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The White House

The White House, the official residence of the president, is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC 20500. The site, covering about 18 acres, was selected by President Washington and city planner Pierre Charles L'Enfant, and the architect was James Hoban. The design appears to have been influenced by Leinster House, Dublin, and James Gibb's Book of Architecture. The cornerstone was laid Oct. 13, 1792, and the first residents were President John Adams and First Lady Abigail Adams in Nov. 1800.

Earliest photo of the White House (1846)

The White House has a fascinating history. The main building was burned by the British in 1814 during the War of 1812. Afterward, when the building was being restored, the smoke-stained gray stone walls were painted white. The name “White House,” however, was not used officially until President Theodore Roosevelt had it engraved on his stationery in 1901. Prior to that, the building was known variously as the “President's Palace,” the “President's House,” and the “Executive Mansion.”

Over the years, there have been several additions made to the main building, including the west wing (1902), the east wing (1942), and a penthouse and a bomb shelter (1952). The west wing, which contains the president's oval office and the offices of his staff, is the center of activity at the White House. During Harry Truman's presidency, from Dec. 1948 to March 1952, the interior of the White House was rebuilt, and the outer walls were strengthened. Nevertheless, the exterior stone walls are the same ones that were first put in place when the White House was constructed two centuries ago.

The rooms for public functions are on the first floor; the second and third floors are used as the residence of the president and first family. The most celebrated public room is the East Room, where formal receptions take place. Other public rooms are the Red Room, the Green Room, and the Blue Room. The State Dining Room is used for formal dinners. In all, there are 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases, and 3 elevators.

White House at dusk, by Carol Highsmith

Source: Department of the Interior, U.S. National Park Service

Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

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