East Room

The East Room in 2008, looking southeast (History Channel - WH: Behind Closed Doors)


Stuart's portrait of Washington

The Public Audience Chamber

The East Room, scene of many historic White House events, was designated by architect James Hoban as the "Public Audience Chamber" but quickly came to be called the "Banquet Room." The room is not quite 80 feet by 37 feet and normally contains little furniture. It is traditionally is used for large gatherings, such as dances, receptions, concerts, weddings, award presentations, press conferences, and bill-signing ceremonies. It is here that presidents are commonly inaugurated in private before proceeding to the Capitol for an official, public inauguration. It is here also that presidents, vice-presidents, and other dignitaries are sometime lain in honor prior to their funerals. Richard Nixon announced his resignation to his staff here.

As the largest room in the house, it has sometimes served as a playroom. Tad Lincoln harnessed a pair of goats to a kitchen chair and took a ride through the East Room. During the Theodore Roosevelt administration, not only was First Daughter Alice married here, but the room also hosted a Chinese wrestling exhibition to entertain some 50 to 60 guests of the president (TR enjoyed wrestling top-rated Americans and even took jujitsu lessons). The exuberant Roosevelt children are also known to have used the East Room for roller-skating. Seventy-five years later, Jimmy Carter's daughter Amy's roller-skating adventure left marks that weren't repaired for another thirty years.


The Steinway grand piano with gilt American eagle supports was given to the White House in 1938. The full-length portrait of George Washington that hangs here is one of several painted by Gilbert Stuart and has hung here (except during renovations) since 1800. In 1818, President Monroe purchased 24 chairs for the East Room from William King, a cabinetmaker in Georgetown.



Custom grand piano in the East Room (Clinton Library)

The Public Audience Room was not complete when the White House opened its doors in 1800. Abigail Adams famously hung laundry to dry here. And architect Benjamin Latrobe noted that the ceiling had fallen in sometime between 1800 and 1809. The room was finally complete in 1826.

Of the room in Lincoln's time, Journalist Noah Bloom wrote:

The East Room... is well known to most people by the common engravings of it. The ceiling is frescoed in a very ordinary style, cupids, flowers and such sprawling about overhead in a very loose manner, the unbreeched urchins looking as though a suit of Uncle Sam's uniform would not come amiss this cold weather. The lace curtains, heavy cords and tassels and damask drapery, have suffered considerably this season from the hands of relic-hunting vandals, who actually clip off small bits of the precious stuff to carry home as mementoes, I suppose. I wonder how they have the 'cheek' to exhibit their trophies to admiring friends at home and complacently relate how they stole them. Some of these aesthetic pilferers have even cut out small bits of the gorgeous carpet, leaving scars on the floor as large as a man's hand. Others, on larger game intent, have actually cut off a yard or two from the lower end of some of the heavy crimson satin window hangings.

At times during the Civil War years, Union troops occupied the room. In 1864, the East Room was the scene of a large reception given by President Lincoln in honor of Ulysses S Grant shortly before his appointment as head of all the Union armies. In April of 1865, the East Room was again filled with people, but this time they were mourners surrounding the body of President Lincoln after his assassination. Andrew Johnson's daughter quickly renovated the White House in the style of the time with geometric shapes.

In 1963, John Kennedy lay in state on the catafalque (funeral platform) that was made for Abraham Lincoln in 1865


When Grant himself became president, his redecoration of the East Room in 1873 added two decorated beams supported by gold and white columns. The ceiling spaces between the beams were painted in blues and soft pinks to resemble the sky. It also included gray and gold wallpaper, new mantels and mirrors over the fireplaces, rows of columns, and new gas chandeliers larger than those installed by President Jackson. The remake resulted in Gilded Age decor hailed at the time as "pure Greek" but later ridiculed as "steamboat Gothic." When President Arthur redecorated the White House in 1882, Louis Tiffany found it necessary only to install silver paper on the ceiling of the East Room and to increase the number of potted plants, whereas elsewhere he installed Tiffany glass windows and plaster trim.

All of the heavy Victorian adornments were swept away in the 1902 renovation. Today the East Room retains the late 18th-century classical style to which it was restored by architects McKim, Mead, & White during the Theodore Roosevelt renovation of 1902. An oak floor of Fontainebleau parquetry was installed at the time as were the bronze electric-light standards, upholstered benches, and three Bohemian cut-glass chandeliers. The walls were paneled in wood with classical fluted pilasters and relief insets. The paneling was painted white, and delicate plaster decoration was added to the ceiling.



More Images

The East Room in 2009, looking southeast (Time - Brooks Kraft)

Part of the performance by Stevie Wonder in 2009 (White House - Pete Souza)

Kenny Chesney performing at a dinner for Australian Prime Minister John Howard in 2006, looking south (White House - Paul Morse)

The East Room set for after-dinner conversation at Christmastime in 2006 (Amber Kurusz)

Cast from the musical Jersey Boys performing at a luncheon for Senate wives in 2006, looking east (White House - Shealah Craighead)


Historical photos of the East Room