to the White House and hired McKim, Mead and White to carry
out renovations and expansion, including the addition of a West Wing.
President William Howard Taft enlisted the help of architect Nathan C.
Wyeth to add additional space to the West Wing, which included the addition
of the Oval Office.
The West Wing was damaged by fire in 1929, but rebuilt during the remaining
years of the Herbert Hoover presidency. In the 1930s, a second story was added,
as well as a larger basement for White House staff, and President Franklin
Roosevelt had the Oval Office moved to its present location: adjacent to
the Rose Garden.
Decades of poor maintenance, the construction of a fourth story attic during
the Coolidge administration, and the addition of a second-floor balcony over
the south portico for Harry Truman, took a great toll on the brick and sandstone
structure built around a timber frame. By 1948 the house was declared to be
in imminent danger of collapse, forcing President Truman to commission a
reconstruction and move across the street to Blair House from 1949 to 1951.
The work required the complete dismantling of the interior spaces, construction
of a new load-bearing internal steel frame and the reconstruction of the original
rooms within the new structure. Some modifications to the floor plan were made,
the largest being the repositioning of the grand staircase to open into the
Entrance Hall, rather than the Cross Hall. Central air conditioning was added,
as well as two additional subbasements providing space for workrooms, storage,
and a bomb shelter.
For more information, see link below
NPS White House Home Page
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