The White House is a Dump?

by Mark E Andersen –

Recently, the current occupant of the White House claimed it was a “real dump.” In my life I have lived in many places. The worst was a trailer me and a couple young junior NCOs rented in Oak Grove, Kentucky, so we could get out of the barracks. It was so crappy the rats packed up and moved out—the cockroaches felt right at home. A close second would be the 20th replacement depot at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, where the shower drain was a hole in the floor, and it just drained out on the ground, but I was only there for a couple days so that one does not count. I currently live in a modest two-bedroom home. It isn’t much, but it is mine (or it will be in 2041 when it is paid off). It is certainly not a dump.

The nicest place I have ever lived in was an old Victorian I used to own. It was falling apart, and had some odd quirks (like the second floor swaying when a train went by a block away), but it kept me busy on weekends with projects. I was especially proud of saving all the leaded glass upper sashes when I discovered the windows were rotting. I am sure the current White House occupant would call it a dump. None of the places I have lived have had the history of the White House, a residence I would certainly not call a dump.

The White House was designed by Irish Immigrant James Hoban in 1792, it was built with slave labor. George Washington never lived in the White House; the first occupant was John Adams, who moved in in November of 1800. Abigail Adams used the East Room to dry the presidential laundry.

Thomas Jefferson was the second president to live in the White House, and added the East and West Colonnades, which aided in concealing the laundry, stables, and storage. James and Dolley Madison moved in in 1809. They moved out, not by their choosing, on August 24, 1814 when the British showed up, ate a meal, and then torched the place (talk about rude house guests). The Madisons would not move back into the White House. The Monroes would be the first presidential couple to move into the reconstructed White House in 1817. In 1824 the South Portico was added to the White House, and the North Portico was added in 1830.

In 1861, the Lincolns moved in, it is probably okay to say the place was a dump at that time.

Mary’s fond hopes for a palatial new existence in Washington were in a way dashed almost as soon as she took up residence in March 1861. As Lincoln’s clerk William O. Stoddard conceded, many once glittering areas of the house were run down; even the East Room had “a faded, worn, untidy look.” Mary’s visiting cousin Lizzie Grimsley thought the “deplorably shabby furnishings” looked like they had “survived many Presidents,” although the house had been extensively refurbished twice in the previous decade. Concluding that it would be “a degradation” to subject her family and her guests—to such surroundings, the new first lady launched a monumental redecorating project, purchasing new carpets, draperies, wallpaper, furnishings, china, and books, and modernizing plumbing, heating, and lighting.

As with any government project, it went over budget—by 30 percent.

During Lincoln’s time security at the White House was not really a concern. In fact, there was an open door policy.

Virtually from Lincoln’s first day in office, a crush of visitors besieged the White House stairways and corridors, climbed through windows at levees, and camped outside Lincoln’s office door “on all conceivable errands, for all imaginable purposes.” Neither custom nor security precautions shielded the president from his voraciously demanding public. Office-seekers were the biggest drain on the presidents time and energy—among them, his wife’s own relatives—crowding the hallways all the way down the front stairs in an endless effort to importune him for lucrative government appointments.

After Lincoln was assassinated, his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, would not leave the White House for another five weeks:

“Bidding Adieu, to that house,” she bitterly remembered,”would never have troubled me, if in my departure, I had carried with me, the loved ones, who entered the house, with me.” Her memory of the White House was only that “all the sorrows of my life, occurred there.”

Teddy Roosevelt moved into the White House after the assassination of President McKinley. In 1902 the White House was, according to the White House museum, “somewhat decrepit and cramped.” President Roosevelt was not a fan of the Victorian decor and wanted more if the original federalist design. That is not exactly what happened,

Work began in June  under the supervision of the architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White with Charles McKim personally in charge. McKim held little regard for historical elements, and worked fast to strip the house of most of its floors and cover over old walls with new plaster. By the end of the year, the job was complete, although the result was more Georgian than federal

McKim’s most significant alterations were to remove the original grand stair in the west end of the Cross Hall what is today the north side of the State Dining Room—and make the side stair by the Entrance Hall a grander affair (to be redone again by Truman). He also added bathrooms on the second floor and installed new elevator and electric lights everywhere to replace most of the old gaslight fixtures.

That is not all that was done: the executive offices were moved from the second floor and into another building so that the family residence could be on the second floor. Roosevelt had the Victorian conservatories on the west side demolished and a one-story temporary office structure (the West Wing—so much for temporary) built which was connected to the residence by a colonnaded gallery that housed laundry and other housekeeping facilities. An East Wing was added for the first time.

President Taft made the West Wing permanent and added the Oval Office. President Hoover took advantage of a fire in the West Wing to make it larger, update the Oval Office, add air conditioning, and replace the 20-year-old furniture.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt further expanded the West Wing to what we know it today, and it has largely stayed the same. When President Truman took office, the White House was literally falling apart at the seams. In 1948 it was in danger of collapsing (this would be a dump). He had it gutted, and replaced the interior of the building, losing all of the original interior structure. Jacquelyn Kennedy would restore much of the White House in the early 1960s, presenting the restoration to the American public on TV on Valentine’s Day 1962.

Since 1962, the White House has been declared a museum, and minor updates have been made. Most notably, President Carter added solar panels, President Reagan removed the solar panels, and President Bush (43) added solar panels.

President Trump calls the White House a dump — likely because not every thing has cheap gold plating on it, or maybe because the original architect was an immigrant. The White House is a national treasure, not a dump. I have lived in a dump: I am sure that crappy ass trailer is still in Oak Grove and is still being rented out to unsuspecting soldiers. Maybe after Trump’s presidency and business empire collapse, he can rent it out, and find out just what living in a dump is like. I am sure he would feel right at home with the cockroaches living there.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos