White House

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Free History For Your Report

The White House

The White House, located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., has served as both the official residence and workplace of The President of The United States since November 1, 1800. The history of this famous building dates back to the time of the first president, George Washington, who worked alongside French architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant in designing a “perfect city” to serve as the capitol for the new country. Out of nine submissions (including one submitted by Thomas Jefferson, anonymously) the winning proposal for the design of this new presidential structure was created by James Hoban, an Irish immigrant from Dublin. Hoban’s design was based on the former Duke of Leinstar’s residence in Dublin, and was personally approved by George Washington – but not without a few minor changes to make the space larger. Further modifications to the design were made by Jefferson before actual construction started, mostly prompted by Jefferson’s recent trip to The Bordeaux Architectural College in France where he was inspired by architect Mathurin Salat’s design of Chateau de Rastignac.
The cornerstone of The White House was laid on October 13, 1792, and was constructed of timber with an outer façade of sandstone and brick, all of which was whitewashed. Actual construction of The White House was done by a mix of paid European immigrants, enslaved African-Americans, and illegal immigrants – many of them Scottish or Irish. The White House was constructed to include an executive office of the president, as well as an executive residence, but only the residence was completed when presidential occupancy began on November 1, 1800 by President John Adams. The structure was still incomplete a short time later when President Thomas Jefferson moved in. Using his interest in architecture, he continued to advise the ruling committee of both necessary and cosmetic additions to the structure. These included more space and two colonnades, which now link the East and West Wings of the structure (the West Wing being most famous as the “office” portion of The White House).

The building was completely destroyed by fire, when it was ransacked and set ablaze by British Troops, during the War of 1812. The exterior walls survived while the interior was gutted, however, these walls had to be torn down and the entire structure rebuilt in order to preserve architectural integrity. Most of the treasures inside the house were stolen by the British, but the ship that was carrying them – the HMS Fantone – sank in a storm en route to England. For the reconstruction, the government contracted both Hoban and another architect, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, and they both looked to the same structures in Dublin and France once again for inspiration.

The reconstruction, however, proved to be insufficient to meet the logistical needs of a growing country. Space was cramped not too long after reconstruction was completed, and it was not until 1891 that the large east and west wings were added to the house – for an art gallery and an administrative office – at the recommendation of First Lady Caroline Harrison. The Oval Office was added some time later, under the direction of President Howard Taft. In 1829, the West Wing was gutted by fire, and rebuilt. Another major change came in the late 1930’s, when the Oval Office was relocated to an area adjacent to the rose garden, and a second story was added to the West Wing, both under the direction of President Franklin Roosevelt. The last major infrastructure change to The White House came in 1949, when President Truman added a wrap-around balcony to the south side, overlooking the gardens. When this occurred, it became obvious that the timber and sandstone supporting the structure was insufficient; the building was going to collapse. During the next three years, President Truman and his family lived across the street at The Blair House while the entire White House was gutted and reconstructed, adding a steel frame within the timber frame. The rebuild included the original historical recreation of rooms that had to be gutted (including the famed Lincoln Bedroom), the addition of a basement and bomb shelter, and the addition of air conditioning. A cosmetic change came to the White House when First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy ordered a complete redecoration of the grounds, returning it to the more regal designs that represented the tastes of the early presidents. Since she was incapable of completing this task after her husband’s assassination in 1963, it has since become the tradition for First Ladies to continue on the redecorating tasks in a similar matter.

Like many great governmental palaces of the era, The White House was considered to be open to the public for many years. Members of the general public were encouraged, if not expected, to celebrate inaugurations with presidents during the first night in office. Parties and receptions were generally held; and President Jefferson began the tradition of public tours of both the executive offices and residence. This accessibility, however, was not without security concerns. Access to The White House became sharply limited after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and then more so with President John Kennedy, however, the tours remained. In 1974, an aircraft that landed on The White House grounds prompted airspace above The White House to become controlled, and the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing of 1995 marked off the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue to vehicular traffic. The general public walking tours and basic public accessibility of The White House continued, however, until the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Tours resumed in 2003, but only with advance reservations and background checks. Today, protection of The White House and the president is headed by The Secret Service. A visitor center can still be accessed separately from the house itself.

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