White House, official residence of the president of the United States, situated at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. The White House was built between 1792 and 1800 in a simple neoclassical style. Despite numerous renovations and additions since then, the White House has retained its classically simple style. The White House has been the home of every U.S. president except George Washington, the nation’s first president, who selected the site for the building and supervised its construction. His successor, John Adams, became the first president to occupy the White House in 1800.
Throughout its history the White House has also housed offices where successive presidents have carried out the duties and responsibilities of their position as head of the executive branch of the government. The building’s first official title, from 1810 to 1901, was the Executive Mansion, which reflects its dual purpose as a home and a place of business. At times the White House also has been known as the President’s House, the President’s Mansion, and even the President’s Palace. However, it has always been popularly known as the White House. Theodore Roosevelt made this designation official in 1901, after he had the name engraved on his stationery.
The White House also is a museum of American history and art. The state, or ceremonial, rooms of the White House are open to visitors who make reservations in advance. Although visitors see only seven rooms, the White House remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in Washington, D.C.
|II||EXTERIOR OF THE WHITE HOUSE|
Today, the main building of the White House houses the presidential living quarters as well as rooms for entertaining and holding official ceremonies. Two wings extend from the main building and house offices where the president and his staff conduct business. The president works in the oval office in the West Wing, meeting heads of state, cabinet members, and other officials; conferring with advisers; reading reports; making decisions; signing laws; and conducting other business. The White House and its grounds occupy 7.3 hectares (about 18 acres).
The main building of the White House is a simple yet stately edifice in a neoclassical style made popular by 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio. The first White House architect, Irish-born James Hoban, based his design on English and Irish country houses. The White House is constructed of light gray sandstone painted white. According to popular legend white paint was applied to cover black soot marks left after the British set fire to the White House during the War of 1812. According to White House historians, however, the outer walls were covered with whitewash from the outset to protect the soft stone.
The original design for the White House called for two wings flanking the main building to the east and west. The wings were eliminated from the final design but added, in modified form, in the 20th century to house the growing and more complex executive branch. Today, offices and other facilities occupy the Executive Wing, also known as the West Wing, and the East Wing. Colonnades—covered, columned walkways—link the three-story wings to the main building. Tour groups enter the White House from the East Wing.
The White House grounds, together with a grassy area called the Ellipse to the south and Lafayette Square to the north, make up President’s Park. Two trails lead through the park, starting from the White House Visitor’s Center at 1450 Pennsylvania Avenue. President’s Park covers 82 acres.
The lawns and gardens surrounding the White House include numerous trees of historical interest. Thomas Jefferson planted hundreds of seedling trees on the White House grounds, and subsequent presidents have followed his lead. Rutherford Hayes began the tradition of planting commemorative trees associated with each president. The oldest surviving tree is a magnolia planted by Andrew Jackson in 1830.
The South Lawn lies just outside the south side of the White House. The White House gardens are here, and over the years White House occupants have added a swimming pool, tennis court, jogging track, and putting green. The president’s helicopter lands on the South Lawn, and welcoming ceremonies for visiting heads of state generally take place here. The U.S. Marine Corps Band often plays at official ceremonies on the South Lawn. The South Lawn is used at Easter for the annual Easter egg roll, a race in which children use large spoons to push colored eggs across the grass.
The Ellipse is a large open area on the south lawn surrounded by an oval drive. The national Christmas tree stands in the Ellipse each December. Calvin Coolidge was the first president to hold a tree lighting ceremony in the Ellipse in 1923. This ceremony now takes place every year. Musical performances are held here in the summer. Because it is a public area, protesters can hold demonstrations in the Ellipse.
Sheep grazed on the south lawn during much of the 19th century and again during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. Wilson used the sheep to trim the grass, freeing up White House staff for the war effort during World War I (1914-1918).
|B2||The White House Gardens|
The White House gardens are situated on the south lawn. Today, visitors can tour the Rose Garden, the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, and the Children’s Garden on designated days in spring, summer, and fall. Patricia Nixon, wife of Richard Nixon, first opened the White House gardens for tours in 1972.
Ellen Wilson, wife of Woodrow Wilson, first planted roses in the garden near the West Wing in 1913, from which the Rose Garden takes its name. The current design of the Rose Garden dates from the Kennedy’s residence in the White House during the early 1960s. President Kennedy wished to use the Rose Garden for outdoor ceremonies and receptions and had it redesigned and expanded to accommodate guests. The president can enter the rose garden from the oval office.
Lady Bird Johnson, wife of Lyndon Johnson, renamed the east garden after first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy in 1965. It contains colorful seasonal flowers, such as tulips and chrysanthemums, as well as herbs for the White House kitchens. Also known as the First Lady’s Garden, it is intended primarily for receptions hosted by the first lady. The Johnsons added a secluded, wooded area to the gardens in which White House children can play. The Children’s Garden has a climbing tree and a goldfish pond.
Both the Rose Garden and the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden are based on traditional American garden designs of the 18th century: boxwood hedges surround rectangular planting beds, and magnolia and crab apple trees shade the gardens. The wedding of the Nixons’ daughter Tricia took place in the Rose Garden in 1971. Each Thanksgiving, the pardoning of the turkey takes place in the Rose Garden. This ceremony of rescuing a turkey and sending it to a petting zoo began during Harry Truman’s term, although Abraham Lincoln is said to have set a precedent by sparing his son’s pet turkey from the oven.
|III||INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE|
A large complex is needed for the many activities that take place at the White House. The White House has 132 rooms, 4 dining rooms, 35 bathrooms, 8 staircases, 3 elevators, a clinic, a dentist’s office, a bowling alley, and a movie theater. About 150 people work in the White House offices, and another 100 people are needed to keep the White House running. Congress provides funds to each first family to redecorate and refurnish the family quarters according to its wishes. The family quarters of the White House are rarely photographed.
|A||The Main Building|
The main building of the White House has four stories. The ground floor holds a clinic, a kitchen, pantries, and storage facilities, among other rooms. The state rooms, where the president entertains, meets with dignitaries, and holds ceremonies, are on the first floor. The private apartments of the president and guest rooms for visiting dignitaries occupy the second floor, and the third floor consists chiefly of family guest rooms and quarters for the staff.
Portraits and sculpted busts of the presidents line the ground floor corridor through which visitors enter the White House. Various sitting rooms and meeting rooms open off the main corridor; several of them also are used for displays. The ground-floor library holds books on American history. The Vermeil Room houses the White House collection of gold-plated silver, or vermeil, and portraits of 20th-century first ladies hang on its walls. The China Room features examples of presidential china from the presidency of John Adams onward. The Map Room was originally used by Franklin D. Roosevelt as a place in which to follow the course of World War II; today it holds a collection of maps and is used for private meetings.
The Diplomatic Reception Room is a large, oval-shaped room on the ground floor. Here the president greets ambassadors and other dignitaries from abroad. It has an entrance onto the south lawn through which the first family enters the White House. Wallpaper showing historic views of America lines the walls.
White House guests enter the Executive Mansion on the first floor, through the North Portico. The formal rooms of state on the first floor, which are open to the public, include the East Room, Blue Room, Red Room, Green Room, and State Dining Room. The Blue, Red, and Green rooms received their names from the colors used for their draperies, wall covering, carpeting, and upholstery during the 1820s and 1830s. The colors still appear in the furnishing of the rooms.
The East Room, the largest room in the White House, is used for big gatherings such as official receptions, ceremonies, performances, and balls. The first tenant of the White House, Abigail Adams, hung the laundry here, and White House children have at times used it for roller skating. The bodies of assassinated presidents William McKinley and John F. Kennedy once lay in state in the East Room.
The oval Blue Room is where the president greets guests invited to state dinners. Centrally located on the south side of the White House, it has a beautiful view overlooking the south lawn. The Blue Room contains the oldest original furniture in the White House: chairs and a sofa in the Empire style purchased by James Monroe. Grover Cleveland, the only president to be married in the White House, wed Frances Folsom in the Blue Room. Presidents and their wives generally favor the Red and Green rooms, situated to the side of the Blue Room, for informal White House gatherings, including teas, coffees, and small dinner parties.
The State Dining Room seats as many as 140 guests and is used for formal dinners for visiting heads of states and other dignitaries. A smaller dining room next to the State Dining Room is used today for small formal dinners. The first family ate there until the early 1960s, when Jacqueline Kennedy added a family dining room on the second floor.
|A3||The Second Floor|
The first family’s living quarters are on the second floor of the White House, along with rooms used by important overnight guests. Offices occupied much of the second floor until 1902, when Theodore Roosevelt had the West Wing built. Roosevelt had six children and needed more room for his young, active family in the main building.
Today, the White House family quarters include living rooms, dining room, kitchen, presidential study, and several bedrooms and bathrooms. Guest quarters on the second floor include the Queen’s Bedroom, the Lincoln Bedroom, and the Treaty Room. At each end of the central hall are sitting areas, a private living room for the first family at the west end and a living room for guests at the east end.
In the center of the second floor, on the south side of the White House, is the sunny Yellow Oval Room. Past presidents, including Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, used it as a study. Jacqueline Kennedy remodeled it as a sitting room, and it is used today for formal private visits with heads of states and other important guests.
Visiting royalty have slept in the room once known as the Rose Room and now called the Queen’s Bedroom. But today royal visitors and other heads of state generally stay at Blair House, a presidential guest house on Pennsylvania Avenue across the street from the White House.
Abraham Lincoln used the room now known as the Lincoln Bedroom as his office and cabinet room. It was here that he met with Union Army generals during the Civil War (1861-1865) and signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Today, the room is furnished with pieces from Lincoln’s time, including a carved rosewood bed believed to have been purchased in 1861 by Mary Todd Lincoln, the president’s wife. However, Lincoln himself probably never slept in the bed. Recent presidents have rewarded campaign contributors and close friends with a night in the Lincoln Bedroom. Laura Bush, wife of George W. Bush, worked with the White House curator to restore the room to Victorian splendor in 2004.
The Treaty Room, near the Lincoln Bedroom, served as the meeting room for the cabinet from the presidency of Andrew Johnson until the West Wing went up. After 1902 it became a sitting room, sometimes called the Monroe Room. It has served as a study for the president since Dwight D. Eisenhower’s time. The Kennedys named it the Treaty Room because presidents have signed many important treaties here.
The third floor was an attic until Teddy Roosevelt moved into the White House. Roosevelt’s renovation added rooms for storing linens, ironing, and other household needs. The third floor was further expanded during Truman’s presidency. Today, it contains additional family bedrooms, guest rooms for friends and relatives of the president, quarters for the White House staff, a billiards room, a workout room, and a sun room in which the first family relaxes. Eisenhower and other presidents have barbequed on a promenade that runs along the edge of the roof.
The president and vice president have offices in the West Wing. The East Wing houses the offices of the first lady and the White House staff as well as a movie theater. Covered, colonnaded terraces, or pavilions, connect the East Wing and the West Wing with the main building.
The ground floor of the West Wing houses offices of the National Security Council (NSC) and the White House security forces. During a national or international crisis, the president meets with his intelligence advisers and top-level officials in the ground-floor situation room. The NSC and other intelligence agencies operate the situation room around the clock, monitoring world events.
The president’s oval-shaped office is on the first floor of the West Wing, facing the south lawn. The president’s desk stands in front of the windows. Britain’s Queen Victoria presented the oak desk, made from the timbers of a decommissioned ship, to Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. Most presidents since then have used this desk. Franklin Roosevelt had a panel added to the front of the desk to hide the iron braces he wore on his legs after a bout of polio. Sofas and chairs fill the center of the Oval Office. A study and private dining room are next to the Oval Office. The nearby Cabinet Room is where the president meets regularly with the appointed heads of the executive department of the U.S. government, such as the secretary of state, secretary of defense, and secretary of the treasury.
The vice president, chief of staff, press secretary, and several other top assistants also have offices on the West Wing’s first floor. The White House counsel and various policy advisors and their staffs occupy the second floor. The West colonnade houses a briefing room for the press. The president holds press conferences here, and his press secretary briefs news reporters and answers their questions in this room.
The East Wing houses more offices, including those of the first lady and her staff. It also contains a movie theater and a library. The family movie theater has about 40 seats.
The East Wing went up in 1942, during World War II. It covered an underground bomb shelter where the president and his family could take refuge if needed. This underground bunker, now known as the Emergency Operations Center, is still in use. George W. Bush and his vice president Dick Cheney, as well as many members of the White House staff, spent part of the day here after the September 11 attacks in 2001.
The District of Columbia, which has the same boundaries as Washington, D.C., was established in 1790 as the site of the permanent capital of the newly created United States. In 1792 an architectural competition was held for the design of a presidential home to be built in Washington. James Hoban, an Irish American architect, won the $500 prize with a plan for a simple two-story structure over a basement. Hoban drew inspiration for his design from Leinster House, the home of the dukes of Leinster, in Dublin, Ireland. Upon completion, the White House was the largest house in the United States.
The White House was barely complete by 1800, when the federal government moved from Philadelphia to Washington and the first White House tenants, John and Abigail Adams, moved in. Many walls remained unplastered, few of the rooms were furnished, and the surrounding fields were treeless and strewn with debris. The Adamses lived in the Executive Mansion for only a few months before Thomas Jefferson took office in 1801.
Jefferson, himself an architect, found the house unimpressive and hired architect Benjamin Latrobe in 1806 to make some changes. Latrobe created designs for the north and south porticos, which would make the house less boxlike and more graceful, and for remodeling parts of the interior. With the help of Jefferson, Latrobe also designed pavilions, or covered terraces, that branched off the main building to the east and west, as well as single-story wings for storage. Jefferson also landscaped the White House grounds.
The War of 1812 between the United States and Britain broke out during the presidency of James Madison, before work on the porticos had begun. On August 4, 1814, British troops set fire to the White House, destroying the interior. Dolley Madison, escaping from the building just before the arrival of British troops, managed to save only a few items, including a portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart that still hangs in the East Room.
Reconstruction of the White House took place during the presidency of James Monroe, under the supervision of Hoban. Monroe had spent time in France and looked to France when he refurnished some of the state rooms of the White House in the Empire Style. The Blue Room is furnished today with the French Empire chairs and sofa purchased by Monroe. Reconstruction of the White House was completed in 1817, and the porticos were added in the 1820s.
The first major redecoration of the White House took place in 1881 during the administration of Chester A. Arthur, who auctioned 24 wagonloads of old White House furniture. Arthur then commissioned designer Louis Tiffany to redecorate. Tiffany’s firm added stained glass and new lighting fixtures, mirrors, and fireplace mantels, and repainted the house in the pale colors favored by the then-popular aesthetic movement.
After Theodore Roosevelt took office in 1901, he separated the working quarters of the White House from the living quarters. Roosevelt hired the New York architect Charles McKim to build the West Wing for offices and to modernize the White House interiors. McKim removed Victorian decor and returned the first-floor state rooms to their neoclassical, early 19th-century appearance. In doing so he stripped the Tiffany stained glass and other decorations ordered by Arthur. In addition, the White House attic was made habitable, several rooms were enlarged, and a gallery was created on the ground floor for portraits of first ladies.
Franklin Roosevelt expanded the West Wing and added the East Wing with more offices. He also had a swimming pool installed beneath the west terrace so he could exercise his legs, which had been weakened by polio.
Over the years various innovations were installed to make life in the White House more comfortable: running water in 1833; central heating in 1837; gas lighting, which replaced candles and oil lamps, in 1848; hot water heating in 1853; and wiring for electricity in 1891. Each convenience and structural change took its toll in weakened walls, sagging floors, and unsafe ceilings.
In 1948, while the Trumans lived in the White House, the building was found to be structurally unsound. The Trumans moved to Blair House during the subsequent reconstruction and renovation, which lasted until 1952. To stabilize the building, new foundations went in and a steel framework was built to support the outer walls and roof. Private bathrooms were added for every bedroom, and central air conditioning, a movie theater, a solarium (sun room), and a gymnasium were installed. The buildings hardwood doors and floors were preserved, along with antique mantels and cornices. The state rooms changed little in appearance. On the outside, a balcony was constructed within the columns of the south portico; it is sometimes referred to as the Truman Balcony.
As a result of the renovation, the number of rooms in the White House increased from 62 to 132. However, the budget was insufficient to replace the existing furniture with period antiques, and the Trumans moved back to the White House with antique reproductions and the McKim-era furniture. Subsequent first ladies Mamie Eisenhower and Jacqueline Kennedy felt the furniture gave the White House the impersonal look of a hotel.
Wealthy Americans began to donate antique furniture, china and silver, and other historic items to the White House during the Eisenhower administration. A decade later, during the Kennedy administration, Jacqueline Kennedy began a campaign to make the White House a showcase of American art and history. She appointed a committee on fine arts to advise her on the redecoration and appealed for donations during a televised tour of the White House. The committee acquired furniture of the Hepplewhite and Sheraton styles for the Green Room, and pieces in the subsequent Empire style for the Blue Room and Red Room. A permanent curator was appointed for the White House collection of fine and decorative arts. In 1961 the White House Historical Association was formed to “enhance understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of the Executive Mansion.” The organization published the first White House guidebook in 1962. The guidebook has been revised many times since.
Lady Bird Johnson, Kennedy’s successor as first lady, continued the work of beautifying the White House. She helped assemble a permanent collection of American art for the Executive Mansion, and in 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson issued an executive order establishing the Committee for the Preservation of the White House to expand and look after the White House collections.
Subsequent first ladies have followed the lead of Kennedy and Johnson, working with curators to embellish the White House, to restore its historic furnishings, and to acquire painting and sculpture for its rooms. The White House now displays paintings, historic furniture, and porcelain and other decorative arts that reflect the changing taste of the country.
|IV||VISITING THE WHITE HOUSE|
Until the 20th century visitors dropped in to the White House whenever they wished. In the 19th century the north lawn was open, and visitors could stroll up to the front door and walk in. Today, tours for White House visitors are scheduled from 7:30 am to 12:30 pm, Tuesday through Saturday. A request to visit the White House must be submitted to your member of Congress at least five days in advance. For more information on visiting the White House, see the National Park Service White House Web site.