Oth­ers say his­tor­i­cal gem of Amer­ica shows age

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVE BOYER

Whether or not Pres­i­dent Trump re­ally called the White House “a dump,” he would not be alone with that view.

The Ex­ec­u­tive Man­sion is 217 years old and has been re­built and re­mod­eled sev­eral times. The world’s most im­por­tant of­fice ad­dress was never in­tended to be an of­fice build­ing.

Be­hind the iconic fa­cade and aside from the im­pos­ing Oval Of­fice, the West Wing is mainly a rab­bit war­ren of cramped of­fices that seem in­ad­e­quate for the pow­er­ful peo­ple who oc­cupy them.

It’s not un­heard-of for journalists to en­counter mice or moldy car­pets in the White House press

room, which was a swim­ming pool un­til Pres­i­dent Nixon con­verted it into a bowl­ing al­ley.

Mr. Trump’s sup­posed es­ti­ma­tion of his new digs emerged deep in a Sports Il­lus­trated story about his love af­fair with golf. The pres­i­dent re­port­edly told a group of golf­ing com­pan­ions, “That White House is a real dump.”

White House aides de­nied the quote, and then Mr. Trump took to Twit­ter on Wed­nes­day night to re­but it per­son­ally.

“I love the White House, one of the most beau­ti­ful build­ings (homes) I have ever seen. But Fake News said I called it a dump — TO­TALLY UN­TRUE,” he wrote.

Re­gard­less, many peo­ple who have worked there say it’s a dump — a his­tor­i­cal gem and an in­spi­ra­tion, but still a dump.

“I don’t know if he said it, but I agree that it is [a dump],” said Doug Wead, an au­thor and his­to­rian who worked in the White House un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush. “It’s so small, it’s so con­fined, it’s so lim­ited, it’s ridicu­lous. It needs to be to­tally over­hauled.”

The char­ac­ter­i­za­tion may sound sac­ri­le­gious to many Amer­i­cans, who see the White House as the his­toric, gleam­ing sym­bol of Amer­i­can power and pres­tige. And in real es­tate terms, you can’t beat the lo­ca­tion if you want to live in down­town Washington.

But pres­i­dents and their fam­i­lies have to live there. While it’s a life of honor and priv­i­lege and even pam­per­ing, it’s still tem­po­rary hous­ing.

For­mer first lady Michelle Obama once re­ferred to the White House as “a re­ally nice prison,” per­haps as much a com­men­tary on the job of first lady and the ever-present se­cu­rity as it was on the con­fin­ing di­men­sions of the build­ing.

In re­sponse to Mr. Trump’s re­ported crit­i­cism of the White House, for­mer first daugh­ter Chelsea Clin­ton took to Twit­ter on Wed­nes­day in de­fense of the White House per­son­nel who cook, clean, gar­den and per­form many other du­ties to make first fam­i­lies com­fort­able in the res­i­dence.

“Thank you to all the White House ush­ers, but­lers, maids, chefs, florists, gar­den­ers, plumbers, en­gi­neers & cu­ra­tors for all you do every day,” Ms. Clin­ton wrote.

There is also Mr. Trump’s pre­vi­ous ad­dress to con­sider.

Un­til Jan. 20, Mr. Trump and his fam­ily lived in a 30,000-square-foot pent­house in Trump Tower on Fifth Av­enue in Man­hat­tan, a res­i­dence that was fea­tured in House Beau­ti­ful mag­a­zine last year. The ar­ti­cle de­scribed the decor as “ro­coco, the 18th cen­tury French style that pre­ferred or­nate de­tails, curv­ing fur­ni­ture, and an abun­dance of gold.”

Show­ing its age

How­ever un­com­fort­able it is to hear the White House de­scribed as an un­de­sir­able home, it has shown its age over the decades.

“‘Dump’ is a pretty strong word, but as any old build­ing, it does keep fall­ing down and keeps get­ting re­paired,” said Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion an­a­lyst Stephen Hess, who worked for sev­eral ad­min­is­tra­tions be­gin­ning with Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower. He said later ad­min­is­tra­tions were con­tin­u­ally ren­o­vat­ing the West Wing, and first ladies of­ten un­der­took sig­nif­i­cant re­mod­el­ing of the res­i­dence.

“I re­mem­ber in the Nixon pres­i­dency, I had a very large of­fice in the base­ment of the West Wing,” Mr. Hess said. “The minute they got rid of me, they cut it up and turned it into three of­fices. That was sort of typ­i­cal of the way ad­min­is­tra­tions keep chang­ing it.”

Con­struc­tion of the White House be­gan in 1792 un­der Ge­orge Washington, but Pres­i­dent John Adams was the first to oc­cupy it, in 1800. Adams had to live in a tav­ern in Washington tem­po­rar­ily un­til the con­struc­tion was com­pleted. First lady Abi­gail Adams com­plained to a friend that she had to hang laun­dry to dry in what be­came the East Room.

In Au­gust 1814, the Bri­tish burned the White House. The torched build­ing was such a dump that it was three more years be­fore an­other pres­i­dent, James Mon­roe, moved in.

When Abra­ham Lincoln moved into the White House in 1861, first lady Mary Todd Lincoln was hor­ri­fied at its di­lap­i­dated state. Chunks of carpet had been cut out by sou­venir hun­ters, cur­tains were torn, fewer than a dozen place set­tings were avail­able for din­ner par­ties, and there wasn’t even a key for the front door.

Lincoln got Congress to ap­pro­pri­ate $25,000, and Mrs. Lincoln went on a shop­ping spree in New York for china and other items for en­ter­tain­ing guests. She even­tu­ally cre­ated a scan­dal with her in­debt­ed­ness to cred­i­tors as the fed­eral gov­ern­ment strug­gled to pay for wartime ne­ces­si­ties.

In the late 1940s, Pres­i­dent Tru­man was dis­mayed by the drafti­ness and floors that bounced vis­i­bly with each step. With the White House in dan­ger of col­lapse, the Tru­mans moved across the street to Blair House for about two years while con­struc­tion crews gut­ted and re­built the in­te­rior of the man­sion. There are pho­tos of dump trucks and bull­doz­ers mov­ing de­bris in­side the four walls.

Said Mr. Hess, “Some pres­i­dents seem more con­cerned with the decor than oth­ers. I got there with Eisen­hower, and I don’t re­mem­ber that he was much in­ter­ested. I don’t think he even did much in chang­ing the of­fice that he in­her­ited from Tru­man, who was not ex­actly a friend.”

He also be­lieves he was one of the last White House staffers to swim in the pool, early in the Nixon ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“I wasn’t much of a swim­mer,” he said. “I re­ally only did it once to make sure I could say that I had done it.”

Mr. Wead, who at­tended a meet­ing at the White House a few weeks ago, said an­other Tru­man-like re­build­ing of the White House is com­ing some­day and that Mr. Trump is a likely can­di­date for the job.

“The Trumps are the peo­ple to do it be­cause they need an out­side pair of eyes, and they don’t come from in­side the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem,” Mr. Wead said. “They’ve been all over the world. They know func­tion­al­ity. To go back in again and see these tiny lit­tle of­fices of huge im­por­tant peo­ple, op­er­at­ing in such con­fined quar­ters, it’s kind of stun­ning. They need room.”


DOWN­SIZ­ING: Pres­i­dent Trump works out of the im­pos­ing Oval Of­fice, but the West Wing of the White House is mainly a rab­bit war­ren of cramped of­fices that may seem small to the pow­er­ful peo­ple who oc­cupy them.

CRAMPED: The West Wing has been carved up over the years, but Amer­i­cans still see the White House as a gleam­ing sym­bol of U.S. power and pres­tige.


This 1950 photo shows the gut­ted in­te­rior of the White House. A ma­jor ren­o­va­tion was un­der­taken dur­ing the Tru­man ad­min­is­tra­tion, which forced the pres­i­dent to live in the Blair House across the street. Other ad­min­is­tra­tions have ren­o­vated the West Wing, and first ladies of­ten un­der­take sig­nif­i­cant re­mod­el­ing of the of­fi­cial pres­i­den­tial res­i­dence.

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