Monday, September 7, 2009

Tour of the White House

We were very lucky to obtain tickets for a tour of the White House since usually they can not be obtained closer than one month to the date. Our friend arranged it through the office of the Senator for whom he works so we were I think considered visitors from Maine.

We fronted up very early on the morning and were checked off the list and had to show our passports and go through all kinds of security before we were conducted through a long corridor filled with photos of presidents lining the walls. As I said previously I could not take photos so these are all thanks to Wikimedia.

Only a few public rooms of the White House are included on the tour which is to be expected. But let me begin with a few facts about the house. It is the oldest public building in Washington DC and every president except George Washington has conducted business there. Although it has undergone many changes the basic structure, which was begun in 1792, has been kept. It was not occupied until 1800 when John Adams did so after the capital was moved from Philadelphia to Washington, DC, even though the building's interior was not completed at that time.

In 1814 the British forces captured Washington and burned the White House and the sandstone walls and interior brickwork were all that was left standing. But it was rebuilt by 1817 and over the years many other presidents have made structural changes to make it what it is today, including the addition of a third floor in 1927.

Prior to Theodore Roosevelt's presidency the house was known as the Executive Mansion or the President's House but in 1901 Roosevelt made its popular name, the White House, its official name and so it has remained since.

I think everyone knows that the West Wing contains the executive offices or official offices of the President, including the Oval office which was built in 1909 and just outside is the well known Rose Garden built in 1913. None of this was included in the tour however.

Schematic map of the tour areas

The first three rooms on the tour were not entered by the group, although they would have been quite interesting to see in a leisurely fashion. Their size and location prohibited entry and besides the information given by the guide only a quick peak through the door was available. The library contains volumes by American authors and the furniture is American Federal period with a chandelier which one belonged to the James Fenimore Cooper family. As you can imagine the Vermeil Room contains an extensive collection of vermeil (or gilded silver) and contains portraits of recent First Ladies. The China Room is one in which the pieces of china and glass used by various presidents are displayed in glass cases.

The East Room

The East Room is the largest of the State Rooms, used for receptions, ceremonies and press conferences. It has been the scene of several weddings and some presidents have lain in state here. Three elaborate glass chandeliers dating from 1902 hang here and one was being cleaned, involving four people who were dismantling, cleaning and repairing the links. The unique grand piano was built in 1938 by Steinway & Sons especially for the White House, with input from Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The next three rooms are smaller and used by the President to receive guests for smaller receptions or teas, each of them decorated in and named after a specific colour. The first of these is the Green room.

The Green Room in the Clinton era

Eleanor Roosevelt received Amelia Earhart in this room and it was considered by John F Kennedy to be the most restful room of the State rooms. It is furnished with pieces made in New York by Duncan Phyfe about 1810.

The Blue Room in the Clinton era

The Blue Room has a distinctive oval shape and is furnished in the French empire period, representing James Monroe's time in office. The White House Christmas tree is placed in this room.

The third of this group is the Red Room which is furnished in the American Empire period of 1810 to 1830.

The Red Room as furnished during the Clinton administration

This room was the site of the fashionable Wednesday evening socials hosted by Dolly Madison. Anyone who knocked on the front door on this night was invited to this room to be entertained by Mrs Madison.

The State Dining Room

The last room on the tour was the State Dining Room is a very impressive room, 48 by 36 feet, capable of seating 140 people at ten round tables, and was last remodelled during the Clinton administration, however many changes that Jackie Kennedy made are still there. The table shown is fairly new reproduction from 1998. On the mantle piece is a quote from a John Adams letter to his wife in 1800, the day after he moved into the White House:
I Pray Heaven to Bestow The Best of Blessing on THIS HOUSE, and on All that shall hereafter Inhabit it. May none but Honest and Wise Men ever rule under This Roof!
Well I think we all hope that prayer would always be true.

I thoroughly enjoyed this tour and the information imparted by the knowledgeable guides.

Afterwards we went to take morning coffee at the outdoor coffee shop of the Willard Hotel which is just across from the White House while we gathered ourselves to tackle one or two of the Smithsonian Museums which I will tell you about at a later date.


CherryPie said...

What a lovely opportunity it sounds fascinating.

Berni said...

What a great trip and photos too. I am glad you are enjoying yourself.

Moggs Tigerpaw said...

I bet it was fascinating. It is great you were able to get the chance to do the visit.

I see they still have the guys on the roof with guns. I find them a little scary, also a little scary they are there.

I know it is necessary, but it is sad that it is necessary.

Carver said...

Thanks for the tour JMB. It's been many years since I've done that tour and was fun for me reading your post.

Janice Thomson said...

It certainly is an imposing residence. It would have been a fascinating tour.

Liz said...

The East Room is fabulous but I don't like the legs on the grand piano! It must have been a fascinating tour.

jams o donnell said...

What a wonderful opportunity to see inside thee White House.

Colin Campbell said...

Good work. Were you frisked?

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

What an interesting tour. I would love to do it. But did you bump imto Martin Sheen?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking us along on the tour. What did you think of the place? Did you have a favorite room?