Filed under: Architecture, Economy, Humor, Politics, The United States | Tags: President Harry Truman, Rebuilding From The Inside Out, White House Restoration 1949
During the Depression and the War years of the Roosevelt administration, the White House’s annual repair budget was neglected. When Harry Truman became president in 1945, he wanted to build an addition on the south side of the West Wing. Ground was broken and appropriations made by Congress, but Congress had second thoughts and recalled the funding. That irritated Mr. Truman, so he decided to build a balcony on the South Portico using money already allotted for White House maintenance. Usual flap, public objection, but the balcony was constructed according to plan.
Once they started poking around the construction of the White House, it was discovered that the main body of the mansion was structurally unsound. Floors no longer just creaked, they swayed. The president’s bathtub was sinking into the floor. A leg of Margaret’s piano broke through the floor in what is today the Private Dining Room. Engineers did a thorough assessment of the whole building, and found plaster in a corner of the East Room sagging as much as 18 inches. Wooden beams had been weakened by cutting and drilling for plumbing and wiring that the mansion did not have over 150 years, and the addition of the steel roof and full third floor in 1927 added weight the building could no longer handle. They declared the whole building on the verge of collapse.
Plans were discussed to demolish the building and build it in the same design, but Truman went to Congress and requested the funding to rebuild the White House from the inside out, leaving the stout brick outer walls, largely on the same plan as the original house— very much the way President James Madison had done after the British burned it in the War of 1812.
The old interior was dismantled, leaving the house as a shell with two modern wings. Some of the existing interior detail was saved, especially fireplace mantles. The mansion was then rebuilt, using concrete and steel beams in place of the original wooden posts.
During the reconstruction, Harry and Bess Truman moved to Blair House across the street. Blair House was a combination of two adjoining houses built by the prominent Blair family. It became the official guest residence for visiting dignitaries in 1942, as it is today.
The Telegraph, in Britain, just published a fascinating group of pictures of the White House being gutted and restored. The Trumans moved back in, in March of 1952. Here is a link to the White House Museum for a tour of the Mansion, the only tour you will get in the present, as President Obama has shut down the tours, which have been conducted by volunteers, to erroneously claim that saving the money they didn’t pay the volunteers was necessary because of the dreaded sequester. Enjoy your tour. You will see more on this virtual tour than you would in the White House anyway.
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