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The White House

By John T. Marck

Easily one of the most recognizable buildings in Washington, D.C., as well as the rest of the country and probably the world, is the White House, the symbol of the American presidency and the nationís power; the home to our countryís Presidents, First-Ladies and their families.

In 1792, President George Washington, and his Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, organized a competition to determine who would design the nationís two most important buildings, that of the Presidentís House, and the Capitol. It is believed that using a pseudonym; Jefferson designed and submitted plans but lost both competitions. The winner of the contest was James Hoban, an Irish-born and trained architect whose inspiration for his designs for the Presidentís House came from an Anglo-Irish villa called the Leinster House in Dublin.

The first President to live in the house was John Adams. George Washington oversaw the construction but never lived here. Adamís wife, Abigail, was known to have complained about the newly occupied residence, as it was largely unfurnished. When Thomas Jefferson moved in as our third president, he too was unimpressed. He believed that the building was too large, and made several structural changes under architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe. These included n addition of terrace-pavilions on each side of the main building and single-story wings for storage. He also had the slate roof replaced with one made from sheet iron, and improved the grounds by landscaping them in a picturesque manner. When the house was occupied by James Madison, the British burned it during the War of 1812. The fire was extinguished by rain from a sudden thunderstorm, but all that remained was the outside charred walls, and the interior brick walls. President Madison brought back Hoban who restored the mansion, although the project took three years. It was during this reconstruction that the house was painted white. Later, Hoban added the North and South porticos, using designs by Latrobe.

The house went through addition renovations throughout various presidencies. President Theodore Roosevelt decided that the house was unsafe to inhabit, so he ordered that the original building be remodeled. He made the third-story attic into living space, and added the Executive Office wing and the East Gallery. His idea was to separate his workspace from his family life.

In 1909, architect Nathan C. Wyeth extended the office wing adding the well-known oval office. The final renovation took place during the Presidency of Harry Truman. He decided that the building was unsafe and ordered that it be gutted. In doing so, steel replaced the original wood frame and paneling, and a balcony was added to the South Portico.

Over the years since, almost all the Presidents and their First Ladies have made changes in the interior of the house, from painting to drapes and other cosmetic actions.

Copyright 1993-2022 by John T. Marck. Information in part compliments of the National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places. Some passages taken directly from the National Park Service.