Entrance Hall

Dancers in the Entrance Hall in 2009 (White House - Pete Souza)

The President's Front Door


Aaron Shikler's posthumous portrait of John Kennedy
(White House)

The Entrance Hall is a large, square, formal foyer space, about 31 feet by 44 feet, floored with pink and white marble. The hall's furnishings include a French pier table purchased by Monroe in 1817 and a pair of French settees with carved mahogany swans' heads. A suite of early 19th-century Italian gilded furniture in the Empire style was placed in the halls in 1973. Herbert E. Abrams' portrait of George HW Bush hangs in the Entrance hall as does Aaron Shikler's portrait of John Kennedy.

The Entrance Hall is set off from the Cross Hall by a colonnade. Their size and T-shaped configuration, however, encouraged drafts—particularly in the East Room. And in 1853 architect Thomas Walter installed a cast-iron and glass screen between the Entrance Hall and the Cross Hall to reduce drafts.

Interior designer Louis C Tiffany replaced the screen's clear glass with red, white, and blue mosaic glass in 1882. With topaz, ruby, and amethyst jewels set into the glass alongside four eagles and a shield with the initials “US,” it was one of the most popular aspects of the White House in the late nineteenth century. The screen was removed in 1902, when all Victorian elements in the White House were replaced with colonial revival interiors. Today, a small glass vestibule is added at the front door on the North Portico.

James Hoban planned the expansive entry vestibule and wide cross hall for ceremonial occasions when the President's House would be filled with people. Thomas Jefferson turned it into a western museum of sorts in 1806 by showcasing antlers, snake skins, pelts, skeletons, and Indian costumes sent by Meriwether Lewis, the White House aide who explored the American west with Captain William Clark. Captain Lewis had come to the White House in 1801 to serve as the president’s personal aide. Jefferson planned the expedition of Lewis and Clark from his office in the White House, and he personally instructed Lewis in math and science to prepare him for the journey.

In the time of President Van Buren, novelist Captain Frederick Marryat wrote of his visit:

Mr. Van Buren... has prevented the mobocracy from intruding themselves at his levees. The police are now stationed at the door, to prevent the intrusion of any improper person. A few years ago, a fellow could drive his cart, or hackney coach, up to the door, walk into the saloon in all his dirt, and force his way to the President, that he might shake him by the one hand, while he flourished his whip with the other.

In the time of President Tyler, the acclaimed author Charles Dickens (and, coincidentally, friend of Marryat) wrote:

[An official gentleman and I] entered a large hall, and having twice or thrice rung a bell which nobody answered, walked without further ceremony through the rooms on the ground floor, as divers other gentlemen (mostly with their hats on, and their hands in their pockets), were doing very leisurely. Some of these had ladies with them, to whom they were showing the premises; others were lounging on the chairs and sofas.


Barack Obama and President Felipe Calderón of Mexico descend the Grand Staircase in 2010 (White House - Pete Souza)

The Grand Staircase


Upper view of the old Grand Stair, around 1949

The large Entrance Hall and Cross Hall formed part of James Hoban's original plans for the White House and, although the basic design has not been altered, modifications have been made during various renovations. During the 19th century two principal stairways led to the second floor. The broad staircase at the west end of the Cross Hall was removed in 1902 to increase the size of the State Dining Room. At the same time, the remaining stairway, opening into the Cross Hall, was enlarged and is now known as the Grand Staircase. During the 1948-52 renovation, this stairway was repositioned to open into the Entrance Hall.

The Grand Staircase is often used on ceremonial occasions. Before state dinners, the President greets his guests of honor in the Yellow Oval Room; then they descend the stairs to the East Room where the other guests are gathered. Along the stairway hang portraits of 20th century Presidents, including Harry Truman (by Greta Kempton), Dwight Eisenhower (by J Anthony Wills), Richard Nixon (also by J Anthony Wills), Herbert Hoover (by Elmer W Greene), and Warren Harding (by F Luis Mora); a portrait of Mrs. William Howard Taft (by Bror Kronstrand) is also in the stairway. Above the American pier table on the landing is F Graham Cootes' painting of Woodrow Wilson. An English cut-glass chandelier from about 1810 to 1815 lights the stairway at the first landing.

More Images

Grand Staircase in 2008 (C-SPAN)

Greeting British PM Tony Blair Entrance Hall in 2007 (Time - Corbis)

Buffing the floor, around 2007 (Corbis)

Bill Clinton's official portrait in 2005 (haleychura)

Plaque in the floor of the Entrance Hall commemorating the 1792 building, 1817 rebuilding, 1902 renovation, and 1952 reconstruction.

Grand Staircase, circa 2002 (White House)

Historical photos of the Entrance Hall