Remodeling the White House: President Truman and Beyond

The White House is a symbol of the United States that is easily recognized around the world. Many associate it with freedom and the positive things that make the U.S. the country that it is. It has undergone a number of changes throughout its history; however, the most extensive and recent major change took place under the Truman administration. From 1948 to 1952, the White House underwent extensive renovations in efforts to save it for future generations. Today, the interior is some 150 years younger than its exterior.

Reason for the President Truman Remodel

When President Truman moved into the White House it swiftly became obvious that major repairs were needed. Portions of the House were sinking or sagging; for example, the floor in the President’s bathroom was sinking beneath the weight of the tub and a leg of the piano played by the President’s wife actually fell through the floor. The floors in the building creaked and swayed when walked upon, and the roof sagged. Initially, it was believed that these were the only repairs that were needed. When inspected further by engineers severe damage was uncovered, including weak wooden beams, sagging plaster, and evidence of damage from the weight of the flooring. Their conclusion was that the White House would likely collapse without repair.

Notable Changes in the Remodel

During the renovations, the White House was gutted and rebuilt. The rebuilding was based on the White House’s existing 1902 plans, in order to ensure that no drastic changes in the interiors’ appearance would be noted; however, there were some exceptions to this. One of the most notable changes was in the positioning of the grand staircase. Prior to the gutting of the building it had been positioned so that it opened to the Cross Hall; however, it was rebuilt so that it opens into the Entrance Hall. Another change was to the East Sitting Hall. Before it was rebuilt, it was not designed in a way that was accommodating for people with disabilities. Architects built a vaulted corridor leading into the East Sitting Hall that included an enclosed ramp. Guest rooms in the White House were given adjoining bathrooms, which they had never had in the past. Servants were also given separate baths for their use. The balcony off of the south portico, which is called the Truman Balcony, is another addition that occurred around the time of the renovation.

White House throughout the Years

The White House has undergone numerous changes since the first President to live within its walls arrived in 1800. Known as the President’s House or the President’s Palace at the time, additions were still being made and the House was incomplete. In 1801, trees were planted around the President’s House and plans were made to add a wall. By 1807, the east and west sides of the building had terraces and pavilions added.
The first major renovation to the White House occurred after it was set on fire by the British in 1814, during the War of 1812. The fire destroyed the interior of the house, but the walls of the exterior were undamaged. In 1815, James Hoban was hired and given the task of rebuilding the interior, a process which took two years. By 1817, President James Madison was able to return to the White House. In 1824, another addition to the White House was made in the form of the South portico. In 1829, the North portico of the building was completed.

During the Theodore Roosevelt administration, the office of the President and staff, and organizations associated with the President, had increased to the point that additional room was necessary. In 1909, the Oval Office and Cabinet Room were added to the West Wing; this did not, however, entirely eliminate the problem of overcrowding. In 1945, Truman attempted to expand the West Wing to further reduce the crowding, unfortunately, funding for the project was cancelled as there were concerns about the methods in which funding was obtained and confusion about the true use of these funds. Following the Truman renovations, the next changes took place in 1961 under John F. Kennedy. These changes were more redesigns, including the redesigning of the Rose Garden. The furnishings were also restored during this time.

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