The White House
Photo courtesy of GSA
The White House, one of the most recognizable buildings in Washington, DC, was designed by James Hoban, an Irish-born and-trained architect who won a competition organized by President George Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson in 1792. The competitions were held to determine who would design the nation’s two most important buildings, the President’s House and the Capitol. It is believed that Jefferson, competing under a pseudonym, submitted designs and lost both competitions. Hoban’s inspiration for the house was drawn from an Anglo-Irish villa called the Leinster House in Dublin. Although President Washington oversaw construction, he never lived in the house. President John Adams, elected in 1796 as the second President, was the first resident of the White House. Abigail Adams, President Adams’ wife, was known to have complained about the largely unfinished new residence. President Thomas Jefferson, upon moving to the house in 1801, was also not impressed, and dismissed the house as being too big. Jefferson made several structural changes under architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe such as the addition of terrace-pavilions on either side of the main building and single-story wings for storage. In addition to replacing the slate roof with one of sheet iron, Jefferson further improved the grounds by landscaping them in a picturesque manner. While James Madison was President from 1809 to 1817, the White House was torched by the British in the War of 1812. Although the fire was put out by a summer thunderstorm, all that remained were the outside, charred walls and the interior brick walls. Madison brought Hoban back to restore the mansion, which took three years. It was during this construction that the house was painted white. Hoban later added the South and North Porticos, using a slightly altered design by Latrobe.
View of the “Avenue of the Presidents” (16th Street) and the White House, 1914.
From the collections of the Historical Society of Washington, DC
Expansion and further alterations were made when President Theodore Roosevelt declared the house unsafe to inhabit. He had the original building remodeled. By making the third-story attic into habitable rooms and adding the Executive Office wing and the East Gallery, Roosevelt separated his work space from his family life. In 1909, architect Nathan C. Wyeth extended the office wing adding the well-known oval office. Although used informally for some time, it was President Theodore Roosevelt who gave the White House its official name. Finally, the last major renovation took place when President Harry Truman decided that again the building was unsafe and had to be gutted. Steel replaced the original frame and paneling, and a balcony was added to the South Portico. The White House, an architectural symbol of the American presidency and the nation’s power, remains a stylistically simple residence and an example of the stolid republican ideals of the Founding Fathers.
The White House is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW. Tours of the White House are currently limited to parties of 10 or more people, requested through one’s Member of Congress and will be accepted up to six months in advance. These self-guided group tours will be scheduled approximately one month before the requested date, from 7:30am to 11:30am Tuesday-Saturday, excluding Federal holidays. For the most current tour information, please call the 24-hour line at 202-456-7041. The National Park Service operates the White House Visitor Center, located at 15th and E Sts., NW, open daily from 7:30am until 4:00pm. Metro stop: McPherson Square
* The White House, U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Capitol, and related buildings and grounds are legally exempted from listing in the National Register of Historic Places, according to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.