The Architectural History of the White House

The countdown to Independence Day has begun! Only 3 days until we come together for family barbecues, parades, concerts, and setting off fireworks in the backyard. Of course, these are activities we only get to enjoy because of the freedoms we were granted on that historic day in 1776. The Fourth of July is a federal holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress, declaring that the thirteen American colonies regarded themselves as a new nation, the United States of America, and were no longer part of the British Empire.

When you think about the United States of America, what is the first building that comes to mind? The White House, right? That’s the first building that pops into my head! I remember my first trip to Washington D.C. when I was only 7 or 8 years old. My family did the public tour of the White House. I saw Socks, the Clintons tuxedo cat! It was so neat to be in the same room where so many great presidents had been before. So, in honor of the upcoming Fourth of July, I want to explore the history of our great Nation’s famous White House.

The White House is the official residence and primary office space for the President of the United States. It is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW in Washington D.C. It has been the residence of every U.S. president since John Adams was in office in the year 1800.

jamesWhile on his “Southern Tour” in May of 1791, President George Washington visited Charleston, SC and saw the under-construction Charleston County Courthouse designed by James Hoban. The President met with Hoban and summoned him to Philadelphia (the nation’s capital at the time). In 1972, Washington met with the federal city (aka Washington D.C.) commissioners to make his judgment in the architectural competition that had been established. He selected Hoban’s design but requested that the design is changed to a two-story home with an 11-bay facade.

The White House was built between 1792 and 1800. It was built with white-painted Aquia Creek Sandstone and inspired by the neoclassical style. Neoclassical architecture is an architectural style produced by the neoclassical movement that began in the mid 18th-centurty. In its purest form, it is a style principally derived from the architecture of classical antiquity, and emphasizes the wall rather than contrast and maintains separate identities to each of its parts. This form of architecture came to life because of a desire to return to the purity of the arts of Rome and Ancient Greece.

Thomas Jefferson moved into the White House in 1801. Architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe and Jefferson added low colonnades on each wing that concealed stables and storage. Today, Jefferson’s colonnades link the residence with the East and West Wings.

fireIn 1814, during the War of 1812, the White House was set ablaze by British troops during the Burning of Washington. Only the exterior wall remained, and even they had to be torn down and mostly reconstructed because of weakening from the fire and subsequent exposure to the elements (except for portions of the south wall). After the fire, both architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe and Hoban contributed to the design and oversight of the reconstruction, which lasted from 1815 to 1817.

As the years went by, and new Presidents lived in the White House, many things were changed. Theodore Roosevelt had all work offices relocated to the newly constructed West Wing in 1901. Eight years later, William Taft expanded the West Wing and created the first Oval Office, which was eventually moved as the section was expanded. Under Harry S. Truman, the interior rooms were completely dismantled and a new internal load-bearing steel frame constructed inside the walls.

The modern-day White House complex includes the Executive Residence, West Wing, East Wing, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and the Blair House (guest residence). The term “White House” is often used as a metonym (substitute) for the Executive Office of the President of the United States and for the president’s administration and advisors in general, as in “The White House has decided that…” The property is a National Heritage Site owned by the National Park Service and is part of the President’s Park. In 2007, it was ranked second on the American Institute of Architects list of “America’s Favorite Architecture,” behind the Empire State Building.

American Memorials & Cemeteries

Architecture can be very powerful, especially when given the honor of building a memorial. In honor of Memorial Day in a few weeks, I want to explore the different memorials and cemeteries in the United States dedicated to those who gave their lives to make this country what it is today. My father and grandfather were both in the military, so I have been lucky enough to visit most of these beautiful places.

cemeteryArlington National Cemetery, Virginia – Arlington National Cemetery is a United States military cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. 624 acres have been dedicated to the dead soldiers of the nation’s conflicts, beginning with the American Civil War. The cemetery was established during the Civil War on the grounds of Arlington House, which had been the estate of the family of Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s wife Mary Anna (Custis) Lee (a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington). The cemetery, along with Arlington House, Memorial Drive, the Hemicycle, and the Arlington Memorial Bridge, form the Arlington National Cemetery Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in April 2014. Like nearly all federal installations in Arlington County, it has a Washington mailing address. Some other fun facts: President Herbert Hoover conducted the first national Memorial Day ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery, on May 30, 1929; Beginning in 1992, Morrill Worcester donated thousands of wreaths around the end-of-year holiday season to be placed on graves at Arlington. He has since expanded his effort, now known as Wreaths Across America, and supplies wreaths to over 230 state and national cemeteries and veterans monuments across the country.

koreonwarKorean War Veterans National Memorial, Washington D. C. – Located in Washington, D.C.’s West Potomac Park, southeast of the Lincoln Memorial and just south of the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall, The Korean War Veterans Memorial commemorates those who served in the Korean War. The Korean War Veterans Memorial was confirmed by the U.S. Congress (Public Law 99-572) on October 28, 1986, with design and construction managed by the Korean War Veterans Memorial Advisory Board and the American Battle Monuments Commission. The initial design competition was won in 1986 by a team of four architects from The Pennsylvania State University, but this team withdrew as it became clear that changes would be needed to satisfy the advisory board and reviewing agencies such as the Commission of Fine Arts. A federal court case was filed and lost over the design changes. The eventual design was by Cooper-Lecky Architects who oversaw collaboration between several designers. President George H. W. Bush conducted the groundbreaking for the Memorial on June 14, 1992, Flag Day. The companies and organizations involved in the construction are listed on the memorial as: the Faith Construction Company, the Richard Sherman Company, the Cold Spring Granite Company, the Tallix Art Foundry and the Baltimore District of the US Army Corps of Engineers. The memorial was dedicated on July 27, 1995, the 42nd anniversary of the armistice that ended the war, by President Bill Clinton and Kim Young Sam, President of the Republic of Korea, to the men and women who served during the conflict. Management of the memorial was turned over to the National Park Service, under its National Mall and Memorial Parks group. As with all National Park Service historic areas, the memorial was administratively listed on the National Register of Historic Places on the day of its dedication.

wwIImemorialNational World War II Memorial, Washington D.C. – The World War II Memorial is a memorial of national significance dedicated to Americans who served in the armed forces and as civilians during World War II. Consisting of 56 pillars and a pair of small triumphal arches surrounding a plaza and fountain, it sits on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on the former site of the Rainbow Pool at the eastern end of the Reflecting Pool, between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Opened on April 29, 2004, it was dedicated by President George W. Bush on May 29. The memorial is administered by the National Park Service under its National Mall and Memorial Parks group. As of 2009, more than 4.4 million people visit the memorial each year. A nationwide design competition drew 400 submissions from architects from around the country. Friedrich St. Florian’s initial design was selected in 1997. On WWIIpicSeptember 30, 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed a 12-member Memorial Advisory Board (MAB) to advise the ABMC in picking the site, designing the memorial, and raising money to build it. A direct mail fundraising effort brought in millions of dollars from individual Americans. Additional large donations were made by veterans’ groups, including the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge and others. The majority of the corporate fundraising effort was led by two co-chairs: Senator Bob Dole, a decorated World War II veteran and 1996 Republican nominee for president; and Frederick W. Smith, the president and chief executive officer of FedEx Corporation and a former U.S. Marine Corps officer. The U.S. federal government provided about $16 million. A total of $197 million was raised. Over the next four years, St. Florian’s design was altered during the review and approval process required of proposed memorials in Washington, D.C. Ambassador Haydn Williams guided the design development for ABMC.

marinecorpsMarine Corps War Memorial, Washington D.C. – The United States Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial) is a national monument in Arlington, Virginia, United States. Dedicated 62 years ago in 1954, it is located in Arlington Ridge Park, at the back entrance to Arlington National Cemetery and next to the Netherlands Carillon. The war memorial is dedicated to all U.S. Marine Corps personnel who have died in the defense of the United States since 1775. The memorial was inspired by the iconic 1945 photograph of six servicemen raising an American flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. It was taken by Associated Press combat photographer Joe Rosenthal. Upon first seeing the photograph, sculptor Felix de Weldon created a maquette for a sculpture based on it in a single weekend. He and architect Horace W. Peaslee designed the memorial. Their proposal was presented to Congress, but funding was not possible during the war. In 1947 a federal foundation was established to raise funds for the memorial. Created By Felix De Weldon, And Inspired By The Immortal Photograph Taken By Joseph J. Rosenthal On February 23, 1945, Atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands.

libmemorialLiberty Memorial, Missouri – The Liberty Memorial, located at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, USA, is a memorial to service men and women who served in World War I. Fundraising began October 1919 and groundbreaking commenced on November 1, 1921, when the city held a site dedication. The memorial was completed and dedicated on November 11, 1926. On September 21, 2006, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne declared Liberty Memorial a National Historic Landmark. On December 19, 2014, President Barack Obama signed legislation recognizing the Liberty Memorial as a national memorial. he national design competition was managed by Thomas R. Kimball a former president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) according to National AIA rules. A disagreement between members of the Kansas City Chapter of AIA and Kimball over the rules, caused almost half of the local members to resign in April 1922. They immediately went on to form the Architectural League of Kansas City, which was merged back into the AIA in the early 1930’s. Unlike the AIA at the time, the Architectural League of Kansas City provided membership to less experienced architects and draftsmen and provided social and educational opportunities as well. Regardless of the controversy, many local architects submitted entries including those who resigned from the AIA. The jury, however, was unanimous in their decision to award the contract to New York architect Harold Van Buren Magonigle.

archNational Memorial Arch, Pennsylvania – The National Memorial Arch is dedicated “to the officers and private soldiers of the Continental Army December 19, 1777 to June 19, 1778”. The Arch is situated at the top of a hill at the intersection of Gulph Road and Outer Line Drive in Valley Forge National Histroic Park, Chester County, Pennsylvania.The Arch was erected in 1910 by an act of the 61st Congress. Initially, in 1908, it was proposed to erect two memorial arches in the park, but the bill was amended to create a single arch to save money. It is modeled on the Arch of Titus in Rome. The architect in charge of the arch was Paul Philippe Cret, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. The arch was criticized by the Philadelphia Record who observed that arches are typically urban structures and questioned its location in a rural setting. The 60-foot high arch was dedicated on June 19, 1917 in a ceremony attended by a number of U.S. Congressmen. Paul Cret did not attend as he was then en route to France where he served as an interpreter for the U.S. Army

wwIImuseum National World War II Museum, Louisiana – Formerly known as the D-Day Museum, the National WWII Museum is a military history museum focusing on the contribution made by the United States to Allied victory in World War II. It was designated by the U.S. Congress as America’s official National World War II Museum in 2003 and maintains an affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution. The Museum opened on June 6, 2000, the 56th anniversary of D-Day, and has since undertaken a large-scale expansion project which is still ongoing. In addition to the original building, known as the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, the Museum has since opened the Solomon Victory Theater, the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion, the U.S. Freedom Pavilion, the Boeing Center, and the “Road to Berlin” portion of the Campaigns of Courage pavilion. There are further plans to construct what will be called the Liberation Pavilion.

These memorials are an important part of our American history, and only a small “thank you” to the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our Country. There are other ways we can honor Veterans this Memorial Day. Donate to the Wounded Warrior project, donate an old cell phone, send a care package, help build homes for injured veterans, drive a veteran to an appointment, or help a veteran heal with an animal companion! Even a simple “thank you” will make their day brighter.