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"An outstanding example of a firetrap"
February 28, 2013 6:41 AM   Subscribe

As the NYT reported in 1948: The ceiling of the East Room, elaborately done in the frescoes of fruits and reclining women and weighing seventy pounds to the square foot, was found to be sagging six inches on Oct. 26, and now is being held in place by scaffolding and supports.... But it took the $50,000 survey authorized by Congress to disclose the fact that the marble grand staircase is in imminent danger. Supporting bricks, bought second hand in 1880, are disintegrating. So in 1950 a renovation began: this is what the White House looks like completely gutted. posted by IvoShandor (38 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's a big duct. Way bigger than the WH proper could possibly need. Presumably part of the huge underground conference rooms/shelters.
posted by DU at 6:50 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, I didn't know about this. So the current White House is basically a simulacra of the previous one.
posted by Jahaza at 6:51 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


What, no "What could a terrorist do with this information!?!?!" comments on the original article? Maybe there's hope for the United States after all.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:52 AM on February 28, 2013


Yeah, saying "Lincoln slept in this room" doesn't carry as much weight when it's just another room occupying the same spot as the old Lincoln bedroom. I had no idea it'd been gutted either, though I've often wondered how they kept up with technology & growth there as the years have worn on.

I'd love to see some comparisons of floor plans over the years -- was there a press briefing room in the 1800's? Thoughts like that make me curious about how it's morphed over time.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:55 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nice to see Acorn Iron and Supply are still in business (suppliers of the i-beams used in the scaffolding)
posted by zeoslap at 6:56 AM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Even then the White House was like an iceberg, only 10% visible above ground. I wonder what the proportion is now. Surely the whole area under the lawn and gardens is basically a multi-level bunker going down a hundred feet or more. Hell they probably have an miles-long underground conveyor belt system to haul digging debris out and construction material in so no one could ever really know just how much was down there.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:56 AM on February 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Presumably part of the huge underground conference rooms/shelters.

Don't be silly! If the ducts aren't that large, the heroes can't possibly crawl through them in order to evade the terrorist overlords while rescuing the President! I mean, really!
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:58 AM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, saying "Lincoln slept in this room" doesn't carry as much weight when it's just another room occupying the same spot as the old Lincoln bedroom.

They said the interior was removed and put in storage, then put back after the structure had been reinforced.
posted by 445supermag at 6:59 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


What, no "What could a terrorist do with this information!?!?!" comments on the original article?

On a vaguely related note, while the White House was being renovated, President Truman and his family stayed at Blair House. It was there that he escaped an assassination attempt.
posted by Rangeboy at 7:02 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


They said the interior was removed and put in storage, then put back after the structure had been reinforced.

As I recall, as many of the original interior details were kept as possible. It's a bionic White House now. Still the same building, but better, stronger, more reinforced.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:05 AM on February 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


My god I have really watched too much HGTV when I start thinking of what the love it or list it folks would do with that place.
posted by skrozidile at 7:05 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Am anxiously awaiting some far-right-fringe paranoid blogger going apeshit over this photo. ACORN!!!!!! Commies literally built into the office!!!!!!!
posted by Thorzdad at 7:05 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


They said the interior was removed and put in storage, then put back after the structure had been reinforced.

What? Me read article? Unpossible!
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:06 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's fascinating. Count me among those who had no idea this was done.
posted by TedW at 7:07 AM on February 28, 2013


There's some renovations being done to the White House right now. There were rumors of a second oval office being built, which the staff has denied those reports.
posted by troika at 7:21 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd love to know what news coverage of this was like in 1950. (And +1 to the hadn't-heard-about-this list.)
posted by glhaynes at 7:52 AM on February 28, 2013


So did they remove and return the bowling alley?
posted by ocherdraco at 7:58 AM on February 28, 2013


The White House Museum is the site for you, Devil's Rancher. Here's the history of the space now occupied by the briefing room (previously a swimming pool, previouslier a laundry room).

The renovation project was well known at the time. The Trumans had to move across the street into Blair House, where there was even an assassination attempt.
posted by Longtime Listener at 8:09 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


So did they remove and return the bowling alley?

The complicated history of the bowling alley.
posted by Jahaza at 8:09 AM on February 28, 2013


Yeah, saying "Lincoln slept in this room" doesn't carry as much weight when it's just another room occupying the same spot as the old Lincoln bedroom.

I would like to see an executive order to resolve the ship of Theseus paradox. Maybe if we got a Supreme Court ruling, it could be settled once and for all.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:29 AM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Hey, I DID previously know about this (I read McCullough's Truman). Do I get an award of some kind?
posted by Chrysostom at 8:40 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


“This, milord, is my family's axe. We have owned it for almost nine hundred years, see. Of course, sometimes it needed a new blade. And sometimes it has required a new handle, new designs on the metalwork, a little refreshing of the ornamentation . . . but is this not the nine hundred-year-old axe of my family? And because it has changed gently over time, it is still a pretty good axe, y'know. Pretty good.”
posted by 1adam12 at 8:49 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


So the white house is some kind of tardis, I guess. Seems much bigger on the inside.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:54 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd love to know what news coverage of this was like in 1950.

White House Will Receive Major Renovation Job (November 1949) -- "...that dashed the hopes of Washington society for a brilliant social season."

Lawmaker Urges New White House (April 1949) -- "The White House should be torn down entirely and replaced with an exact duplicate built of materials that will last."

White House Renovation Decided On (April 1949) -- "the hisotic outer structure will be allowed to stand and an entirely new house, conforming as carefully as possible to the present style and materials, will be built inside it."

White House Renovation Nears Completion (October 1951) -- "When the Truman family moves back into the White House...after more than two years' cozy banishment to Blair House, they will find out how lovely the Eighteenth Century could have been if it had had Twentieth Century gadgets."

A Changed White House (March 1952) -- "In other years the 'homecoming' next Friday of the Trumans would probably be marked with greater notice by the nation. Now its attention is more on who is going to occupy the structure as of next January than on changes that have been made in the mansion itself."

White House Kitchen, Steel and Glass, Needs Tall Cook (March 1952) -- "Several reporters, averaged sized women, tested out the overhead pot rack and found it hard to reach."

White House Has Bright New Look (April 1952) -- "The portrait of his mother, on the far wall, and the piano, at the near side of the fireplace, give it a personal touch."

Truman Shows 30 Million On TV White House Tour (May 1952) -- "President Truman sat down in the East Room of the White House and played the piano today while an estimated 30,000,000 Americans in a television audience watched and listened."

$50,000 Asked To Re-Renovate White House (June 1952) -- "[Truman] proposed that this sum be made available so the new President could change furnishings and re-decorate to his own taste."

Related, but not directly regarding the renovations (I suspect questions about this may have come up as a result of the renovations being in the news, but that's just a guess):
Truman Feels Badly Over Loss of Old Furniture (August 1952) -- "Of the furniture that originally went into the White House, says its present occupant, 'not a single stick is left' except the suite in the Blue room."

Truman Regrets Disposal of White House Furnishings (August 1952) -- "Truman mentioned no names, but an old newspaper account says that on April 15, 1882, during the administration of Chester A. Arthur, '24 wagon loads of furniture and other household articles were sold at public auction.' "
posted by cjelli at 9:00 AM on February 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


I would love to see "West Wing" in a universe where this renovation never happened. Fast-paced walking and talking through the corridors would be punctuated by people falling through floors and pipes bursting.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:01 AM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


I would love to see "West Wing" in a universe where this renovation never happened.

Tech people frantically trying to find a plug, laptop-toting bureaucrats trying to divine a wireless signal.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:08 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I seem to remember seeing these photos in connection with some conspiracy theory. Something about Freemasons and the lost White House cornerstone?
posted by cmoj at 9:46 AM on February 28, 2013


the lost White House cornerstone?

Dinna worry. It's safe behind a wall in a small church somewhere in rural Europe.
posted by Twang at 10:14 AM on February 28, 2013


Something about Freemasons and the lost White House cornerstone?

No, I think you're thinking of that movie Hiram Abiff and the Temple of Solomon DOOOOOOM.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:44 AM on February 28, 2013


I knew that the White House had been retrofitted with structural steel, but had never seen photos of it during the process. I did not know that they dug more basement in the main house.

This is a delightful post.
posted by wierdo at 11:52 AM on February 28, 2013


445supermag : Yeah, saying "Lincoln slept in this room" doesn't carry as much weight when it's just another room occupying the same spot as the old Lincoln bedroom.

They said the interior was removed and put in storage, then put back after the structure had been reinforced.
So, the White House is Wolverine?
posted by IAmBroom at 1:04 PM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Devils Rancher: I would love to see "West Wing" in a universe where this renovation never happened.

Tech people frantically trying to find a plug, laptop-toting bureaucrats trying to divine a wireless signal.
Sort of a British version, then.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:49 PM on February 28, 2013


On a vaguely related note, while the White House was being renovated, President Truman and his family stayed at Blair House. It was there that he escaped an assassination attempt.
posted by Rangeboy


It was also there- and I wish I was making this up but it's in McCullough's book- that he and Bess broke the bed fucking.

History!
posted by COBRA! at 2:02 PM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


...during the administration of Chester A. Arthur, '24 wagon loads of furniture and other household articles were sold at public auction.' "

Mmmmm, provenance! Chester A. Arthur sat here?
posted by BlueHorse at 2:31 PM on February 28, 2013




I would love to see "West Wing" in a universe where this renovation never happened.


Probably it would be set in a different building, since the White House would have long since collapsed. Or the renovations would have been done under the Kennedy government instead.
posted by HypotheticalWoman at 4:34 PM on February 28, 2013


There were rumors of a second oval office being built, which the staff has denied those reports.
posted by troika at 7:21 AM on 2/28


First rule of government spending: why build one when you can have two at twice the price?
posted by HMSSM at 10:03 PM on February 28, 2013


was there a press briefing room in the 1800's

Do note that facilities like this are in the West Wing, not the historical WH proper.

Even then the White House was like an iceberg, only 10% visible above ground. I wonder what the proportion is now. Surely the whole area under the lawn and gardens is basically a multi-level bunker going down a hundred feet or more. Hell they probably have an miles-long underground conveyor belt system to haul digging debris out and construction material in so no one could ever really know just how much was down there.

Also, sharks with frickin' lasers. Oh come now.
posted by dhartung at 10:13 PM on February 28, 2013


"The bulldozer had to be taken apart and moved into the White House in pieces, as President Truman would not allow a hole large enough to fit the bulldozer to be cut into the walls of the White House."

I'm thinking they could've cut a tunnel underneath and come up inside but this'll do.

I'd read about it; I think it was in an old memoir by the former Head Usher(?). I seem to remember it started with a piano leg breaking through the ceiling.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 1:13 AM on March 1, 2013


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