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WHITE HOUSE, WASHINGTON DC

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The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the President of the United States. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., it was built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in the late Georgian style and has been the executive residence of every U.S. President since John Adams. When Thomas Jefferson moved into the home in 1801, he (with architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe) expanded the building outward, creating two colonnades which were meant to conceal stables and storage.

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, in Dublin, Ireland, which later became the seat of the Oireachtas (the Irish parliament). 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 École 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.

Construction of the White House began with the laying of the cornerstone on October 13, 1792, with no formal ceremony. The main residence, as well as foundations of the house, were built largely by enslaved and free African-American laborers, as well as employed Europeans. Much of the other work on the house was performed by immigrants, many not yet with citizenship. The sandstone walls were erected by Scottish immigrants, employed by Hoban, as were the high relief rose and garland decorations above the north entrance and the "fish scale" pattern beneath the pediments of the window hoods. Much of the brick and plaster work was produced by Irish and Italian immigrants. The initial construction took place over a period of eight years, at a reported cost of $232,371.83 ($2.8 million in 2007 dollars). Although not yet completed, the White House was ready for occupancy on or circa November 1, 1800.

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.

January 2009

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