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Washington, D.C.'s Top 10 : The White House

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Possibly the most famous residential landmark in the world, this dramatic Neo-Classical mansion has been the residence of the US president and family, the seat of executive power, and a working office building for over 200 years. Situated at the nation’s most recognizable address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the White House reflects the power of the presidency. Its 132 rooms preserve and display the cultural settings of America’s past and present. Lafayette Park to the north and the Ellipse to the south are popular sites for viewing this American icon.

  • 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW

Visitor Center

  • Dept of Commerce, 14th & 15th sts on Pennsylvania Ave, NW

  • 202 208 1631

  • www.nps.gov/whho

  • Current information about tours can be obtained at 202 456 7041

  • Free

  • Dis. access


Designing the White House

George Washington personally supervised the design and construction of the White House, although he never lived here. John and Abigail Adams became its first residents in 1800. At the same time, the seat of government was moved from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. After the British burned the White House in 1814, it became the responsibility of the James Monroe presidency to redecorate. Much of what is seen today reflects Monroe’s taste.


Plan of the White House

If you have a telephoto lens or binoculars, the carved floral decorations on the north entrance and the plantings of the Rose Garden, viewed from the Ellipse, deserve attention.


 

The White House has no public restrooms. The nearest facilities are at the Visitor Center and the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion, near 15th and E streets NW.



Top 10 Features
  1. North Façade

    The stately but welcoming main entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue has a beautifully proportioned Ionic portico, added in 1829. Painted Virginia sandstone gives the building its white luster.

    North façade
  2. South Façade

    The large semi­circular portico added in 1824 dominates the south view. The six main columns create an optical illusion, appearing to stretch from ground to roofline, emphasizing the classical proportions.

  3. Oval Office

    This illustrious room is the setting for the president’s core tasks. Each leader adds his own touches – George W Bush decorated it with paintings of his native Texas by Texan artists.

  4. West Wing

    This wing is the executive operational center of the White House, moved here in 1902 to allow more privacy in the main building.

  5. East Room

    The East Room has been used chiefly for large entertainment or ceremonial gatherings, such as dances, award presentations, press conferences, and historic bill signings.

  6. Blue Room

    The Blue Room is the most elegant of all the reception rooms – it was George Washington who suggested its oval shape.

  7. Map Room

    Graceful Chippendale furniture features in this private meeting room. Franklin D. Roosevelt adapted it as his situation room to assess the progress of World War II.

  8. State Dining Room

    As many as 140 guests may enjoy the president’s hospitality in this formal dining room.

  9. Lincoln Bedroom

    Although the name for this room is a misnomer – Abraham Lincoln used it as an office – a number of his possessions can be found here. Mary Todd Lincoln bought the imposing Victorian bed, made of carved rosewood, in 1861.

  10. Visitor Center

    The White House Visitor Center has engrossing exhibits on various aspects of the mansion. It also offers park ranger talks, a souvenir shop, and special events such as military band concerts.


White House Decorative Features

  1. The Vermeil Room

    “Vermeil” refers to the collection of gilded objects by early 19th-century silversmiths on display. Delightful portraits of seven First Ladies adorn the walls, and the room is grounded by an exquisite Empire-style mahogany table in the center.

  2. China Room Collection

    The White House collection of china services had grown so large by 1917 that Mrs. Woodrow Wilson set aside a special room in which to display it. State and family china belonging to nearly every US president fills the fine display cabinets.

  3. Grand Staircase

    Descending gracefully to the Central Hall on the north side, the Grand Staircase is used for ceremonial entrances to state events in the East Room. Portraits of 20th-century presidents line the stairwell.

  4. Library

    This former storage room was turned into a library in 1935, and contains a collection of books intended to reflect the philosophical and practical aspects of the presidency. The furniture is attributed to the cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe.

  5. Diplomatic Reception Room Wallpaper

    The panoramic wallpaper in this room is a series of large “Views of North America” printed in 1834.

    Diplomatic Reception Room
  6. Lighter Relieving a Steamboat Aground

    This 1847 painting in the Green Room, by George Caleb Bingham, conveys the vitality of the nation.

  7. Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City

    This beach landscape (c.1885) by Henry Ossawa Tanner was the first work by an African-American to be hung in the White House.

  8. North Entrance Carvings

    Scottish stonemasons created the carved surround for the north doorway with flowing garlands of roses and acorns.

  9. Monroe Plateau

    James Monroe brought a gilt table service from France in 1817. The plateau centerpiece is an impressive 14.5 ft (4.5 m) long when fully extended.

  10. Seymour Tall-Case Clock

    This Oval Office clock ticks so loudly that its pendulum must be stopped when television broadcasts originate from the room.


President Truman’s Renovations

From the time Harry S. Truman moved into the White House, he had noticed signs that the building was under a great deal of stress: “The floors pop and the drapes move back and forth,” and “[t]he damned place is haunted, sure as shootin’.” In 1948, after some investigation, engineers confirmed that it was structural weakness, not ghosts, that was causing the problems. Some people said the house was standing “only from force of habit.” The only certain solution was to move the Truman family to nearby Blair House and completely rebuild the White House within its external walls. Contractors gutted the inside of the building in its entirety – every floor, wall, ceiling, closet, pipe, wire, and fixture came out. Workers then built a steel frame, similar to those found in large office buildings, inside the remaining shell. Within the frame, the White House was recreated, room by room, from scratch, but in keeping with the original design. Everything structural that can be seen today in the house was built between 1948 and 1952. America’s three major networks broadcast the first-ever television tour of the residence in 1952. President Truman himself proudly led the tour and even entertained viewers by playing a tune on one of the pianos in the East Room. A decade later, that arbiter of style Jacqueline Kennedy again restored many of the period features.

Top 10 Events in The White House’s History
  1. George Washington supervises construction (1792)

  2. John and Abigail Adams move in (1800)

  3. The Lewis and Clark expedition to the North­west is planned (1803)

  4. The British burn the White House (1814)

  5. James Monroe moves into the partially rebuilt residence (1817)

  6. The Executive Mansion is renamed the “White House” (1901)

  7. President Roosevelt’s World War II “Fireside Chats” inform and inspire Americans

  8. Jackie Kennedy restores the house (1961–2)

  9. Nixon announces his resignation (Aug 8, 1974)

  10. “In Performance at the White House” broadens its cultural role (1980s)

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