Evolution of the White House
November 7, 2008 3:42 PM   Subscribe

The White House Museum’s website offers a fascinating historical chronicle of the interior of the White House. Though the East and West wings are interesting in their own right, it is the evolution of the President’s Residence that offers the most intimate view of the tastes and lifestyles of the various first families.

The White House has undergone many renovations over the years, the most recent significant one being under the watchful eye of the Clintons, who raised money for the face lift through private funds and donations. Aside from the decorative changes, the Clintons added a workout room (the sequence of photos of this room is complete with a George W. Bush workout session) and a sound proof music room where Bill could practice his sax in peace.

Although the website hosts the pictorial histories of over 140 rooms in what was once aptly referred to as “The Presidential Castle” by Dolley Madison, here are a few highlights:

• Once a humble cloakroom, the China Room was established by Mrs. Woodrow Wilson in 1917. It boasts a chronological succession of china that represents every former President of the United States. The gallery contains photos dating back to 1918.
• The Diplomatic Reception room has greeted many important ambassadors visiting the White House. It is still decorated in the panoramic wallpaper showing various American landscapes that was selected by none other than Jackie Kennedy. Don’t miss the photo of the Roosevelts near the bottom of the page.
The Library has been decorated in an incredible variety of styles over the years, but the most interesting part of the gallery are the photographs of various Presidents there. Of timely note, FDR preparing for a Fireside Chat about halfway down the page.
The State Dining Room is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting galleries on the site. The earliest photos picture the cabinet of James Polk in 1843, and the pictorial shows the many fabulous and opulent dining rooms that guests of the White House have had the pleasure to dine in.
The Blue Room has been reinvented dozens of times over the years, and from the amount of photographs featuring Presidents and their families, it seems to have been very oft used. The computer reconstruction (in color) of the black and white photos snapped in the 1880’s (towards the bottom of the page) are absolutely incredible. The Yellow Oval Room is similar, and also hosts many interesting photographs, including the Reagans with Princess Diana & Charles in the 1980’s.
• No tour would be completed without the famous Lincoln Bedroom, complete with photographs of Lincoln himself in the room. And of course, the voyeur in all of us wants to see where the President actually slept – The Master Bedroom of the White House.

After seeing the many faces of the White House over the years, one has to wonder what kind of stamp the eagerly-awaited new occupants will put on the residence. According to Architectural Digest (who posted a terrific photo slideshow of the changes Nancy Reagan and Jackie Kennedy made to the White House here) every first family makes their own décor changes to the President’s Residence.

*Please be aware that the links are very slow loading. The pages are packed with photos that take a bit of time to download, but they’re worth it!
**The White House Museum was recently linked to in this MeFi post by Jessamyn discussing the bowling alley.
posted by theantikitty (21 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
No mention of the secret escape tunnels?
posted by dunkadunc at 3:46 PM on November 7, 2008

My first FPP! Took me long enough.
posted by theantikitty at 3:46 PM on November 7, 2008

posted by dawson at 3:54 PM on November 7, 2008

Yeah, when jessamyn posted this I went through it for hours and hours. It's a fantastic site, well worth its own post IMO.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:09 PM on November 7, 2008

theantikitty, Was just thinking about what it would be like for Obama, the first black President and his family, living in The White House, what it would feel like sleeping in the bed there, knowing what those walls have witnessed these hundreds of years. I wonder how the staff feels with Obama at the helm? Does the staff change with the party?

I wonder if there's a part of The White House where it's more relaxed and not like a deep white, stuffy museum? Even the bathrooms have a mausoleum look to them. Yikes, it's so suffocatingly square. It needs a couple of disco balls.

It's that Obama feels so much more human to me than other politicians, who somehow were/are more plastic, fake, out of touch than he is. I can't help wondering what he's thinking and feeling. It's strange to perceive a politician in such a personal way.

Never visited The White House and was curious about it. Thanks for this post.
posted by nickyskye at 4:13 PM on November 7, 2008

Disco balls? I hope he does this.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:21 PM on November 7, 2008

You're right nickyskye; they do seem like an incredibly normal family. His house is Chicago ain't too shabby either, though. And a lot of the rooms on the second floor, which is much more like a private residence, seem way less formal than the rest of the house. This family kitchen looks positively quaint in comparison to a lot of the other rooms. It will be really interesting to see what kind of changes they make to the interior, but I think there are some parts of the house that won't ever change. It seems like there is a tradition in keeping certain paintings and other objects with their respective rooms.
posted by theantikitty at 4:39 PM on November 7, 2008

I hope they have removed those creepy bird graphics from the wall of the master bedroom since those shots were taken. I would think being president is stressful enough without sleeping in a Hitchcock movie.
posted by bowline at 5:04 PM on November 7, 2008

I had been looking through the White House Historical Association's site yesterday, which has some nice information too, but I was really looking for more intimate photos like these. Thanks for pointing me in a better direction.

I recommend the section on African-Americans in the White House for an interesting perspective. They'll need to update that soon.
posted by saffry at 5:14 PM on November 7, 2008

Wow -- I had no idea there was so much stuff on the very top floor of the White House! I recall seeing a floorplan of the private area of the residence a while back and thinking to myself "That's not much space," because there were all the formal bedrooms (Queen's Room, Lincoln Bedroom) on the same level with what appeared to be the President's family's quarters. There was no hint that there even was this secret floor of rooms above it! That is so cool.

Now the only question remains, which one of them becomes the President's Star Trek memorabilia room?
posted by brain cloud at 5:21 PM on November 7, 2008

Nickyskye - I wonder if there's a part of The White House where it's more relaxed and not like a deep white, stuffy museum?

Sasha and Malia will be living there soon, and I think if you want to add a note of informality and fun to a place, little kids trump disco balls every time. And I think having a young family in the House will remind people that that is exactly what it is - a house, where a family goes about its day-to-day routine. If Obama gets two terms, those girls will grow from kids to young women in that House; hopefully, they will enjoy the extraordinary opportunity without letting the formality and weight of history oppress them too much.

I wish I had grown up in a house where Jackie Kennedy picked out the wallpaper. *Sigh*
posted by ShameSpiral at 5:27 PM on November 7, 2008

What an odd place to live, really. I mean, the decor in all the family rooms right now would make me feel as though I were suffocating - poncy florals and draperies, over-ornate papers and furniture - but it would you really want to be the one to, say, tear down the Jackie-selected paper in the FL's dresing room? Living so intimately with history must be strange, and a little oppressive - I'd want to completely refurnish and repaint and reeverything, but would feel hampered by the sense of big-H History. They should just scrub the family rooms bare every time the occupants change, like a vacated apartment, and let them truly make it their own for the term(s).
posted by peachfuzz at 5:46 PM on November 7, 2008

I wonder if there's a part of The White House where it's more relaxed and not like a deep white, stuffy museum?

And people made fun of Bush for going to Texas every chance he got... it's understandable after you see the inside of his first home.
posted by smackfu at 6:07 PM on November 7, 2008

Michelle Obama is a modern, practical person. Hopefully her future makeovers of the private rooms will reflect that, though quite honestly it fills me with despair to think that the only memorable mark a First Lady makes is how she decorates the house. That might go down well with Republican wives but we've had a string of accomplished, highly-educated worldly Democrat first ladies who can offer the country a whole lot more than which wallpaper they pick out for the game room.
posted by brain cloud at 7:21 PM on November 7, 2008

Did you research that statement before you made it, brain cloud? I think you'll find D First Ladies no more accomplished than R First Ladies.
posted by rocket88 at 9:30 PM on November 7, 2008

Does the staff change with the party?

Well, the West Wing, East Wing, and the Executive Office Building are going to have a lot of appointees loyal to the President, who will be supported by a much larger number of career Civil Service underlings who've worked in the White House or other agencies before. (Example: Linda Tripp.)

The White House building itself is managed by a professional staff which does not change. The White House mess (kitchen) is run by the Navy along with certain other functions.

They should just scrub the family rooms bare every time the occupants change, like a vacated apartment, and let them truly make it their own for the term(s).

The private areas seem to have a great deal more discretion allowed than the public areas, which are much more visibly the property of the nation. The renovations necessary just for maintenance should provide plenty of opportunity for any family to make their own mark.
posted by dhartung at 10:37 PM on November 7, 2008

This reminds me. Obama should put solar panels on the roof again.
posted by effwerd at 10:38 PM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

I wish I had grown up in a house where Jackie Kennedy picked out the wallpaper.

Jackie Kennedy White House tour.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:40 AM on November 8, 2008

They gotta work on those buttons at the top of the page -- looks like EAST WINO and WEST WINO. I was thinking they'd link to Ulysses Grant and Lyndon Johnson information but...
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:33 AM on November 8, 2008

This is pretty awesome. I hope the Obama administration throws the White House Museum a bone and gets them a better server because man, this is the slowest loading website EVAR.

Also: I would have thought that they would give the President a better TV. Is he really getting his news from the tiny box in the private dining room? Can't they at least give him a teeny plasma screen? Good lord, I think my boyfriend's iPhone probably has better image resolution.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:54 AM on November 8, 2008

I hope the Obama administration throws the White House Museum a bone and gets them a better server because man, this is the slowest loading website EVAR.

Yeah, no kidding! Seconded. This can be done so much better.
posted by brain cloud at 11:15 AM on November 8, 2008

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