Feb 28, 2013

The Project that Saved the White House from Collapse

 

Built in 1800, the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., has been the residence of every U.S president since John Adams. In 1814 (during the war of 1812) the White House was set ablaze by the British army, destroying the interior and charring much of the exterior. Since then the building has undergone countless changes, putting undue stress on the centuries-old building (a brick and sandstone structure built around a timber frame).

20th-century innovations like indoor plumbing, electricity and heating ducts all took its toll. In 1948 a Congress-authorized survey was undertaken revealing just how dire the situation had become:

- The house was declared to be in imminent danger of collapse
– The ceiling of the East Room, weighing seventy pounds to the square foot, was found to be sagging as much as 18 inches
– The marble grand staircase was in imminent danger of collapse
– Supporting bricks, bought second-hand in 1880, were disintegrating
– The mansion’s plumbing was deemed “makeshift and unsanitary”
– The president’s bathtub was sinking into the floor
– Wooden beams had been weakened by cutting and drilling for plumbing and wiring over 150 years
– The addition of the steel roof and full third floor in 1927 added weight the building could no longer handle

While the cost of completely tearing down and rebuilding the White House from scratch was found to be cheaper than a full interior restoration/renovation, Truman deemed the ‘cultural’ value of keeping the original structure intact greater than any economic cost savings a total tear-down would provide.

So in December of 1948, President Truman moved to the Blair House across the street and so began a multi-year renovation that would cost $5.7 million USD. The entire process was faithfully documented by Abbie Rowe, a photographer for the National Park Service, Department of the Interior. High-resolution photos (seen below) of the renovation were uploaded yesterday to the Flickr Commons account of The U.S. National Archives.

 

President Truman and the Committee for the
Renovation of the White House, 06/20/1949

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (1)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

White House Lobby, 12/27/1949

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (2)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

Renovation Work on the White House, ca. 1950

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (3)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

White House East Room, 01/19/1950

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (4)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

Split Beam above White House Lobby Ceiling, 01/25/1950

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (5)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

View from Servant’s Dining Room, 02/06/1950

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (6)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

Second Floor Corridor, 02/09/1950

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (7)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

Lower Corridor, 02/14/1950

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (8)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

Main Stairway, 02/23/1950

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (9)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

Removing Debris from the White House, 02/27/1950

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (10)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

Bedroom and Sitting Room, 02/27/1950

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (11)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

Second Floor Oval Study above Blue Room, 03/09/1950

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (12)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

The Shell of the White House, 05/17/1950

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (13)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

Northeast Corner of the White House, 11/06/1950

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (14)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

The Lincoln Room, 01/23/195

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (15)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

Truman’s White House Renovation
December 1948 – March 1952

 
Total cost: $5.7 million USD
Duration: December, 1948 – March 27, 1952

Notable changes
– Structure rebuilt using concrete and steel beams in place of original wooden joists
– 126 new reinforced concrete support columns to a depth of 25 ft
– 660 tons of steel to strengthen the new concrete inner walls and floors
– Repositioning of the grand staircase to open into the Entrance Hall, rather than the Cross Hall
– Additional of central air conditioning
– Addition of two sub-basements providing space for workrooms, storage, and a bomb shelter

 

 

East Room during the Renovation, 06/21/1951

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (16)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

Workers inside Ductwork, 07/19/1951

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (17)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

Northeast View of the State Dining Room, 11/21/1951

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (18)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

West View in the Third Floor Corridor, 12/04/1951

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (19)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

New Steps of the South Portico Being Erected, 01/04/1952

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (20)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

Northeast View of the State Dining Room, 01/23/1952

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (21)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

Northwest View of Second Floor Corridor, 03/24/1952

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (22)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

President Harry S. Truman and First Lady Bess Truman Returning to the White House, 03/27/1952

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (23)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

Broadcast Room on Ground Floor, 03/1952

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (24)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

View of the Grand Staircase, 04/24/1952

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (25)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

East Room of the White House, 08/01/1952

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (30)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

President Truman’s Study
Second Floor Oval Room, 07/29/1952

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (29)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

Blue Room, Post-Renovation, 07/15/1952

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (26)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

White House Green Room, 07/15/1952

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (27)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

White House State Dining Room, 07/15/1952

white house gutted truman restoration 1949 - 1951 (28)

Photograph by Abbie Rowe via The U.S. National Archives on Flickr

 

 

Sources

- Photographs courtesy of The U.S. National Archives
Harry S. Truman Library & Museum
The White House Museum
Wikipedia: White House
National Journal

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, the Sifter
highly recommends:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pin ItEmail this

Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45,179 other followers

Like Us on Facebook?

Close: I already like TwistedSifter