Questions & Answers

Google
WWW White House Museum

US English

 

 

 

I've gotten some wonderful feedback from visitors with plenty of questions. Keep 'em coming!

Coolidge-era China

The Ike & the Capitol

JFK's rug and the Blue Room

Second Floor and Basement

Where is the 1992 HABS Photo Collection?

White House Museum: the Book? the Museum?

Old Elevator

Finding the Bowling Alley

Staircases to the Sub-Basement

Does the President's Elevator Go All the Way to the Top?

Clock Room Conundrum

Ramp to East Sitting Hall

White House Exterior Paint

Hall of Presidents

 


Coolidge-era China

Did the Coolidges have a White House China Pattern?

—Suzanne W

Full sets of White House china (often numbering 1,700 pieces or more) are very expensive, so many presidents just use existing sets in the White House collection. The Coolidges purchased some replacement pieces for the Wilson setting, which was used from its purchase in 1918 to the early Roosevelt administration in 1934, when the Roosevelts commissioned a new full set of their own design. The Wilson set is still used from time to time; Hillary Clinton purchased some replacement pieces for it and other sets, and she and Bill later even commissioned a set of their own that the Bushes usually use today. Prior to the Benjamin Harrisons, however, White House china was often sold to fund the purchase of new China, so even the White House's own collection before that is quite spotty.

Most first families leave at least something for the White House dining collection, tho. The Coolidges commissioned a set of silver Minuet-pattern flatware with "President's House" engraved on the handles, which were used for the next fifty years.

 


The Ike & the Capitol

Do you have any information on floor plans/directories for other buildings such as the Capitol and the Supreme Court, but primarily I'm interested in the OEOB/EEOB.

—Logan G

I've seen very little on the EEOB in my research, but I haven't been looking for it directly. I've seen pictures of a few offices (Nixon's office, TR's VP office), a couple of conference rooms, and of course the Indian Treaty Room, and also the bowling lanes, but that's about it. I've never seen a good description of what is in the building other than additional staff of the executive branch. The EEOB, as you probably know, is often referred to as if it is part of the White House. When Bush took office after Clinton, the big hullabaloo over "vandalism" of the "White House" was actually mostly just messiness in the EEOB. The White House site has a little tour of the EEOB.

Similarly, layouts and details on other government buildings are also few and far between. However, this site seems to have a pretty good plan of the Capitol. The Senate site has a tour. And the Library of Congress has some good pictures. What I find striking about the Capitol is how it is rather grander than the White House. Congress, it seems, has made itself a nicer house than the one it has made for the president.

 


JFK's rug and the Blue Room

Do you have any ideas, thoughts, etc. as to what happened to the red rug that was installed when the oval office was redone in November, 1963 while JFK was on his ill-fated trip to Texas? In every photo I’ve ever seen, the LBJ office has a green rug (it actually looks like the Truman/Eisenhower rug.)

Also, I wonder what you think of the Blue Room as it stands today, since the 1995 redecoration? I very much liked the post-Truman reconstruction Blue Room as well as the 1962 Kennedy restoration Blue Room. (My favorite.) I haven’t cared for it since the 1972 Pat Nixon redecoration; and though the 1995 renovation is better than the 1972 one, I still don’t like the room much. Your thoughts?

—Scott W

I'm sure Boudin's red OO rug is in storage along with all the other presidential rugs and available if any president wants it (Bush 2 used Reagan's at first). My understanding is that LBJ did indeed pull out the Truman blue-gray rug again and use it because it went with the odd desk he chose (with the aquamarine top). I used to think his rug was green because of some of the photos I'd seen, but that was just the result of yellowish lighting (I try to correct for the lighting in the pictures I post, but it's tricky).

I like the Blue Room all right, but it's not inspiring. I think both the Red and Green Rooms out-do it. I actually love the carpet, but hate the walls and windows. I prefer JBK's choices better, but I don't think it's really been done right for a long, long time. What's funny is that blue is such a safe color. Red can be bloody and alarming. Green can be putrid or piney. Yellow can be sickly. White tends to be cold. But you can just about run the gamut of blue from pale to pastel to medium to dark, pull it toward violet or push it toward aqua--about anything, really--and not go wrong. But everyone since Truman seems scared of putting it on the walls!

 


Second Floor and Basement

I see you have great photos of the West Wing. In particular you have the main floor and the basement. I want to know if you have any photos of the top floor? You said somewhere on one page that there are some spots you don't want to show. Is that one of them? I've also heard or seen that there are other floors under the main White House. Is this true?

—Bob

I don't have many pictures of the second floor of the West Wing or much of the East Wing mainly because very few photos are available of those areas. They're just ordinary offices of functionaries and are probably pretty boring; no one thinks to photograph them, much less release them to the public. Part of the East Wing, West Wing, and that mysterious blank office on the Residence ground floor are occupied by security, so I'm sure we won't see any photos of those areas. There is also a little-known tunnel from the basement under the East Wing to the Treasury building.

The Residence (original mansion) has a basement and subbasement under the ground floor, but these are--as far as I know--very boring storage, air conditioning, and similar facilities. There are a few photos of these on the Truman Library site, when they were built. Under the East Wing is the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, a real underground bunker maintained for attacks on the White House itself. Few have ever used it, but it did get used on 9/11. (Jackie Kennedy once visited it, thinking it was empty and could be used a playroom!)

I haven't tried very hard to document these areas for the reasons I stated on the About page: they are either boring or sensitive or both.

UPDATE: I've since added photos for the West Wing second floor and a couple of the sub-basement, especially where related to the Truman reconstruction.

 


Where is the 1992 HABS Photo Collection?

Could you please let me know where you found many of the 1992 photos (I am aware of a booklet put out by the Reagan administration regarding the renovations which included some photos of the third floor, but have never seen some of the others that you have posted).

—Trey

The Historic American Building Survey (HABS) photos are available in a special Library of Congress collection. There are about 650 photos available (some are omitted) as well as 41 measured drawings of the grounds and mansion floor plans.

 


White House Museum: the Book? the Museum?

You should really make a book on White House photography. It would definitely become the definitive book on the subject and would sell like hotcakes to American history buffs.

Anyway, keep up the good work and I look forward to seeing updates to your site. I also hope that someday you see your dream come true in the building of your white house museum replica. Man, would that be cool to visit.

—Chris

I highly recommend William Seale's The White House: The History of an American Idea, which you may be familiar with, to anyone who would like to see the history and structure White House in book form. I love the Web format for its ability to make information into an interactive experience. But, yes, the ultimate interactive White House experience would be a museum that replicates the whole structure.

 


Old Elevator

I recall seeing pictures long ago of the original White House elevator, a very pretty Victorian model with brass gates and grille-work. I read (I don't recall where now) that Harry Truman was very fond of it and requested it be retained in the remodeled house, but was told it was incompatible with modern elevator machinery and controls. If you could locate pictures of it, I am sure I am not the only old elevator junkie who would be utterly delighted.

—Robert

I've been wondering what the original elevators looked like, but don't recall seeing any pictures. There have been three or more elevators in the house's long history, with the first being a hydraulic unit installed in 1881 and an electric elevator installed in 1898.

The photos I've seen on the Truman Library site just show the elevator shaft already dismantled. I'll search around and create a new page specifically for the main elevator (right now, clicking on the main elevator just displays one picture of the open elevator in 1992), where I can put historical elevator pics if I find them. As you probably already know, there are some great stories associated with the White House elevators, like how the (Theodore) Roosevelt boys rode on top of it and once got their pony in it to bring it to the second floor!

UPDATE: I created a page for the Family Elevator and added a screen capture from Backstairs at the White House of a recreation of the old elevator. I also point out the differences between the pre-Truman and post-Truman elevators.

 


Finding the Bowling Alley

The bowling alley.... I see that two lanes were put into the OEOB. But you also say one was put into the WH. When looking at the picture, I see the windows at the end of the lanes. Judging by the size of the windows, I wonder if the bowling alley is right beyond the situation room with the windows facing the west executive drive? Or is that in the East Wing as well?

—Pete

The exact location of the bowling alley has perplexed me. Everything I’ve read suggested that it’s in the basement of the Residence, under the north lawn. But the White House director of preservation has said:

“The bowling alleys that you refer to were a gift to President Truman and moved from the basement of the West Wing to the basement of the EEOB in 1955. The last president to use them was President Nixon who was the most avid bowler of the presidents. He enjoyed bowling so much, a single lane alley was installed at the White House in 1970 as a gift from his close friends.”

The WH Historical Association says:

"Bowling lanes were first built in 1947 in the basement of the West Wing but were moved to the Old Executive Office Building in 1955. In 1969, President and Mrs. Nixon, both avid bowlers, had a one-lane alley built in an underground workspace area below the driveway leading to the North Portico."

That suggests that Truman's and Nixon's bowling alleys were completely different, with Truman's in the ground floor of the West Wing and Nixon's in the basement under the north lawn.

 


Staircases to the Sub-Basement

One of the photos from the [1992 HABS survey] shows a staircase to nowhere, leading from the Library, I believe. The staircase is also seen on the floor plan for the ground floor. Does this staircase go to the basement? If so, are there any photos to be seen of any of the subbasements' facilities?

One of them is pictured on the HABS site. It is not the rather narrow staircase near the Usher's office. I find it difficult to imagine why there would be staircases here to the subbasement; certainly they aren't appropriate for staff or security purposes.

—Duane

The stairways on the east side, off the Library and Vermeil rooms, are entered from the Center Hall and twist around under the Library and Vermeil rooms, down to the sub-basement. I have a few pictures of the sub-basement, but they’re not much to look at. And without any floor plan for the sub-basement (which I don't have), they wouldn’t be very meaningful anyway. I doubt many visitors would care to see the Truman-era air conditioning control system—and that’s the MOST interesting image I have.

I found the pic you mean, and I believe you’re right that this is one of these staircases and not, as I thought, the back stair in the elevator lobby. So I’ve created a new page for the sub-basement and added that photo.

 


Does the President's Elevator Go All the Way to the Top?

Does the elevator which services the kitchen and the pantry above it also run to the private quarters in the area close to the small kitchen in the NW corner? I would imagine it does in order to assist serving the family in the dining room on the N side (Prince of Wales Room) next to that kitchen.

—Duane

I believe the kitchen elevator goes all the way from the basement through the ground floor pantry, first floor pantry, and into the first mezzanine pantry. It may go up into the family kitchen on the second floor, but I’m not sure. That space might be occupied by another staircase up to the third floor (I seem to have read about another staircase).

UPDATE: After a careful examination of the Library of Congress diagrams and the photos of the room in its various stages, I've come to the conclusion that both the elevator and spiral staircase must go up to the Family Kitchen on the second floor and probably have since the 1961 conversion to a kitchen. Therefore, I've added them to my floor plan.

 


Clock Room Conundrum

I am a bit puzzled by the labeling on the floor plan for the mezzanine area around the Usher's office. What does "Clock" refer to in the area directly above the office itself?

—Duane

Visitor Dennis provides the answer:

I have no idea why it is called "clock" room, but from reading West [JB West's Upstairs at the White House] and my own visit to the White House in 1991, the "Clock Room" is actually the chief usher's office.  The room on the main floor is the "Ushers' Office." It is his little hideaway.

—Dennis

 


Ramp to East Sitting Hall

You've whet my appetite for more. I am hoping for even more glimpses: the Chief Usher's quarters off the Entrance Hall, the ground-floor elevator foyer where the President likely catches his ride after leaving the West Wing to return to the private quarters, those baths that adjoin the Lincoln and Queen suites, the elevator area in the small kitchen complex in the nw corner of the private quarters. I could go on, of course.

By the way, how much of a "step up" is it to that portion of the east end of the second floor that requires a ramp or sloping floor to reach it? I presume this difference can also be noted in the height between window sills and floor by comparing west end rooms to east end. Does this difference affect only the east end suites or does it include the Treaty Room and the staircase landing as well?

—Duane

A lot of the incidental areas you mention are only documented in the 1992 HABS photos, as far as I know. But several areas were clearly left out of the LOC online collection out of security considerations, including the Chief Usher's office, the east staircase to the third floor, and the second floor Beauty Salon(?!). So as long as the White House staff is careful, we may never get a good look at them.

Judging from the sills in the photos of the East Sitting Hall and West Sitting Hall (good thinking!), the ramp must only be about 9 inches, which makes sense if it replaced one step. I know the Blue Room has a slightly-more-than-18-foot ceiling (more than one description of White House Christmas trees mention it), so the East Room must have about a 19-foot ceiling. This must obviously affect the Queen and Lincoln suites as well as the East Sitting Hall, but the Treaty Room is west of the ramp and the photos of its doorway from the Stair Landing don't show any step.

UPDATE: A diagram and photo in William Seale's The White House: History of an American Idea show four short steps up in this area, suggesting that it is actually at about 30 inches of rise! Seale later explains that President Truman hoped that the 1949 reconstruction would level out the second floor, but the best the engineers could achieve was narrowing it to the 9 to 12 inches it is today.

Incidentally, some sources for the ceiling of the East Room put it at 20 feet (a Nixon Foundation document), while others put it at 22 feet (the National Building Museum).

 


White House Exterior Paint

Could you please tell me what is the make, type and exact color of the paint used on the exterior trim and body of the White house. Thank you.

—Jo Ann Smith

The entire White House exterior (trim and body) is painted with 570 gallons of “whisper white” exterior paint, made by (I believe) Dulux. I haven’t been able to confirm with either the White House or Dulux, but I believe it is a “low-sheen” (satin) acrylic. I can tell you that thirty-two layers of white paint (not all the same brand) were removed from the sandstone exterior in the 1992 renovation.

Krylon and Ramuc also make colors called “whisper white,” but Krylon’s is canned spray paint and Ramuc’s is meant for marine applications (boats and pools). So I’m reasonably sure that it is Dulux that supplies the White House.

 


Hall of Presidents

I'm interested in finding out if there is a special room in the White House which has the framed paintings of all the previous presidents.

—Gaya

There is no single place in the White House that is a complete gallery of presidential portraits. However, some official painted portraits of various presidents and first ladies are hung around the White House. Several in the White House collection are traditionally displayed in the Cross Hall and Entrance Hall on the first floor and in other rooms as the current president likes. As you can imagine, new presidents tend to prefer portraits of recent presidents of their own political party. In fact, in the Roosevelt conference room in the West Wing, it is traditional to give the place of honor over the mantelpiece to a painting of Theodore Roosevelt during a Republican administration and Franklin Roosevelt during a Democratic administration.

The famous portrait of Washington by Gilbert Stuart has long adorned the East Room. And the seated Lincoln has long hung over the mantel in the State Dining Room. Smaller portraits of Washington and Lincoln are common in the Oval Office. Portraits of several first ladies are hung in the Vermeil Room on the ground floor and a few are hung elsewhere in the White House.

Only about a dozen presidents and eight first ladies portraits are on display at any one time, however. Most portraits are kept in storage by the White House Historical Association, the museum arm of the White House.

However, there is more than one “official” painted portrait of recent presidents. One collection is maintained as part of the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution, and they are also done for each president’s library (every president since Hoover has gotten a library to hold his papers and mementos).

Also, photographic portraits are done fairly frequently and may become part of the White House collection, National Archives, Library of Congress, or the president’s library. And some are just part of the personal collections of professional photographers, magazines, or the president and first lady themselves.