Essential Architecture- Washington D.C.

The White House


James Hoban


Washington, DC




Renaissance Revival


stone, render


House , Government
  View from Washington Monument

North façade of the White House, seen from Pennsylvania Avenue. Before construction of the north portico in 1824, the north façade looked similar to Leinster House shown in the picture below.

Leinster House in Dublin The eighteenth century ducal palace in Dublin served as a model for the White House.

The White House is the official home and principal workplace of the President of the United States of America. Built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the late Georgian style, it has been the executive residence of every U.S. President since John Adams. When Thomas Jefferson moved into the home in 1801, he, with architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe expanded the building outward, creating two colonnades which were meant to conceal stables and storage.[1] In 1814, during the War of 1812, the mansion was set ablaze by British troops, destroying the interior and charring much of the exterior walls. Reconstruction began almost immediately and President James Monroe moved into the partially reconstructed house in October 1817. Construction continued with the addition of the South Portico in 1824 and the North in 1829. Due to crowding within the executive mansion itself, President Theodore Roosevelt had nearly all work offices relocated to the newly constructed West Wing in 1901. Eight years later, President William Howard Taft expanded the West Wing, and created the first Oval Office which was eventually moved and the section was expanded. The third floor attic was converted to living quarters in 1927 by augmenting the existing hip roof with long shed dormers. A newly constructed East Wing was used as a reception area for social events; both new wings were connected by Jefferson's colonnades. East Wing alterations were completed in 1946 creating additional office space. By 1948, the house's load-bearing exterior walls and internal wood beams were found to be close to failure. The interior rooms were completely dismantled, resulting in the construction of a new internal load-bearing steel framework and the reassembly of the interior rooms.

The house is built of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the late Georgian style. It is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. As the office of the United States President, the term "White House" is used as a metonym for a United States president's administration, the Executive Office of the President. The property is owned by the National Park Service and is part of the President's Park.

Today, the White House Complex includes the Executive Residence, as well as East and West Wings. The White House is made up of six stories: the Ground Floor, State Floor, Second Floor, and Third Floor, as well as a two-story basement. It is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. As the Executive Office of the President of the United States, the term "White House" is regularly used as a metonym for a United States president's administration. The property is owned by the National Park Service and is part of the President's Park.


Architectural competition
The young republic's new capital city was sited on land ceded by two states—Virginia and Maryland—which both transferred ownership of the land to the federal government in response to a compromise with President Washington. The D.C. commissioners were charged by Congress with building the new city under the direction of the President. The architect of the White House was chosen in a competition, which received nine proposals, including one submitted anonymously by Thomas Jefferson.[1] President Washington traveled to the site of the new 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 Carolina. The briefness of Washington's review of the plans may have been due to the majority of the submissions being awkward and naïve. Washington was not entirely pleased with the original Hoban submission. 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. This was likely inspired by the large reception room at Mount Vernon.

Design influences

Château de Rastignac, a neoclassical country house located in La Bachellerie in the Dordogne region of France and designed by Mathurin Salat, was built 1812–1817. Similarities with the White House's South Portico (immediately below) suggest it may have been a source of inspiration for James Hoban and Benjamin Henry Latrobe, both who completed elevations for the South Portico. There is no record of either of them visiting the region.

The White House from the South Lawn showing the columned South Portico. The South Portico was constructed in 1829 based on earlier drawings by James Hoban. The second floor balcony, known as the Truman Balcony, was added in 1947. The State Arrival Ceremony for visiting heads of state take place on the South Lawn. Marine One, the president's helicopter service, lands and departs from the South Lawn.The building Hoban designed is verifiably influenced by the first and second floors of Leinster House, a ducal palace in Dublin, Ireland, which is now the seat of the Irish Parliament. Several other Georgian era Irish country houses have been suggested as sources of inspiration for the overall floor plan, details like the bow-fronted south front, and interior details like the former niches in the present Blue Room. These influences though undocumented, are cited in the official White House guide, and in White House Historical Association publications. The first official White House guide, published in 1962, suggested a link between Hoban's design for the South Portico, and Château de Rastignac, a neoclassical country house located in La Bachellerie in the Dordogne region of France and designed by Mathurin Salat. The French house was built 1812–1817, based on an earlier design. The link has been criticised because Hoban did not visit France. Supporters of a connection posit that Thomas Jefferson while visiting the Ecole Spéciale d'Architecture (Bordeaux Architectural College) in 1789 viewed Salat's drawings[2] and on his return to the U.S. shared the influence with Washington, Hoban, Monroe, and Benjamin Henry Latrobe[3]. Both Hoban and Latrobe made elevations for the South Portico, and the portico, as built in 1829, is nearly identical to the Hoban watercolor elevation.


White House Ground Floor showing location of principal rooms.

White House State Floor showing location of principal rooms.

White House Second Floor showing location of principal rooms.

Construction began with the laying of the cornerstone on October 13, 1792. A diary kept by the District of Columbia building commissioner records that the footings for the main residence were dug by slaves. The foundations were also built by slave labor. Much of the other work on the house was performed by immigrants, many not yet with citizenship. The sandstone walls were erected by Scottish immigrants, as were the high relief rose and garland decorations above the north entrance and the "fish scale" pattern beneath the pediments of the window hoods. Much of the brick and plaster work was produced by Irish and Italian immigrants. The initial construction took place over a period of eight years, at a reported cost of $232,371.83 ($2.4 million in 2005 dollars). Although not yet completed, the White House was ready for occupancy on or about November 1, 1800.[2] 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.

Naming conventions
The building was originally referred to variously as the "President's Palace," "Presidential Mansion," or "President's House." Dolley Madison called it the "President's Castle." There is a common misconception that the term "The White House" wasn't used until after the War of 1812, when the mansion was burned and re-painted. However, the earliest evidence of the public calling it the "White House" was recorded in 1811, three years before the House was set on fire. 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. President Franklin Roosevelt changed his letterhead to "The White House" with the word "Washington" centered beneath. That convention remains today.

Although it wasn't built until some years after the presidency of George Washington, it is also speculated that the name of the traditional home of the President of the United States may have derived from Martha Custis Washington's home, White House Plantation in New Kent County, Virginia, where the nation's first President and First Lady had shared many pleasant memories during their courtship in the mid-18th century. [3].

Evolution of the White House

Early use, the 1814 fire, and rebuilding
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 blessings on this House, and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none 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.

Jefferson's West Colonnade is seen on the left of the residence in this nineteenth century engraved view. The West Colonnade originally concealed a stable and laundry room. Later it became the site of Franklin Roosevelt's swimming pool. President Nixon converted the space to the current Press Briefing 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.

During the War of 1812 much of Washington was burned by British troops in retaliation for burning Upper Canada's Parliament Buildings in the Battle of York (present day Toronto) leaving the White House gutted. 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. A legend emerged that during the rebuilding of the structure white paint was applied to mask the burn damage it had suffered, giving the building its namesake hue. This is unfounded as the building had been painted white since its construction in 1798. Of the numerous spoils taken from the White House when it was ransacked by British troops, only two have been recovered — a painting of George Washington, rescued by then-first lady Dolley Madison, and a jewelry box returned to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 by a Canadian man who said his grandfather had taken it from Washington. Most of the spoils were lost when a convoy of British ships led by HMS Fantome sank en route to Halifax off Prospect during a storm on the night of 24 November 1814.

Truman reconstruction, 1949-1952 First the interior rooms were dismantled and stored, then a steel and concrete structure was erected within the original walls. The interior rooms, with most of the original trim and floor boards were rebuilt within the new framework.

After the fire, both Latrobe and Hoban contributed to the design and oversight of the reconstruction. The north portico was built in 1824, and though architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe proposed similar porticos during the rebuilding after the fire in 1814, both porticos were designed by Hoban. Contrary to a frequently published myth, the North Portico was not modeled on a similar portico on another Dublin building, the Viceregal Lodge (now Áras an Uachtaráin, residence of the President of Ireland). Its portico in fact postdates the White House porticos' design. The South portico was built in 1829. The similarity between the South Portico, and an elliptical portico, with nearly identical curved stairs at Château de Rastignac in La Bachellerie, France is frequently speculated as the source. The decorative stonework on both porticos were carved by Italian artisans brought to Washington to help in constructing the U.S. Capitol. For the North Portico, a variation on the Ionic Order was devised incorporating a swag of roses between the volutes. This was done to link the new portico with the earlier carved roses above the entrance.

Overcrowding and building the West Wing
By the time of the American Civil War, the White House was overcrowded. Some also complained about the location of the White House, just north of a canal and swampy lands, which provided conditions ripe for malaria and other unhealthy conditions.[4] Brigadier General Nathaniel Michler was tasked to propose solutions to address these concerns.[4] He proposed to abandon the White House as a residence, and use it only for business; He proposed a new estate for the first family at Meridian Hill in Washington, D.C.[4] This plan was rejected by Congress.

In 1891, First Lady Caroline Harrison proposed extensions to the White House, including a National Wing on the east for a historical art gallery, and a wing on the west for official functions.[4] A plan was devised by Colonel Theodore A. Bingham, which reflected the Harrison Plan.[4] In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt and his large family moved in to the White House and found the overcrowding unbearable.[4] McKim, Mead, and White was hired to carry out renovations and expansion, including the West Wing. The first family spent four months of 1902 in a temporary home at 22 Jackson Place.[4] By 1909, more space was needed by President William Taft. Architect Nathan C. Wyeth was hired to add space to the West Wing, which included the addition of the Oval Office.[4]

The Truman reconstruction
Decades of poor maintenance and the construction of a fourth story attic during the Coolidge administration took a great toll on the brick and sandstone structure built around a timber frame. By 1948 the house had become so unsound that President Truman abandoned it, moving across the street to Blair House, from 1949-1951. The reconstruction, done by the firm of Philadelphia contractor John McShain, 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, and two additional sub-basements providing space for workrooms, storage and a bomb shelter. The Trumans moved back into the White House on March 27, 1952. While the house was saved by the Truman reconstruction, much of the new interior finishes were generic, and of little historic value. Much of the original plasterwork, some dating to the 1814-1816 rebuilding was too damaged to reinstall, as was the original robust Beaux Arts paneling in the East Room. President Truman had the original timber frame sawed into paneling. The walls of the Vermeil Room, Library, China Room, and Map Room on the ground floor of the main residence were paneled in wood from the timbers.

The Kennedy restoration

The Red Room as designed by Stéphane Boudin during the administration of John F. Kennedy.

Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of President John F. Kennedy (1961–63), directed the most extensive and historic redecoration of the house in its history. Henry Francis du Pont of the Winterthur Museum chaired a White House Fine Arts Committee. Research was conducted on the use and decoration of the house's primary rooms. Different periods of the early republic were selected as a theme for each room: the Federal style for the Green Room; French Empire for the Blue Room; American Empire for the Red Room; Louis XVI for the Yellow Oval Room; and Victorian for the president's study, renamed the Treaty Room. Antique furniture was acquired, and decorative fabric and trim based on period documents was produced and installed. Many of the antiques, fine paintings, and other improvements of the Kennedy period were donated to the White House by wealthy donors, including the Crowninshield family, Jane Engelhard, Jayne Wrightsman, and the Oppenheimer family. The Kennedy restoration resulted in a White House that was almost regal in feeling, and which recalled the French taste of Madison and Monroe. Much of the French taste originated with the interior decorator Stéphane Boudin of the House of Jansen, a Paris interior-design firm that had designed interiors for Elsie de Wolfe, Lady Olive Baillie, the royal families of Belgium and Iran, the German Reichsbank during the period of National Socialism, and Leeds Castle in Kent. The first White House guide book was produced under the direction of curator Lorraine Waxman Pearce with direct supervision from Jacqueline Kennedy. Sale of the guide book helped finance the restoration.

Establishment of the Committee for the Preservation of the White House
The Kennedys' Fine Arts Committee eventually became the congressionally authorized Committee for the Preservation of the White House, whose mission is to maintain the historical integrity of the White House. The committee works with the First Family, usually represented by the First Lady, the White House Curator, and the Chief Usher of the White House. Since the committee's establishment, every presidential family has made some changes to the family quarters of the White House, but changes to the State Rooms must all be approved by the Committee for the Preservation of the White House. During the Nixon administration, First Lady Pat Nixon refurbished the Green Room, Blue Room and Red Room, working with Clement Conger, the curator they appointed. In the 1990s President and Mrs. Clinton had some of the rooms refurbished by Arkansas decorator Kaki Hockersmith. During the Clinton administration the East Room, Blue Room, State Dining Room and Lincoln Sitting Room were refurbished. A recent refurbishment of the Lincoln Bedroom begun during the Clinton administration was completed in President George W. Bush's administration, and the refurbishment of the Green Room and East Room has begun. The White House is one of the first government buildings in Washington that was made wheelchair-accessible, with modifications having been made during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who needed to use a wheelchair as a result of his paraplegia. In the 1990s Hillary Rodham Clinton, at the suggestion of Visitors Office Director Melinda N. Bates, approved the addition of a ramp in the East Wing corridor. It allowed easy wheelchair access for the public tours and special events that enter through the secure entrance building on the east side.

Layout and facts

Cross Hall, connecting the State Dining Room and the East Room. To the left is the Entry Hall opening to the North Portico; to the right the Presidential Seal hangs above the entrance to the Blue Room.

Today the small group of buildings housing the presidency is known as the White House Complex. It includes the central Executive Residence flanked by the East Wing and West Wing. Day to day household operations are coordinated by the Chief Usher. Few people realize the size of the White House, since much of it is below ground or otherwise concealed by landscaping. The White House includes: Six stories and 55,000 ft² (5,100 m²) of floor space, 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms [5], 412 doors, 147 windows, twenty-eight fireplaces, eight staircases, three elevators, five full-time chefs, a tennis court, a (single-lane) bowling alley, a movie theater, a jogging track, a swimming pool, and a putting green. It receives about 5,000 visitors a day.

Executive Residence

The original residence is in the center. Two colonnades – one on the east and one on the west – designed by Jefferson now serve to connect to the East and West Wings, added later. The Executive Residence houses the president's home, and rooms for ceremonies and official entertaining. The State Floor of the residence building includes the East Room, Green Room, Blue Room, Red Room and State Dining Room, and Family Dining Room. The third floor family residence includes the Yellow Oval Room, East and West Sitting Halls, the President's Dining Room, the Treaty Room, Lincoln Bedroom and Queens Bedroom.

The West Wing

The West Wing of the White House, in the foreground.

The West Wing houses the President's office (the Oval Office) and offices of his senior staff, with room for about 50 employees. It also includes the Cabinet Room, where the United States Cabinet meets, and the White House Situation Room. Some members of the President's staff are located in the adjacent Old Executive Office Building, formerly the State War and Navy building, and sometimes known as the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

This portion of the building was used as the setting for the popular television show The West Wing.

The East Wing

The East Wing, which contains additional office space, was added to the White House in 1942. Among its uses, the East Wing has intermittently housed the offices and staff of the First Lady, and the White House Social Office. Rosalynn Carter, in 1977, was the first to place her personal office in the East Wing and to formally call it the "Office of the First Lady." The East Wing was built during World War II in order to hide the construction of an underground bunker to be used in emergency situations. The bunker has come to be known as the Presidential Emergency Operations Center.

The White House grounds

The White House and surrounding area as seen from the Washington Monument

Before the construction of the North Portico most public events were entered from the South Lawn, which was graded and planted by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson also drafted a planting plan for the North lawn that included large trees that would have mostly obscured the house from Pennsylvania Avenue. During the mid to late nineteenth century a series of ever larger green houses were built on the west side of the house, where the current West Wing is located. During this period the North lawn was planted with ornate "carpet style" flower beds. Although the White House grounds have had many gardeners through their history, the general design, still largely used as master plan today, was designed in 1935 by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. of the Olmsted Brothers firm, under commission from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. During the Kennedy administration the White House Rose Garden was redesigned by Rachel Lambert Mellon. the Rose garden borders the West Colonnade. Bordering the East Colonnade is the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden which was begun by Jacqueline Kennedy but completed after her husband's assassination. On the weekend of June 23, 2006, a century-old American Elm (Ulmaceae Ulmus americana L.) tree on the north side of the building, came down during one of the many storms of the Mid-Atlantic Flood of June 2006. This elm is depicted on the right side on the back of the $20 bill. This tree was believed to have been planted between 1902 and 1906 during Theodore Roosevelt's administration. Among the oldest trees on the grounds are several magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) planted by Andrew Jackson.

Public access and security
Like the English and Irish country houses it was modeled on, the White House was, from the start, remarkably open to the public until the early part of the twentieth century. President Thomas Jefferson held an open house for his second inaugural in 1805, and many of the people at his swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol followed him home, where he greeted them in the Blue Room. Those open houses sometimes became rowdy: in 1829, President Andrew Jackson had to leave for a hotel when roughly 20,000 citizens celebrated his inauguration inside the White House. His aides ultimately had to lure the mob outside with washtubs filled with a potent cocktail of orange juice and whiskey. Even so, the practice continued until 1885, when newly elected Grover Cleveland arranged for a presidential review of the troops from a grandstand in front of the White House instead of the traditional open house. Jefferson also permitted public tours of his home, which have continued ever since, except during wartime, and began the tradition of annual receptions on New Year's Day and on the Fourth of July. Those receptions ended in the early 1930s, although President Bill Clinton would briefly revive the New Year's Day open house in his first term. The White House remained accessible in other ways as well; President Abraham Lincoln complained that he was constantly beleaguered by job seekers waiting to ask him for political appointments or other favors, or eccentric dispensers of advice like “General” Daniel Pratt, as he began the business day. Lincoln put up with the annoyance rather than risk alienating some associate or friend of a powerful politician or opinion maker. In recent years, however, the White House has been closed to visitors because of terrorism concerns.

In 1974, a stolen Army helicopter landed without authorization on the White House grounds. Twenty years later, in 1994, a light plane landed on the White House grounds. The pilot was killed by the crash. [5] As a result of increased security regarding air traffic in the capital, the White House was evacuated in 2005 before an unauthorized aircraft could approach the grounds.

On May 20, 1995, primarily as a response to the Oklahoma City bombing of April 19, 1995, but also in reaction to several other incidents (see Security Review), the United States Secret Service closed off Pennsylvania Avenue to vehicular traffic in front of the White House from the eastern edge of Lafayette Park to 17th Street. Later, the closure was extended an additional block to the east to 15th Street, and East Executive Drive, a small street between the White House and the Treasury Building, was closed to the public.

Prior to its inclusion within the fenced compound that now includes the Old Executive Office Building to the West and the Treasury Building to the east, this sidewalk served as a queuing area for the daily public tours of the White House. These tours were suspended in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001. In September of 2003 they were resumed on a limited basis for groups making prior arrangements through their Congressional representatives and submitting to background checks, but the White House remains closed to the general public.

Pennsylvania Avenue is now closed to all traffic, except government officials.
The Pennsylvania Avenue closing, in particular, has been opposed by organized civic groups in Washington, D.C. They argue that the closing impedes traffic flow unnecessarily and is inconsistent with the well-conceived historic plan for the city. As for security considerations, they note that the White House is set much further back from the street than numerous other sensitive federal buildings are.

The White House Complex is protected by the United States Secret Service and the United States Park Police.

The White House telephone switchboard and website

Telephone switchboard
The White House received telegraph service in the 1850s, and telephone service in the 1890s. The main switchboard number for the White House is 202-456-1414.

Robert Redford, as Bob Woodward, is seen asking for and dialing the number in the film All the President's Men It was discussed during a mideast crisis in 1990, when U.S. Secretary of State James Baker said ""Everybody over there should know that the telephone number (of the White House) is 1-202-456-1414. When you're serious about peace, call us."[7][8]

The White House maintains a comments line to register voice opinions on the phone number 202-456-1111.

The official White House website is It was established on October 17, 1994, during President Clinton's administration. The two versions of the White House website used by the Clinton administration have been archived by the National Archives and Records Administration. Both are maintained in an active form, with active links. The first White House site can be found at , and the second at . They are among the earliest examples of historic preservation of digital media.

The website was an adult and political entertainment website that first came online in 1997. Now marketed as "your source for up-to-date information to help you keep track of the major party candidates for President."

The website should not be mistaken as the official White House website as it is a parody of U.S. President George W. Bush and his family, friends and administration.

Replicas of the White House

White House replica in Atlanta, Georgia.

Under president Harry S. Truman, who oversaw a major renovation of the house, several U.S. State Department embassies and consular facilities were modeled on the White House. A 1:25 scale model at Minimundus at Klagenfurt in Carinthia, Austria, is extremely accurate, including the East and West Colonnades and the East and West Wings. In Atlanta, Georgia, a nearly full-scale model exists. The exterior is less accurate. It is owned by Atlanta home builder Fred Milani, an American citizen born in Iran. In 2001 a Chinese businessman built a model of cast concrete. The Chinese model is nearly exact in exterior dimensions but departs from the original in details, such the pitch of the portico modeled on the North Portico. It also lacks the carved details in the window hoods and above doorways. The interior of the Chinese copy has a fanciful floor plan placing the Oval Office in the central residence, where the Blue Room would be on the State Floor of the White House. In front of the replica stands a miniature Washington Monument. It also has a one-third-size Mount Rushmore with employees' quarters located in the back.

An exacting scale model of the White House built by John and Jan Zweifel has traveled across many of the United States on exhibition.

^ Frary, Ihna Thayer (1969). They Built the Capitol. Ayer Publishing, p. 27. ISBN 0836950895.
^ Johnson, Michael (September 15, 2006). "A chateau fit for a president". International Herald Tribune.
^ Our White House in France ?
^ a b c d e f g h Epstein, Ellen Robinson (1971-1972). "The East and West Wings of the White House". Records of the Columbia Historical Society.
^ [1] Church, George, "Middle East Call Us -- We Won't Call." Time (magazine), Jun. 25, 1990. retrieved Aug. 11, 2007
^ Goshko, John M. "Baker Says Israel Must Compromise. Secretary Warns of Halt in Effort To Revive Mideast Peace Process." Washington Post, Jun 14, 1990, Start Page: a.01.

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