Iconic Structures, Deconstructed: The White House

THESE WALLS CAN TALK

The world’s iconic structures are a sight to behold. The sheer size of the Burj Khalifa is matched by the glass facade that covers a majority of the 828-meter supertall. The Eiffel Tower, arguably the world’s most instantly recognizable structure, looks even more striking in the evenings thanks in part to the 20,000 light bulbs used to keep the tower visible to all throughout the night.

But behind these structures are the minutiae of facts and histories that collectively construct a fascinating narrative that not everyone may know. These structures, like Rome, were not built in a day, and in some cases it took many years—not to mention many workers and building materials—to bring them to life. In this series, Blueprint, presented by CBRE, highlights the fun facts and tidbits behind some of our favorite landmarks to give readers a new appreciation of the small details that make these structures so remarkable. For our fourth installment, we look at the most famous residence in America: the White House.

Today, the White House stands as a proud symbol of the American presidency. But hundreds of years before it became the site of press briefings, Easter egg rolls and the lighting of the National Christmas Tree, the White House was a threadbare structure that could barely keep its inhabitants warm. John Adams, the second president of the United States, was the first to move into the house in 1800, about eight years after the first stone for the structure was laid. The White House at the time was still very much incomplete, and Adams and his wife Abigail braved cold and damp conditions, going so far as to hang their laundry up to dry in the airy East Room.

Adams’ many successors would eventually find themselves living inside a finer (and warmer) White House in the years to follow, with substantial improvements made to its front lawn and the addition of a bowling alley, among other enhancements. Here are 10 deconstructed facts about the White House.

1. George Washington, the first president of the United States, lived in three houses during his years in office: two in New York City and one in Philadelphia. In 1792, following the creation of the District of Columbia as the nation’s capital, former Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson announced a design competition for the president’s new official home. A committee looked at six designs before choosing architect James Hoban as the winner. It would take eight years to make the White House livable.

2. There are a total of 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, eight staircases and three elevators in the White House. Today, there is also a flower shop, a carpenter’s shop and a dentist’s office.

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3. British soldiers set fire to the White House during the War of 1812. Before doing so, the soldiers took the time to sit down and eat leftovers found inside the house’s scullery with official White House dinnerware.

4. The White House has been known as the President’s Palace, the President’s House and the Executive Mansion. In 1818, the house was painted with white lead paint, earning it the nickname the White House. Theodore Roosevelt made this nickname the home’s official name in 1901.

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5. It takes 570 gallons of paint to cover the White House’s exterior.

6. The White House kitchen has 5 full-time chefs. It has the capacity to serve 140 dinner guests, and can also make hors d’oeuvres for over 1,000 guests.

7. The White House is rumored to be haunted by a very “honest” apparition. The ghost of Abraham Lincoln is said to have scared many notable people inside the home, including former First Lady Grace Coolidge and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, and his spirit can usually be found in the Lincoln Bedroom and the Yellow Oval Room. Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was said to have seen Lincoln’s ghost while returning from a bath during one of his many visits to the White House.

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8. In 1902, Theodore Roosevelt initiated a major renovation of the White House. Improvements included the relocation of the president’s office. Decades later, Harry Truman had architect Lorenzo Winslow restore the entire building. Truman had a balcony added to the South Portico of the White House, hence its name: the Truman Balcony. It took a total 1,222 days for the White House to be restored. Throughout that time, Truman and his wife lived at Blair House, the president’s guest house.

9. The North Lawn is known as the president’s front lawn. In 1848, a bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson, built by P.J. David d’Angers, was placed on the North Lawn by order of former President James K. Polk, becoming the first monument to a president to stand in the direct vicinity of the White House. Ulysses S. Grant also had round pools built on both the North Lawn and South Lawn in the 1870s.

10. The president of the United States has a variety of options for recreational activities at the White House. There is a bowling alley, a tennis court, a jogging track, a swimming pool, a putting green and a billiard room.

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