Just last Saturday, I was able to take a tour of the West Wing with my in laws and Christina. This was a very special experience because you must have a background check and prior authorization to go into this area of the White House; a friend of a friend is in the Secret Service so he got us the hook up and the once-in-a-lifetime tour. The West Wing was first built in 1902 by my main-man…Teddy Roosevelt. It contains the infamous Oval Office, Roosevelt Room, Press-Briefing Room, Situation Room, and Cabinet Room. Basically, the West Wing is where the president and his staff get a crap ton of work done and run the country. The White House, as a whole, is made up of the Executive Residence (main building in most pictures), the East Wing, and the aforementioned West Wing. Unfortunately, I was unable to tour the main floor of the Executive Residence which has the famous Blue, Green, Red, and East Room. The history in the White House is amazing and to better understand it I read The Hidden White House: Harry Truman and the Reconstruction of America’s Most Famous Residence by Robert Klara.
Truman was thrown into the presidency after the tragic death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He entered a White House that had seen two world wars and almost 50 years since its last major renovation. The house had serious issues including the interior and exterior walls sinking into the marshy soil. The house’s interior walls were so weak that the floors would seem to bounce when walked on. In 1948, an inspection of the house found that it was unsafe for President Truman to live in and he was moved to Blair House which was located across the street. The White House was gutted, reinforced, and completely updated between 1949-1952. The total cost of the renovation reached 5.7 million dollars and far exceeded the original budget. During the renovation, workers found original burnt wood beams from the War of 1812 and a host of previous construction mishaps from prior presidents. An attempt was made to preserve the original finishes and woodwork but because of time constraints and budget pressure, cheap replicas were hurriedly installed. The end result of the Truman renovation was a White House that was structurally improved but historically inept. People who were familiar to the “old” White House said it looked like a hotel. On a positive note, the Blue, Green, Red and East Room all received their original fixtures and woodwork. Thankfully, Jacqueline Kennedy would later replace the cheap furnishings with authentic pieces throughout the entire house.
Truman had his work cut out for him but overall I am impressed by his tenacity during the renovation. He would inspect the progress on a daily basis and was integral in preserving several key structural details of the house. The White House has been an evolving house ever since its cornerstone was laid in 1792. It is one of the defining symbols of the United States and represents the peaceful transfer of presidents throughout the ages. Anyone can go tour the main floor of the house and I would highly recommend reading up on its rich history before going.
Visit this site to see the entire renovation with pictures.