White House

Sandy Mitchell
The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue -- the White House -- is an address known around the world. It's the residence and primary workplace of the President of the United States. Begun in 1792, after Washington DC was designated as the nation's capital, the elegant white ediface was designed by James Hoban, an Irishman. The construction took eight years and the basic structure was completed in 1800, in time for President John Adams and his family to move in November 1 of that year. Today, the building is owned and administered by the US National Park Service.

History of the White House

The White House has gone through many changes throughout its over 200 years. Like the Presidency itself, the building continues to evolve. The building has survived two fires - the first during the War of 1812 and a later one in 1929 during the Hoover administration -- and dozens of remodeling efforts. Through the years, central heating, electricity, indoor plumbing, and central air conditioning were added.

The Residence

Few people realize that the White House is as large as it is. The structure has six stories and over 55,000 square feet of floor space. There are 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms in the structure. When it was built, it was the largest home in the United States, an honor it held until after the Civil War. The President's private living quarters include sixteen rooms on two floors. The house has three kitchens, a bowling alley, an outdoor swimming pool, jogging track, tennis court, and movie theater.

The White House contains an important fine art collection. There are Presidential portraits, such as the famous, life-size Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington, the oldest painting in the White House. (Dolly Madison saved the huge painting when the British torched the house during the War of 1812.) The collection is filled with works by American masters, such as Mary Cassatt, James Whistler, Georgia O'Keefe, and Childe Hassam, and European painters, such as Paul Cézanne and Claude Monet.

The West Wing

The West Wing has become synonymous with presidential power. It houses the President's senior staff, including the Communications Director, the President's Chief of Staff, and the White House Press Secretary. This portion of the mansion also includes the President's Oval Office, the Cabinet Room, and the White House Situation Room. The West Wing was added to the building in the early 1900s to accommodate the growing Presidential staff that was crowding the President's living area. The addition was expanded during Franklin Roosevelt's administration and Roosevelt's indoor swimming pool was converted into the Press Briefing Room during Richard Nixon's presidency.

The East Wing

Added in 1942, the East Wing was the last major addition to the presidential residence. Today, it houses the First Lady's office and staff as well as a host of other staff offices.

Visiting the White House

Free self-guided tours are available of the White House to groups of ten or more. Visitors interested in touring the building must apply for tickets to their Congressman's office. Applications are accepted six months in advance and tickets are awarded on a first come, first served basis. A White House visitor's center is located at 15th and E Streets. The Visitor Center is a nice way to get oriented before your tour or to learn about the structure if you're not able to take a tour. Exhibits explain the architecture and tell about the first families and history of the building. Security is understandably strict at the White House and visitors are prohibited from carrying purses, bookbags, cameras, video cameras, strollers, tobacco products, any pointed item, personal grooming products as well as any weapon, knife, or aerosol container.

Tours of the White House's extensive gardens are held on periodic dates during the spring, summer, and fall. Garden tours are free and tickets are distributed by the National Park Service on the same day as the tour, on a first-come, first-served basis. Dates can be found on the White House website.

White House