The White House, excluding the wings, constructed between 1792 and 1800, is the official residence of the President of the United States and a living museum of American history. The White House’s collection of fine and decorative arts includes historic objects associated with the White House and the Presidency and significant or representative works by a variety of American and European artists and craftsmen that are consistent with the historic character of the house.
Since 1800 when the first work of art, the full-length portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, was acquired for the President’s House, objects including paintings, sculpture, furniture, and china have been purchased by, or donated to, the White House for the enjoyment of the First Families and their guests in this ever-changing historic structure. The public also is welcomed into the public rooms to learn about the White House – its history, occupants, and collection.
Overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue, this hall serves as a grand foyer for the official reception rooms on the State Floor. During events, the United States Marine Band often performs in this location. Under President Thomas Jefferson, artifacts acquired by explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (1803-6) and Zebulon Pike (1805-7) were displayed in the Entrance Hall. The grand staircase leads from the State Floor to the Second Floor and is used primarily for ceremonial occasions. On the lowest landing, President Ronald Reagan took his second oath of office on January 20, 1985. Since inauguration day fell on a Sunday, a private ceremony was held in the White House that day with the official ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on the Monday following.
Until 1902 two large staircases led from the State Floor to the Second Floor. A staircase at the west end of the Cross Hall that led to the Family Quarters was removed in 1902 to enlarge the State Dining Room. The winding staircase to the east of the Entrance Hall led to the rooms on the east end of the Second Floor that were used as the presidential offices before the creation of the West Wing. When the 1902 Grand Staircase was rebuilt during the Truman renovation, it was redirected to open into the Entrance Hall for more dramatic formal descents from the Second Floor.
Behind the Entrance Hall is this central corridor that extends between the East Room and the State Dining Room.
In 1837, to conserve heat in the state rooms, a glass screen was installed between the columns.
In 1882, it was replaced by a screen of stained glass made by Louis C. Tiffany. Removed in 1902 and sold at auction, the Tiffany screen is believed to have been destroyed in a fire in 1923.
The largest room in the house, the East Room was designated by architect James Hoban as the “Public Audience Room.” It normally contains little furniture and traditionally is used for large gatherings, such as press conferences, bill-signing ceremonies, after-dinner entertaining, concerts, weddings, funerals, and award presentations.
Five presidential daughters have been married in the room, most recently Lynda Johnson in 1967. During her four-month occupancy of the President’s House in the winter of 1800-1801, Abigail Adams had her laundry hung out to dry in the unfinished East Room. President Thomas Jefferson partitioned the south end as a bedroom and office for his secretary, Meriwether Lewis, later co-leader of the Lewis and Clark expedition. James Madison later met with his cabinet in these southern rooms.
The East Room was completed architecturally during the White House’s restoration following its burning in 1814, but the room was not fully furnished until 1829, during Andrew Jackson’s administration. The East Room was the site of frequent activity during the Civil War. Union troops were quartered here for a period. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln held a large reception here in honor of General Ulysses S. Grant shortly before his appointment as head of all the Union forces. Following his assassination in 1865, Lincoln lay in state in the East Room, as have all of the presidents who died in office with the exception of President James A. Garfield, as the East Room was being renovated at the time of his assassination.
In recent history, the East Room has served as the site of many important events including the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford’s swearing in as President in 1974, and the signing of the Camp David Accords in 1978. On March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in this historic room.
Throughout much of its existence, the Green Room has served as a parlor for teas and receptions. Here, Frances Cleveland held her first White House reception, and Edith Roosevelt received guests before the Friday musicales and concerts held in the adjoining East Room. Under Thomas Jefferson, it was a dining room with a green canvas floor cloth.
By 1825, under John Quincy Adams, the room had become the “Green Drawing Room,” named for the color of the draperies and upholsteries.
In 1862, Willie Lincoln died in the White House of typhoid fever, and his grieving parents placed his open casket in the Green Room. An account of the time stated that Mrs. Lincoln never again entered the room.
The Blue Room:
Architect James Hoban’s 1792 plan for the White House included three stacked oval rooms in the center of the building that form a projecting bow on the south side. This room was known by its shape – “Elliptical”, “Oval”, or “Circular” – until the color was changed to blue in 1837 under Martin Van Buren and a new name emerged. When it was completely furnished by First Lady Dolley Madison, this room became the principal formal drawing room of the White House, and the Madisons received their first guests there on New Year’s Day, 1810.
Among the objects which Dolley Madison had removed to safety in 1814, before evacuating the house to British troops, were the red velvet draperies hanging in this room. In the refurnishing of the house after the fire of 1814, President and Mrs. James Monroe ordered mahogany furniture for this room, but the purchasing agents in France substituted a 53-piece suite of gilded furniture made in Paris by Pierre-Antoine Bellangé. Although most of this suite was sold at auction in 1860, eight original pieces have been returned to the room since 1961.
Although special meetings, luncheons, and dinners have been held in the room, it continues to be used for the purpose first intended – the formal reception room of the White House. It is here that the President and his wife often receive guests during receptions. The first Chinese delegation to present diplomatic credentials was received by President Rutherford B. Hayes in the Blue Room in 1878. Family events held here include the June 2, 1886 wedding of Grover Cleveland, the only President to marry in the White House. Since 1961 (excepting 1962 and 1969), the principal White House Christmas tree has been placed in the center of the room.
The most striking element of this room is its vibrant red color scheme. This parlor has been known as the “Red Room” since 1845, when a suite of furniture upholstered in “Crimson Plush” was introduced to the room. During Thomas Jefferson’s occupancy of the White House, the Red Room was called the “President’s Anti-chamber,” a room set aside for those having appointments with the President, whose office was in the adjacent room now used as the State Dining Room.
Since then it has been a favorite of President’s wives as their “private parlor” to receive friends and official callers. Inventories of the John Quincy Adams administration note that a pianoforte had been placed in the room. Musical instruments of various descriptions continued to be played here throughout the 19th century, and White House visitors sometimes referred to it as the “Music Room.”
Before 19th-century state dinners, the guests would be greeted by the President and his wife in the Red Room. On one such occasion, at a dinner given by out-going President Grant for his successor, Rutherford B. Hayes, guests dined in the State Dining Room unaware that in the Red Room the Chief Justice of the United States had just administered the oath of office to the President-elect while President Grant witnessed the ceremony.
Because the 1877 Inauguration Day fell on a Sunday, the oath was administered on Saturday evening with the public ceremonies at the Capital taking place the following Monday. Theodore Roosevelt used the Red Room as a “smoking room” where male guests adjourned after dinner for cigars and brandy. The room continues to be used today as a parlor for guests after dinner and during receptions.
State Dining Room:
This room was Thomas Jefferson’s Cabinet room and office, where he and his secretary, Meriwether Lewis, planned the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1802. Since 1809, however, it has served as the State Dining Room, with the smaller Family Dining Room to its north. Prior to its enlargement in 1902, 35-40 guests could be seated at a rectangular dining table, 50-65 at an I-shaped table.
In 1902, with the removal of a staircase at this end of the Cross Hall, the State Dining Room was enlarged and completely redesigned for President Theodore Roosevelt. Remaining from that renovation are the oak paneling (first painted in 1952), the three eagle-pedestal side tables, and the lighting fixtures (gilded in 1961). Wild animal heads that had been hung on the dark wooden walls were removed in the 1920s. Today, using circular tables, as many as 140 guests can dine in the room for formal events.