The White House, situated on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, was built between 1792 and 1800 by the first US President George Washington (although he never lived in it). The architect of this infamous building was Irish-born Architect James Hoban, who designed it in the Neoclassical style of Architecture. It was not known as The White House until President Theodore Roosevelt named it in 1901. It has been home to 52 presidents, from John Adams in 1800 to Joe Biden.
Inside this white-painted Aquia Creek sandstone Residence are 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms and six levels in residence. According to official website, it has 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, eight staircases and three lifts. Its bustling kitchen can serve dinner to 140 guests.
The White House Renovations
The White House has been a constant fixture in America’s public consciousness. Let’s leave it to Donald Trump when he allegedly declares USA’s most famous domicile as “A Dump !” to the front and centre of national news. It may have created awe to many as a vexing descriptor of one of the best American history museums. But exceptional piece needs the care to keep their exceptionality intact. So, the major renovations under which this house has gone through the years are described below in a chronicle manner.
The White House was completed to create the new seat of a new nation in 1800, just in time for US’s second president, John Adams, to reside. During the war of 1812, British Army Force set this 14-year-old residence on fire, described as the Burning of Washington, forcing then-president James Madison to live in a temporary residence. It destroyed the interior and charred much of the exterior. So, the renovation started immediately, and in 1817, President James Monroe moved into a partially reconstructed executive residence seven months into his term. Exterior construction continued with the addition of the semi-circular South Portico in 1824 and the North Portico in 1829.
Some necessary services like indoor plumbing and electricity had to be added throughout the years. The original White House did not accommodate running water. Thus this service and other ones like gas pipes for lighting and various HVAC system were included to modernise it and maintain its presence as a suitable residence for the head of the state.
Some of the updates also illustrate the individual taste of each administration. In 1881 remodel, President Chester Arthur commissioned a massive stained glass screen and a gilded tracery throughout the building to give it a victorian touch.
In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt relocated official operations to the newly constructed West Wing because of crowding within the executive mansion. Theodore Roosevelt enlisted the help of an Architectural firm McKim to oversee this expansion. The design leaning on classical style needed the removal of Arthur’s Victorian additions.
After eight years, in 1909, President William Howard Taft extended the West Wing & created the first Oval Office of the White House. Later in the 1930s, it was expanded by President Franklin Roosevelt, who moved the Oval Office to its current Rose Garden-adjacent location.
Franklin Roosevelt added an East Wing with the primary intention of concealing the underground bunker now known as the Presidential Emergency Operations Center. Since then, the East Wing has added more offices and serves as office space for the First Lady and her staff.
Circa 1948 | The White House
In the mid-20th century, The White House Reconstruction, widely known as Truman Reconstruction, took place because of “Serious Structural Weakness”. When Harry S. Truman and his family moved into the White House, it suffered almost 150 years of haphazard renovations and additions, plus neglect. On one occasion, when Truman’s daughter Margret was in her executive chamber, the leg of her piano crashed through the floor, which led to a formal investigation. The report resulted in the White House being deemed unsafe and in imminent danger of collapse. Truman was even told that residence was standing up “From force of Habit only”.
The project had major financial challenges since the scope requirements kept increasing. The construction time also played a crucial part since it was during the Korean War. Because of this, the cost of materials rose above expected. Also, there needed to be more labour availability.
Under President Truman, it underwent a massive renovation in which everything but the exterior walls was dismantled. Architect Lorenzo Winslow oversaw the renovation. The project included hand-digging two sub-basements, replacing the foundation with poured concrete, removing historical panelling and fixtures and re-installing the fixtures. A new internal load-bearing steel frame was constructed inside the walls. On the exterior, The Truman Balcony was added. Unfortunately, the reproductions of furnishing and interior decorations by B.Altman & Company were not up to the mark.
When Jacqueline Kennedy, with her husband, President John F. Kennedy, moved into the White House, she was disappointed to find very little interior. She said that the interior lacked historical significance since the interior decorations had nothing before 1901. Thus she began an exquisitely decorative restoration in 1961. If Truman saved the residence’s structural integrity, the Kennedys saved its historical integrity. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, along with the help of her sister Parish, Henry de Pnt and Stephane Boudine, redecorated it with historical art and artefacts sourced from museum collections and prominent American families. The tour of the revamped house was made televised, and the residence became open to visitors.
Circa 2013 | The White House
Then First Lady Michelle Obama, wife of president Barak Obama, planted the White House’s First organic garden and installed beehives on Southern Lawns. The Garden covers 102 sq. mt, and the organic honey produced from beehives is used in the kitchen.
Andrews, F. (2022) Inside the White House: 230 years of presidential history and renovations, The National. The National. Available at: https://www.thenationalnews.com/lifestyle/2022/10/13/inside-the-white-house-230-years-of-presidential-history-and-renovations/ (Accessed: January 22, 2023).
Admin (2018) A history of White House renovations, White-website-header. Milrose Consultants. Available at: https://www.milrose.com/insights/a-history-of-white-house-renovations (Accessed: January 22, 2023).
White House Reconstruction (2022) Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_House_Reconstruction (Accessed: January 22, 2023).
The White House Restoration (no date) The White House Restoration | JFK Library. Available at: https://www.jfklibrary.org/learn/about-jfk/jfk-in-history/the-white-house-restoration (Accessed: January 22, 2023).
President Truman’s renovation (no date) WHHA (en-US). Available at: https://www.whitehousehistory.org/collections/president-trumans-renovation (Accessed: January 22, 2023).
The White House: Inside story: White House renovations (2021) PBS LearningMedia. PBS LearningMedia. Available at: https://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/whitehouse_inside_story_9/the-white-house-inside-story-white-house-renovations/ (Accessed: January 22, 2023).
Hojnicki, C. (2017) The various White House renovations through the years may surprise you, Architectural Digest. Architectural Digest. Available at: https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/white-house-renovations-timeline (Accessed: January 22, 2023).