Inside the White House: 230 years of presidential history and renovations

From the first stone being laid in 1792 to Melania Trump's controversial 2020 Rose Garden changes

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October 13 marks 230 years since construction of the White House began in Washington in 1792.

The instantly recognisable building, located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, is the official residence and workplace of US presidents. It has been the home of every president since John Adams in 1800.

The site and architect were selected by the first US president, George Washington, in 1791 and the Neoclassical residence was designed by Irish architect James Hoban. It was not officially known as the White House until president Theodore Roosevelt gave it the name in 1901.

The exterior of the White House circa 1900. Getty Images

After it was built between 1792 and 1800, Adams moved into the White House with his wife, Abigail Adams, when it was still unfinished. More than two centuries later, it has been home to 45 US leaders, from Adams to current US President Joe Biden.

Inside the White House, there are 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms and six levels in the Residence. According to the official website, it has a total of 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, eight staircases and three lifts. The busy kitchen has the capacity to serve dinner to 140 guests and canapes to more than 1,000 people.

White House renovations

There have been several iterations of the White House.

During the war of 1812, 14 years after it was completed, the British Army set the building on fire during the presidency of James Madison. The blaze caused widespread damage both inside and outside. Renovations began quickly, and president James Monroe was able to move into the reconstructed Executive Residence in October 1817, seven months into his term.

Following the post-fire renovations, the South portico was added in 1824 and the North portico in 1829.

The West Wing is known as the location of the presidential offices today, but it wasn't so until 1901, when Roosevelt moved official operations to the newly constructed wing on account of crowding within the executive mansion.

President Joe Biden sits in the Oval Office of the White House in June 2022. AP Photo

The original Oval Office was added in 1909 when president William Howard Taft extended the West Wing. This was later expanded in the 1930s, when president Franklin Roosevelt moved the Oval Office to its current Rose Garden-adjacent location.

Roosevelt also added a now-covered swimming pool, an outdoor pool was added by president Gerald Ford in the 1970s and president Richard Nixon installed a single-lane bowling alley in the basement in 1970.

In the mid-20th century, the White House Reconstruction, also known as the Truman Reconstruction, took place on account of "serious structural weakness". The reconstruction consisted of a comprehensive dismantling and rebuilding of the interior of the building from 1949 to 1952.

"President Harry S Truman began a renovation of the building in which everything but the outer walls was dismantled," the White House website reads. "The reconstruction was overseen by architect Lorenzo Winslow, and in 1952, the Truman family moved back into the White House."

A less than a decade later, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of president John F Kennedy, began a decorative restoration in 1961.

US first lady Jacqueline Kennedy leads her daughter Caroline's pony, Macaroni, centre, while giving a tour of the White House grounds to Empress Farah Pahlavi of Iran, on April 12, 1962. AP Photo

In 1962, she gave a televised interview and tour of the White House to CBS. "I really don’t have one [a plan] because I think this house will always grow and should," she said of her renovations. "It just seemed to me such a shame when we came here to find hardly anything of the past in the house, hardly anything before 1902."

In September 1961, the White House was declared a museum by the US Congress, protecting the furniture, fixtures and decorative arts. Anything not on show at the White House was instructed to be handed to the Smithsonian Institution to be preserved, studied or exhibited, but can be called back to the White House to be displayed.

During a more recent presidency, first lady Michelle Obama, wife of president Barack Obama, planted the White House's first organic garden and installed beehives on the South Lawn in 2009. The garden covers 102 square metres and the beehives produce organic honey for the kitchen.

In 2020, first lady Melania Trump, wife of president Donald Trump, redesigned the Rose Garden. The complete redesign, which stripped much of the colour from the garden as well as 60-year-old trees, was the first major change since the Kennedy era.

The famous garden is outside the Oval Office, and is often used as the location for press conferences and events. It dates back to 1913, and was previously redesigned during Jacqueline Kennedy's renovations.

In March last year, a petition was started urging first lady Jill Biden to reverse the Trump changes.

Updated: October 13, 2022, 11:00 AM
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