White House – USA, North America
The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the president of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the Neoclassical style. It has been the residence of every U.S. president since John Adams. When Thomas Jefferson moved into the house in 1801, he (with architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe) expanded the building outward, creating two colonnades that were meant to conceal stables and storage.
In 1814, during the War of 1812, the mansion was set ablaze by the British Army in the Burning of Washington, destroying the interior and charring much of the exterior. 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. Because of crowding within the executive mansion itself, President Theodore Roosevelt had 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 as 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; Jefferson’s colonnades connected the new wings. 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. Under Harry S. Truman, the interior rooms were completely dismantled and a new internal load-bearing steel frame constructed inside the walls. Once this work was completed, the interior rooms were rebuilt.
Today, the White House Complex includes the Executive Residence, West Wing, Cabinet Room, Roosevelt Room, East Wing, and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which houses the executive offices of the President and Vice President.
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. The term White House is regularly used as a metonym for the Executive Office of the President of the United States and for the president’s administration and advisers in general. The property is a National Heritage Site owned by the National Park Service and is part of the President’s Park. In 2007, it was ranked second on the American Institute of Architects list of “America’s Favorite Architecture”.
Following his April 1789 inauguration, President George Washington occupied two executive mansions in New York City: the Samuel Osgood House at 3 Cherry Street (April 1789 – February 1790), and the Alexander Macomb House at 39–41 Broadway (February – August 1790).
The July 1790 Residence Act named Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the temporary national capital for a 10-year period while the Federal City was under construction. The City of Philadelphia rented Robert Morris’s city house at 190 High Street (now 524-30 Market Street) for Washington’s presidential residence. The first president occupied the Market Street mansion from November 1790 to March 1797, and altered it in ways that may have influenced the design of the White House. As part of a futile effort to have Philadelphia named the permanent national capital, Pennsylvania built a presidential palace several blocks away, but Washington declined to move there.
President John Adams also occupied the Market Street mansion from March 1797 to May 1800. In November 1800, he became the first president to occupy the White House. The President’s House in Philadelphia became a hotel, and the unused presidential palace became home to the University of Pennsylvania.
The President’s House was a major feature of Pierre (Peter) Charles L’Enfant’s’s plan for the newly established federal city, Washington, D.C. The architect of the White House was chosen in a design competition, which received nine proposals, including one submitted anonymously by Thomas Jefferson.
President Washington visited Charleston, South Carolina in May 1791 on his “Southern Tour,” and saw the under-construction Charleston County Courthouse designed by Irish architect James Hoban. He is reputed to have met with Hoban then, and summoned the architect to Philadelphia and met with him there in June 1792.
On July 16, 1792, the President met with the commissioners of the federal city to make his judgment in the architectural competition. His review is recorded as being brief, and he quickly selected Hoban’s submission.
Washington was not entirely pleased with the original submission, however; he found it too small, lacking ornament, and not monumental enough to house the nation’s president. On his recommendation, the house was changed from three stories to two, and was widened from a 9-bay facade to an 11-bay facade. Hoban’s competition drawings do not survive.
As a means of preserving the history of the White House, no substantive architectural changes have been made on the house since the Truman renovation. Since the Kennedy restoration, every presidential family has made some changes to their private quarters of the White House, but the Committee for the Preservation of the White House must approve any modifications to the State Rooms. Aimed at maintaining the historical integrity of the White House, the congressionally authorized committee works with the First Family—usually represented by the First Lady, the White House Curator, and Chief Usher—to implement the family’s proposed plans for altering the house.
During the Nixon administration (1969–74), First Lady Pat Nixon refurbished the Green Room, Blue Room, and Red Room, working with Clement Conger, the curator appointed by President Richard Nixon. Mrs. Nixon’s efforts brought more than 600 artifacts to the house, the largest acquisition by any administration. Her husband created the modern press briefing room over Franklin Roosevelt’s old swimming pool. Nixon added a single-lane bowling alley to the White House basement.
Computers and the first laser printer were added during the Carter administration, and the use of computer technology was expanded upon during the Reagan administration. A Carter-era innovation, a set of solar water heating panels that were mounted on the roof of the White House, was removed during Reagan’s presidency. Redecorations were made to the private family quarters and maintenance was made to public areas during the Reagan years. The house was accredited as a museum in 1988.
In the 1990s, Bill and Hillary Clinton refurbished some rooms with the assistance of Arkansas decorator Kaki Hockersmith, including the Oval Office, the East Room, Blue Room, State Dining Room, Lincoln Bedroom, and Lincoln Sitting Room. During the administration of George W. Bush, first lady Laura Bush refurbished the Lincoln Bedroom in a style contemporary to the Lincoln era; the Green Room, Cabinet Room, and theater were also refurbished.
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 because 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. The president travels from the White House grounds via motorcade or helicopter. President Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first president to travel by helicopter to and from the White House grounds.
Today the 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. The Chief Usher coordinates day to day household operations. The White House includes: six stories and 55,000 ft² (5,100 m²) of floor space, 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms, 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.
Like the English and Irish country houses it was modeled on, the White House was, from the start, open to the public until the early part of the 20th 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 house, 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; 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 crashed on the White House grounds, and the pilot died instantly. 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, 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 Avenue, a small street between the White House and the Treasury Building. 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.
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 September 11 attacks. In September 2003, they resumed on a limited basis for groups making prior arrangements through their Congressional representatives or embassies in Washington for foreign nationals and submitting to background checks, but the White House remains closed to the public. The White House Complex is protected by the United States Secret Service and the United States Park Police.
NASAMS (Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System) were used to guard air space over Washington, D.C. during the 2005 presidential inauguration. The same NASAMS units has since been used to protect the president and all air space around the White House, which is strictly prohibited to aircraft.