In 1814, during the War of 1812, the mansion was set ablaze by the British Army in the Burning of Washington, destroying the interior and charring much of the exterior walls. Reconstruction began almost immediately, and President James Monroe moved into the partially reconstructed house in October 1817. Construction continued with the addition of the South Portico in 1824 and the North in 1829. Due to crowding within the executive mansion itself, President Theodore Roosevelt had nearly all work offices relocated to the newly-constructed West Wing in 1901. Eight years later, President William Howard Taft expanded the West Wing and created the first Oval Office which was eventually moved as the section was expanded. The third-floor attic was converted to living quarters in 1927 by augmenting the existing hip roof with long shed dormers. A newly constructed East Wing was used as a reception area for social events; both new wings were connected by Jefferson's colonnades. East Wing alterations were completed in 1946 creating additional office space. By 1948, the house's load-bearing exterior walls and internal wood beams were found to be close to failure. Under Harry S. Truman, the interior rooms were completely dismantled, resulting in the construction of a new internal load-bearing steel framework and the reassembly of the interior rooms.
Today, the White House Complex includes the Executive Residence (in which the First Family resides), the West Wing (the location of the Oval Office, Cabinet Room, and Roosevelt Room), and the East Wing (the location of the office of the First Lady and White House Social Secretary), as well as the Old Executive Office Building, which houses the executive offices of the President and Vice President.
The White House is made up of six stories—the Ground Floor, State Floor, Second Floor, and Third Floor, as well as a two-story basement. The term White House is regularly used as a metonym for the Executive Office of the President of the United States and for the president's administration and advisors in general. The property is owned by the National Park Service and is part of the President's Park. In 2007, it was ranked second on the American Institute of Architects's "List of America's Favorite Architecture."
The President's house was a major feature of Pierre Charles L'Enfant's plan for the newly established federal city, Washington, D.C. The architect of the White House was chosen in a competition, which received nine proposals, including one submitted anonymously by Thomas Jefferson. The nation's first president, George Washington, traveled to the site of the federal city on July 16, 1792 to make his judgment. His review is recorded as being brief and he quickly selected the submission of James Hoban, an Irishman living in Charleston, South Carolina. Washington was not entirely pleased with the original Hoban submission, however; he found it too small, lacking ornament, and not fitting the nation's president. On Washington's recommendation the house was enlarged by thirty percent; a large reception hall, the present East Room, was added. This was likely inspired by the large reception room at Mount Vernon.
The building Hoban designed is verifiably influenced by the first and second floors of Leinster House, the Irish house of parliament in Dublin, Ireland. Several other Georgian era Irish country houses have been suggested as sources of inspiration for the overall floor plan, details like the bow-fronted south front, and interior details like the former niches in the present Blue Room. These influences, though undocumented, are cited in the official White House guide, and in White House Historical Association publications. The first official White House guide, published in 1962, suggested a link between Hoban's design for the South Portico, and Château de Rastignac, a neoclassical country house located in La Bachellerie in the Dordogne region of France and designed by Mathurin Salat. The French house was built 1812–1817, based on an earlier design. The link has been criticized because Hoban did not visit France. Supporters of a connection posit that Thomas Jefferson while visiting the Ecole Spéciale d'Architecture (Bordeaux Architectural College) in 1789 viewed Salat's drawings, and on his return to the U.S. shared the influence with Washington, Hoban, Monroe, and Benjamin Henry Latrobe.
Shortages, including material and labor, forced alterations to the earlier plan developed by French engineer Pierre Charles L'Enfant for a "palace" that was five times larger than the house that was eventually built. The finished home would contain only two main floors instead of the planned three, and a less costly brick served as a lining for the stone façades. When construction was finished the porous sandstone walls were coated with a mixture of lime, rice glue, casein, and lead, giving the house its familiar color and name.
Being a famed structure in America, many replicas have been constructed in its image.
Although it was not built until some years after the presidency of George Washington, it is also speculated that the name of the traditional home of the President of the United States may have derived from Martha Custis Washington's home, White House Plantation in New Kent County, Virginia, where the nation's first President and First Lady had courted in the mid-18th century.
John Adams became the first president to take residence in the building on November 1, 1800. During Adams' second day in the house he wrote a letter to his wife Abigail, containing a prayer for the house. Adams wrote: Franklin Delano Roosevelt had Adams' blessing carved into the mantel in the State Dining Room.
Adams lived in the house only briefly, and the home was soon occupied by Thomas Jefferson, who gave consideration to how the White House might be added to. With Benjamin Henry Latrobe, he helped lay out the design for the East and West Colonnades, small wings that help conceal the domestic operations of laundry, a stable and storage. Today, Jefferson's colonnades link the residence with the East and West Wings.
In 1814, during the War of 1812, the White House was set ablaze by British troops in retaliation for burning Upper Canada's Parliament Buildings in the Battle of York; much of Washington was affected by these fires as well. Only the exterior walls remained, and they had to be torn down and mostly reconstructed due to weakening from the fire and subsequent exposure to the elements, except for portions of the south wall. Of the numerous objects taken from the White House when it was ransacked by British troops, only two have been recovered — a painting of George Washington, rescued by then-first lady Dolley Madison, and a jewelry box returned to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 by Alan Van Dyke, a Canadian man who said his grandfather had taken it from Washington. Most of the spoils were lost when a convoy of British ships led by HMS Fantome sank en route to Halifax off Prospect during a storm on the night of November 24, 1814.
After the fire, both architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe and Hoban contributed to the design and oversight of the reconstruction. The south portico was constructed in 1824 during the James Monroe administration; the north portico was built six years later. Though Latrobe proposed similar porticos before the fire in 1814, both porticos were built as designed by Hoban. The similarity between the South Portico and an elliptical portico, with nearly identical curved stairs at Château de Rastignac in La Bachellerie, France is speculated as the source of inspiration, although this matter is one of great debate. The decorative stonework on both porticos were carved by Italian artisans brought to Washington to help in constructing the U.S. Capitol. The North Portico was not modeled on a similar portico on another Dublin building, the Viceregal Lodge (now Áras an Uachtaráin, residence of the President of Ireland), for its portico postdates the White House porticos' design. For the North Portico, a variation on the Ionic Order was devised incorporating a swag of roses between the volutes. This was done to link the new portico with the earlier carved roses above the entrance.
In 1891, First Lady Caroline Harrison proposed extensions to the White House, including a National Wing on the east for a historical art gallery, and a wing on the west for official functions. A plan was devised by Colonel Theodore A. Bingham, which reflected the Harrison proposal. In 1901, Theodore Roosevelt and his family moved in to the White House and hired McKim, Mead, and White to carry out renovations and expansion, including the addition of a West Wing. President William Howard Taft enlisted the help of architect Nathan C. Wyeth to add additional space to the West Wing, which included the addition of the Oval Office.
The West Wing was damaged by fire in 1929, but rebuilt during the remaining years of the Herbert Hoover presidency. In the 1930s, a second story was added, as well as a larger basement for White House staff, and President Franklin Roosevelt had the Oval Office moved to its present location: adjacent to the Rose Garden.
Decades of poor maintenance, the construction of a fourth story attic during the Coolidge administration, and the addition of a second-floor balcony over the south portico for Harry Truman took a great toll on the brick and sandstone structure built around a timber frame. By 1948, the house was declared to be in imminent danger of collapse, forcing President Truman to commission a reconstruction and move across the street to Blair House from 1949 to 1951. The work, done by the firm of Philadelphia contractor John McShain, required the complete dismantling of the interior spaces, construction of a new load-bearing internal steel frame and the reconstruction of the original rooms within the new structure. Some modifications to the floor plan were made, the largest being the repositioning of the grand staircase to open into the Entrance Hall, rather than the Cross Hall. Central air conditioning was added, as well as two additional sub-basements providing space for workrooms, storage, and a bomb shelter. The Trumans moved back into the White House on March 27, 1952. While the house's structure was kept intact by the Truman reconstruction, much of the new interior finishes were generic, and of little historic value. Much of the original plasterwork, some dating back to the 1814–1816 rebuilding, was too damaged to reinstall, as was the original robust Beaux Arts paneling in the East Room. President Truman had the original timber frame sawed into paneling; the walls of the Vermeil Room, Library, China Room, and Map Room on the ground floor of the main residence were paneled in wood from the timbers.
Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of President John F. Kennedy (1961–63), directed a very extensive and historic redecoration of the house. She enlisted the help of Henry Francis du Pont of the Winterthur Museum to assist in collecting artifacts for the home, many of which had once been housed there. Other antiques, fine paintings, and improvements of the Kennedy period were donated to the White House by wealthy donors, including the Crowninshield family, Jane Engelhard, Jayne Wrightsman, and the Oppenheimer family. Stéphane Boudin of the House of Jansen, a Paris interior-design firm that had been recognized world-wide, was employed by Mrs. Kennedy to assist with the decoration. Different periods of the early republic and world history were selected as a theme for each room: the Federal style for the Green Room, French Empire for the Blue Room, American Empire for the Red Room, Louis XVI for the Yellow Oval Room, and Victorian for the president's study, renamed the Treaty Room. Antique furniture was acquired, and decorative fabric and trim based on period documents was produced and installed. The Kennedy restoration resulted in a more authentic White House of grander stature, which recalled the French taste of Madison and Monroe. The first White House guide book was produced under the direction of curator Lorraine Waxman Pearce with direct supervision from Jacqueline Kennedy. Sale of the guide book helped finance the restoration.
Since the Kennedy restoration, every presidential family has made some changes to their private quarters of the White House, but changes to the State Rooms must all be approved by the Committee for the Preservation of the White House (formerly the Kennedys' Fine Arts Committee). Aimed at maintaining the historical integrity of the White House, the congressionally authorized committee works with the First Family, usually represented by the First Lady, the White House Curator, and Chief Usher to implement the family's proposed plans for altering the home.
During the Nixon administration (1969–74), First Lady Pat Nixon refurbished the Green Room, Blue Room and Red Room, working with Clement Conger, the curator President Richard Nixon appointed. Mrs. Nixon's efforts brought over six hundred artifacts to the home, the largest acquisition by any administration. In the 1990s, President and Mrs. Bill Clinton had some rooms refurbished with the assistance of Arkansas decorator Kaki Hockersmith, including the Oval Office, the East Room, Blue Room, State Dining Room, and Lincoln Sitting Room. A recent refurbishment of the Lincoln Bedroom begun during the Clinton administration was completed in President George W. Bush's administration, and the refurbishment of the Green Room and East Room has begun. The White House is one of the first government buildings in Washington that was made wheelchair-accessible, with modifications having been made during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who needed to use a wheelchair as a result of his paraplegia. In the 1990s, Hillary Rodham Clinton, at the suggestion of Visitors Office Director Melinda N. Bates, approved the addition of a ramp in the East Wing corridor. It allowed easy wheelchair access for the public tours and special events that enter through the secure entrance building on the east side.
Today the group of buildings housing the presidency is known as the White House Complex. It includes the central Executive Residence flanked by the East Wing and West Wing. Day to day household operations are coordinated by the Chief Usher. The White House includes: six stories and 55,000 ft² (5,100 m²) of floor space, 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms, 412 doors, 147 windows, twenty-eight fireplaces, eight staircases, three elevators, five full-time chefs, a tennis court, a (single-lane) bowling alley, a movie theater, a jogging track, a swimming pool, and a putting green. It receives about 5,000 visitors a day.
This portion of the building was used as the setting for the popular television show The West Wing.
Before the construction of the North Portico, most public events were entered from the South Lawn, which was graded and planted by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson also drafted a planting plan for the North Lawn that included large trees that would have mostly obscured the house from Pennsylvania Avenue. During the mid to late nineteenth century a series of ever larger green houses were built on the west side of the house, where the current West Wing is located. During this period, the North Lawn was planted with ornate "carpet style" flower beds. Although the White House grounds have had many gardeners through their history, the general design, still largely used as master plan today, was designed in 1935 by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. of the Olmsted Brothers firm, under commission from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. During the Kennedy administration the White House Rose Garden was redesigned by Rachel Lambert Mellon. The Rose garden borders the West Colonnade. Bordering the East Colonnade is the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden which was begun by Jacqueline Kennedy but completed after her husband's assassination. On the weekend of June 23, 2006, a century-old American Elm (Ulmus americana L.) tree on the north side of the building, came down during one of the many storms of the Mid-Atlantic flood of June 2006. This elm is depicted on the right side on the back of the $20 bill. This tree was believed to have been planted between 1902 and 1906 during Theodore Roosevelt's administration. Among the oldest trees on the grounds are several magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) planted by Andrew Jackson.
Like the English and Irish country houses it was modeled on, the White House was, from the start, open to the public until the early part of the twentieth century. President Thomas Jefferson held an open house for his second inaugural in 1805, and many of the people at his swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol followed him home, where he greeted them in the Blue Room. Those open houses sometimes became rowdy: in 1829, President Andrew Jackson had to leave for a hotel when roughly 20,000 citizens celebrated his inauguration inside the White House. His aides ultimately had to lure the mob outside with washtubs filled with a potent cocktail of orange juice and whiskey. Even so, the practice continued until 1885, when newly elected Grover Cleveland arranged for a presidential review of the troops from a grandstand in front of the White House instead of the traditional open house. Jefferson also permitted public tours of his home, which have continued ever since, except during wartime, and began the tradition of annual receptions on New Year's Day and on the Fourth of July. Those receptions ended in the early 1930s, although President Bill Clinton would briefly revive the New Year's Day open house in his first term. The White House remained accessible in other ways as well; President Abraham Lincoln complained that he was constantly beleaguered by job seekers waiting to ask him for political appointments or other favors, or eccentric dispensers of advice like “General” Daniel Pratt, as he began the business day. Lincoln put up with the annoyance rather than risk alienating some associate or friend of a powerful politician or opinion maker. In recent years, however, the White House has been closed to visitors because of terrorism concerns.
In 1974, a stolen Army helicopter landed without authorization on the White House grounds. Twenty years later, in 1994, a light plane landed on the White House grounds. The pilot was killed by the crash. As a result of increased security regarding air traffic in the capital, the White House was evacuated in 2005 before an unauthorized aircraft could approach the grounds.
On May 20, 1995, primarily as a response to the Oklahoma City bombing of April 19, 1995, the United States Secret Service closed off Pennsylvania Avenue to vehicular traffic in front of the White House from the eastern edge of Lafayette Park to 17th Street. Later, the closure was extended an additional block to the east to 15th Street, and East Executive Drive, a small street between the White House and the Treasury Building. The Pennsylvania Avenue closing, in particular, has been opposed by organized civic groups in Washington, D.C. They argue that the closing impedes traffic flow unnecessarily and is inconsistent with the well-conceived historic plan for the city. As for security considerations, they note that the White House is set much further back from the street than numerous other sensitive federal buildings are.
Prior to its inclusion within the fenced compound that now includes the Old Executive Office Building to the West and the Treasury Building to the east, this sidewalk served as a queuing area for the daily public tours of the White House. These tours were suspended in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. In September 2003, they were resumed on a limited basis for groups making prior arrangements through their Congressional representatives and submitting to background checks, but the White House remains closed to the general public. The White House Complex is protected by the United States Secret Service and the United States Park Police.