The original plans for the presidential mansion were designed by a French architect.
Indeed, when George Washington called upon Pierre Charles L’Enfant to work on the design of the capital city, this French architect designed a majestic presidential palace, almost four times the size of today’s White House.
It was an Irish architect who finally designed the residence and who also directed its reconstruction after the fire of 1814.
But the design that was finally implemented at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was that of Irish architect James Hoban, which, although much smaller than his predecessor’s, was still the largest residence in the country, at least until the 1860s.
After the mansion was destroyed by a fire set by British forces in 1814, James Hoban also oversaw the reconstruction of his work, which was ready for occupancy by President James Monroe in 1817.
The White House follows “Palladian” stylistic lines.
The building responds to the characteristics of the so-called neoclassical style, of which the Italian architect Andrea Palladio is a paradigmatic representative to such an extent that he has been called “the Mozart of architecture.” Of clean and pure forms, the style is often called “Georgian” in English-speaking countries (after the “George” kings of the Hannover dynasty who ruled England in the period) and is characterized by its monumentality. Moreover, James Hoban could probably have been inspired by the Leinster House in Dublin, the current seat of the Irish parliament.
Slaves, as well as Scottish and Irish immigrants, were involved in the construction.
Construction of the first White House took eight years and cost about 230,000 USD at the time. Its workers included numerous African-Americans, both free and enslaved, as well as immigrants, especially from Ireland and Scotland.
The cornerstone was laid during a Masonic ceremony conducted by a Spaniard.
The construction of the White House formally began on the third anniversary of the discovery of America in a Masonic ceremony held by Maryland Lodge Number 9 (now Potomac Lodge Number 5), presided over by a young Spaniard, Pedro Casanave, barely 26 years old. Casanave had emigrated to the United States seven years earlier at the age of 19 with almost no knowledge of the language and just 200 pounds sterling in his pocket. But soon after, he had already started business ventures, which included such diverse items as a nail factory and a men’s night dance school, which he alternated with his activity as a real estate agent and charity work.
The name White House was only a nickname until 1901
To seal the exterior walls of the sandstone building, a thick layer of lime was used to give the house its typical “white” finish. This earned it the nickname “White House” from the very beginning, which became its official name in 1901, under the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt.
The White House had no running water
Running water was not installed in the White House until 1834. The first lady to live there, Abigail Adams, used to use the airy East Room (the largest in the building, today used for official ceremonies) to wash and hang the family’s laundry (direct descendants of the Pilgrim parents, the Adamses had only four people to run the entire household). It is even said that the specter of Abigail was seen in that space with her arms outstretched as if carrying clothes, the room suddenly invaded by the smell of soap. Housekeeping staff during the Taft administration even reported seeing her walking through the walls.
The White House had no electricity
Also, in keeping with the time of its construction, the White House was illuminated by gas fixtures until 1891, when electricity was installed. However, President Benjamin Harrison did not trust the safety of the new invention, so he never personally pressed a switch.
The “numbers” of the White House are impressive.
The current White House has approximately 5100 square meters of floor space, which is distributed over six floors, containing 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms. There are 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, eight staircases, and three elevators. To this impressive list, we must add a mini-bunker and a strategic emergency operations center.
The amenities of the White House are also extremely varied.
Since the addition of a cellar space by Thomas Jefferson, successive occupants of the house have added indoor and outdoor recreational areas, such as a micro-cinema, tennis and bowling courts, a jogging track, a golf putting, and two swimming pools (outdoor and indoor). The indoor pool, opened in 1933 for then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt, is located below the current press conference room. There is even a dentist’s office in the basement, a floor that otherwise contains an entire “mini-mall.”
To be continued…