The White House
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1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
HOURS: Only by advance ticket,
Tues.-Thurs. 7:30-11 a.m.,
Fri. 7:30 a.m.-noon,
Sat. 7:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
Home to every U.S. president since John Adams, the White House is more than a residence: It contains the executive offices of the president and those of the first lady’s staff as well.
More difficult to see since security concerns arose after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the White House still is a “people’s house,” open for tours, a practice started by Thomas Jefferson when he threw open the home for a public reception following his second inauguration.
Designed by Irish-born architect James Hoban and built between 1792 and 1800, the White House is considered to be neoclassical Federal style, constructed of sandstone quarried from Aquia, Virginia, and painted with more than 570 gallons of white paint. Once designed as a three-story structure, George Washington, who selected Hoban’s drawings, tweaked them so the main building appears to have two stories on an English basement, although in actuality it is six stories high.
In 1814 the White House was set on fire by the British and nearly burned to the ground; only a serendipitous rain shower saved it from complete ruin. Another fire torched the West Wing in 1929, and in the late 1940s, when the building was found to be unsound, the entire interior was gutted, reinforced, and renovated. The Trumans, occupants of the White House at the time, lived across the street in Blair House during the renovations.
The White House has undergone extensive remodeling and renovations during its existence, and each president and first lady leave their mark on the home in some fashion. Teddy Roosevelt rid the house of the Victorian influences that had crept in since Abraham Lincoln’s era; Jacqueline Kennedy was a major force in ridding it of replicas and inaccurate furniture, raising funds to bring in original antiques and period-appropriate fabrics and upholstery; the Obamas have added a vegetable garden.
The White House has 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms and sits on eight acres: The South Portico, a round two-story porch with Ionic columns, faces the Ellipse, the site used each December to host the National Christmas Tree and National Menorah; the North Portico, which is considered the home’s front door, faces Lafayette Square.
Tickets for the self-guided White House tour are challenging to obtain. Requests must be submitted through the offices of members of Congress up to six months in advance and are available for groups of 10 or more. Often, congressional offices will keep a list of open spaces within a tour for smaller groups. It’s recommended that once you make a request of your representative’s or senator’s office, follow up frequently so they don’t forget you.
The tour is brief, but visitors aren’t rushed. Rooms one can expect to see include the Green Room, named by John Quincy Adams, likely in reference to the green canvas floor covering placed in it by Jefferson when he used it as a dining room, and not for the green moiré silk wallpaper that now adorns the walls; the Blue Room, the circular room above the Oval Office; the Red Room, with rich silk-upholstered walls and Empire furnishings; and the East Room, the largest room in the White House, used as a reception space and for state dinners.
In the East Room hangs the mammoth Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, one of a dozen painted by the artist and the copy famously saved from the British during the War of 1812 by First Lady Dolley Madison, who instructed slave Paul Jennings and others to rescue it in advance of the British invasion.
© Patricia Nevins Kime from Moon Washington DC, 1st Edition