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White House

This page is about the official residence of the President of the USA. For other White Houses see White House (disambiguation). See also 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (musical).

The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the President of the United States.

It is a white painted, neoclassical sandstone mansion located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW in Washington, D.C. (). As the office of the President of the United States, the term White House is often used as a metonym for the President's administration, as in, "Today, the White House announced a new health care initiative." The Secret Service codename for it is "Crown." The property is owned by the National Park Service and is part of President's Park.

An image of the White House is on the back of the U.S. $20 bill.



The White House was built after the creation of the District of Columbia by an Act of Congress in December, 1790. President George Washington himself helped select the site, along with city planner Pierre L'Enfant. The architect was chosen in a competition, which received nine proposals. James Hoban, an Irishman, was awarded the honor and construction began with the laying of the cornerstone on October 13, 1792. The building he designed was modelled on the first and second floors of Leinster House, a ducal palace in Dublin, Ireland that is now the seat of the Irish Parliament. Construction was completed on November 1, 1800. Over an extremely slow 8 years of construction, $232,371.83 was spent. With inflation, this would be approximately equivalent to $2.4 million today.

North side of the White House
North side of the White House
19th Century view of the White House as seen from the southwest, with the old West Wing visible.
19th Century view of the White House as seen from the southwest, with the old West Wing visible.

Befitting the times, the building was originally referred to as the Presidential Palace or Presidential Mansion. Dolley Madison called it the "President's Castle." However, by 1811, the first evidence of the public calling it the "White House" emerged, because of its white-painted stone exterior. The name Executive Mansion was often used in official context until President Theodore Roosevelt established the formal name by having "The White House" engraved on his stationery in 1901.

John Adams became the first president to take residence in the building on November 1, 1800. In 1814, during the War of 1812, much of Washington, D.C. was set alight by British troops, and the White House was gutted. Only the exterior walls remained, but it was rebuilt. The walls were repainted white, but it is important to point out that the White House was always painted white as early as 1798, and the repainting from the fire damage did not originate the term "White House" as a popular urban legend claims it did.

The White House was attacked again on August 16, 1841 when U.S. President John Tyler vetoed a bill which called for the establishment of the Second Bank of the United States. Enraged Whig Party members rioted outside the White House in what was (and still is, as of 2004) the most violent demonstration on White House grounds in U.S. history.

North Portico of the White House.
North Portico of the White House.

Like the English and Irish country houses it aped, the White House was 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, when 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.

The White House remained open 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 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.

The White House was designated a National Historic Landmark on December 19, 1960.


19th century photo of the Red Room.
19th century photo of the Red Room.

Very few people realize the size of the White House, since much of it is below ground or otherwise minimized by landscaping. In fact, the White House has:

  • 134 rooms [1]
  • 35 bathrooms
  • 6 stories
  • 412 doors
  • 147 windows
  • 28 fireplaces
  • 8 staircases
  • 3 elevators
  • 5 full-time chefs
  • 5,000 visitors a day
  • a tennis court
  • a bowling lane
  • a movie theater
  • a jogging track
  • a swimming pool

It is one of the few government buildings in Washington that is wheelchair-accessible, modifications having been made during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was confined to a wheelchair as a result of polio. In the mid 1940s, the building was found to be structurally unsound and in imminent danger of collapse. President Harry Truman was moved out to Blair House, while the White House was gutted; its interior was dismantled with the house left as a shell. It was then rebuilt using concrete and metal beams in place of its original wooden joists. Some modifications were made; the presidential residence on the top floors was extended, while a new balcony was added to the circular portico.

Though the structural integrity of the building had been corrected in the 1940s, the interior, as a result of decades of poor maintenance and then the process of removal and reinstatement, had been allowed to deteriorate. Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of President John F. Kennedy (1961-63) remodeled the interior of many rooms with decors inspired by its early nineteenth century appearance, often using high quality furniture that had been put in storage in the basements and forgotten about. Many of the antiques, fine paintings, and other improvements of the Kennedy period were given to the White House by rich donors, including Jane Engelhard, Jayne Wrightsman , the Oppenheimer family of South Africa, and other monied individuals. The Kennedy decor, much admired then as now, had an imperial Francophile air that was the result of the decorator Stephane Boudin of Jansen, the eminent Paris design company that had planned and/or executed decors for the royal families of Belgium and Iran, the Duchess of Windsor, and Nazi Germany's Reichsbank. The rooms that had a more early American appearance were decorated by Boudin but heavily influenced by the millionaire museum founder Henry Francis du Pont .

Since then, every presidential family has made changes to the decor of the White House, some subtle, others more profound and controversial. In the 1990s, for example, President and Mrs. Clinton had some of the rooms recast by Arkansas decorator Kaki Hockersmith ; the result, though presumably inspired by the Kennedy years, was unveiled to general derision.

The West Wing

In the early twentieth century, new buildings were added to the wings at either side of the main White House to accommodate the President's growing staff, who had previously used an office located in the U.S. Capitol. Both new wings were largely concealed from view by being built to a lower height than the main house. The West Wing houses the President's office and offices of his political staff. It currently holds about 50 employees.

The West Wing of the White House.
The West Wing of the White House.

As with much of the White House at the time, the West Wing was substantially remodeled and expanded for President Theodore Roosevelt by the New York architects McKim, Mead & White and contained a new cabinet room, with a small, square office next door that served as the President's office. Before the building of the new West Wing, presidential staff worked on the second floor. President William Howard Taft had the interior remodeled. Central to the remodeling was a new presidential office in the dead center of the building, which, given its shape, was nicknamed the Oval Office.

On December 24, 1929 (Christmas Eve), the West Wing was destroyed by fire. In 1933, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt became President, he undertook the third and final major re-organization with a new Oval Office being constructed; he disliked the original central location because it lacked windows, and, as a result, was entirely reliant on skylights. The new office's location also allowed Presidents greater privacy, as they were now able to slip back and forth between the main White House and the West Wing without being in full view of the West Wing staff, a problem with the two earlier offices. Roosevelt also constructed a swimming pool to enable him to exercise.

In 1969, to accommodate the growing number of reporters assigned to the White House and based in the West Wing, President Richard Nixon had the by-then unused pool covered over. The former swimming pool is now the location of the Press Center, where the President's spokesperson gives daily briefings. Nixon also renamed the room (which, prior to the rebuilding after the 1929 fire, had been the first Oval Office) as the Roosevelt Room, in honor of the two Presidents Roosevelt: Theodore, who first built the West Wing, and Franklin, who built the current Oval Office. By tradition, a portrait of Franklin Roosevelt hangs in the room during the administration of a president from the Democratic Party and a portrait of Theodore Roosevelt hangs during the administration of a Republican president.

As presidential staffs grew substantially in the latter half of the twentieth century, the West Wing generally came to be seen as too small for its modern governmental functions. Today, some members of the President's staff are located in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB, formerly known as the Old Executive Office Building or OEOB) that formerly housed the Departments of Defense and State, a short distance away.

Beginning in 1999, a popular television show called The West Wing brought greater public attention to the workings of the Presidential staff, as well as to the location of those workings in the West Wing (rather than in the White House itself). When asked whether the show accurately captured the working environment, some former White House staffers observed that the television set appeared less crowded than the real offices. In 2003, Press Secretary Scott McClellan commented that the show portrayed more foot traffic and larger rooms than in the real 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. 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

Although the White House grounds have many gardeners through their history, the current layout was designed in 1935 by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. of the Olmsted Brothers firm, under comission from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

See also

External links

Last updated: 10-10-2005 09:42:40
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