The White House Residence

South face, with round portico in 2007 (Derek Jensen)

North face, with square portico in 2007 (Derek Jensen)



The President's Residence

The White House is a grand mansion in the neo-classical Federal style, with details that echo classical Greek Ionic architecture. James Hoban's original design was modeled after the Leinster House in Dublin, Ireland and did not include the north and south porticos. The presidential mansion is situated on the angled Pennsylvania Avenue at the 1600 block, down the street from the Capitol building, and so is given the address 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC.

Residence Construction: 1792-1800


The original design of the White House, 1800 (Library of Congress)

(Detailed article)

The White House construction began in 1792. John Adams became the first president to take residence in the building on November 1, 1800. It was a grand mansion in the neo-classical federal style, with details that echo classical Greek Ionic architecture. James Hoban's original design was modeled after the Leinster House in Dublin, Ireland and did not include the north and south porticos. Still, when it was complete, the President's house was the largest residence in the United States and would remain so until the 1860s.

Jeffersonian Enhancements: 1801-1809

(Detailed article)

The house that Thomas Jefferson entered in March of 1801 was still unfinished. Among his first acts was to have proper water closets (early toilets) built in the upper floor to replace the outdoor privy. He created a wilderness museum in the Entrance Hall, with mounted animals and Indian artifacts. He housed his private secretary in canvas-walled chambers in the south end of the unfinished East Room. He also had a revolving cabinet built in the Public Dining Room (today's Family Dining Room) similar to ones he had in Monticello. And he built pavilions on the east and west sides for servants and stables.

Madison Reconstruction: 1814-1817

(Detailed article)

In 1814, during the War of 1812, much of Washington, DC, was burned down by British troops and the White House was gutted, leaving only the exterior walls standing. Despite architect Latrobe's suggestions for changes, President James Madison pledged to restore the White House just as it was. Original architect James Hoban returned to supervise the reconstruction, and few architectural changes were made when restoration was completed in 1817 under President James Monroe, who furnished the house in fashionable style.


Floor plan of the White House before the 1902 remodeling (LOC top, bottom)

Architectural Improvements & War: 1825-1865

(Detailed article)

The front and rear porticos were added to the White House 1825 and 1830, when Thomas Jefferson commissioned Benjamin Henry Latrobe to make architectural changes to the mansion (Latrobe had done proposals that included porticos as early as 1807). Additional changes followed in 1835, when running water and central heating were installed.

Post-War Renovation 1866-1872

(Detailed article)

President Johnson's daughter redecorated the house in bold geometric designs. And large glass conservatories were constructed on either side of the mansion, providing flowers and plants of all sorts, as well as a pleasant place to talk or read a book.

Victorian Ornamentation: 1873-1901

(Detailed article)

US Grant converted the White House to a high Victorian style, although his choices were openly mocked by some. This was further enhanced by Louis Tiffany with Tiffany glass windows, gaslight fixtures, and other ornamentation in the 1890s. Electric lights replaced gaslights starting in 1891.

The Expansion that Never Was: 1889-1901

(Detailed article)

Mrs. Caroline Scott Harrison proposed a major expansion of the White House in 1889 which was revived in 1900 by Colonel Bingham. Wings of more or less the same size as the Residence mansion were proposed for the east and west sides, turned sideways to face the East and West Executive Drives, and a new conservatory was proposed to connect them on their south sides. Although the plans were rejected, the idea of building east and west wings was taken up by Theodore Roosevelt.

TR Restoration: 1902-1904

(Detailed article)

In 1902, Theodore Roosevelt embarked on an extensive remodeling of the Residence. Plans had been in the works for years to build a new White House or expand the original. TR trod lightly, though, and merely removed the Victorian decor accumulated over the previous thirty years and returned the White House to its Federal-period roots with some Georgian elements. Building the first West Wing (and East Wing) allowed him to move the presidential staff out of the family rooms on the second floor.

Roof Expansions: 1917 and 1927

(Detailed article)

The Wilsons renovated part of the attic in 1917 to include a painting room and guest rooms, but it was never adequate.

Calvin Coolidge discovered how leaky the roof was during a rain storm and, in 1927, had the roof and attic replaced with a full third floor using steel girders. Although this provided better accommodations for servants and guests, the combination of the somewhat hasty TR restoration and new steel structure badly weakened the building over the next two decades.

Lorenzo Winslow's circa 1947 plan for changes to the White House, close to the actual implementation
(Truman Library)


Truman Reconstruction: 1948-1952

(Detailed article)

In 1948, President Harry S Truman added a much-discussed balcony to the South Portico at the second-floor level. Not long after the Truman Balcony was constructed, the main body building was found to be structurally unsound.

The old interior was dismantled, leaving the house as a shell. It was then rebuilt using concrete and steel beams in place of its original wooden joists. Some modifications were made, including bathrooms for each bedroom and the repositioning of the grand staircase to open into the Entrance Hall, rather than the Cross Hall.

Kennedy Renovation: 1961-1963

(Detailed article)

The Kennedys embarked on a campaign to renovate the decor and furnishings of the White House, which had been somewhat neglected since the time of Hoover. Mrs. Kennedy created the White House Historical Association to help publicize the heritage of the president's house and got the White House declared a museum to help preserve it.

Mrs. Kennedy also converted the former Prince of Wales suite into a Private Dining Room and Family Kitchen for the first family. And she and the president had the Rose Garden redesigned to better accommodate press briefings.


Cross-section of the Residence showing the floors (CREM)

Ongoing Maintenance

Since the early 60s, each presidential administration has seen the White House as a kind of living museum, making changes to the decor and maintaining the building's structure and exterior, but making very limited alterations to the architecture and layout. In the early 1990s, the White House exterior was extensively refurbished, with some 40 layers of paint removed and the sandstone exterior repaired and repainted. In 1993, the White House embarked on an extensive "greening" project [PDF] to reduce energy consumption.

Aside from ordinary maintenance and renovations of the decor....

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More Images

Satellite view, circa 2015 (Google Maps)

Satellite view, circa 2011 (Google Maps)

Satellite view, circa 2006 (Google Maps)

North face, with square portico, circa 2003

South face, with round portico, circa 2002


Historical images of the White House Residence