When the White House Was Built, How Much It Cost, and Other Facts You Didn’t Know
You probably hear a lot about the White House as the proxy for the president and his administration. But what about the historic building itself? Many Americans don’t know when the White House was built, how many rooms it has, or what it cost to construct. And they’re also missing out on some fascinating facts about the official residence and workplace of the president of the United States.
Read on to discover everything you didn’t know about the White House.
The effort to build the White House began with a competition
The White House Historical Association characterizes a palatial home for the president as “a major feature of Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s 1791 plan for the city of Washington.” George Washington chose where the White House was built. But architectural competitions selected the design for the White House in 1792. Washington awarded the project to James Hoban. Hoban had immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland. Irish America reports that Hoban based his design on Leinster House, the Dublin residence of the Duke of Leinster.
The modern White House looks nothing like the original
Irish America points out that the contemporary profile of the White House looks nothing like the residence looked when the White House was built. (It also doesn’t look like the White House that Hoban rebuilt after the British burned it during the War of 1812.) The famous East and West Wings didn’t appear until decades later. Interestingly enough, Americans didn’t always call the home the White House. The building was first made white in 1798, as builders finished its walls. But it wasn’t until 1901 that Theodore Roosevelt made the nickname official.
Slaves (and immigrants) built the White House
When the White House was built, the United States hadn’t yet begun its battle over the issue of slavery in earnest. The White House Historical Association reports that the D.C. commissioners tasked with beginning construction in 1792 “initially planned to import workers from Europe.” However, they couldn’t recruit enough European workers. So they soon “turned to African Americans — both enslaved and free — to provide the bulk of labor that built the White House, the United States Capitol, and other early government buildings.” The slaves joined a labor force that also included local white labors and artisans. Also at work on the home? Immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, and elsewhere in Europe.
The construction of the White House cost $232,372
The White House Historical Association reports that the president’s home cost $232,372 to construct. Money explains that that figure in the 1790s equals about $100 million today. The publication also reports that, hypothetically, if you could buy the White House, you might expect to pay $90 million, according to some experts. Other sources, however, say that $90 million underestimates the White House’s real value. They think it might fetch a price north of $100 million. Money adds, “Everyone agrees that if all of the artwork, historic artifacts, and American memorabilia were included in the sale, the asking price would soar — to upwards of $250 million.”
The White House has 132 rooms
How many rooms are in the White House? A total of 132 rooms, according to the White House Historical Association. (That includes 16 family-guest rooms, one main kitchen, one diet kitchen, one family kitchen, and 35 bathrooms.) The White House has 10 rooms on the Ground Floor, as well as one main corridor and six restrooms. On the State Floor, you’ll find eight rooms, one main corridor, and one entrance hall. On the second floor, you can count 16 rooms, six bathrooms, and one restroom. And on the third floor, you’ll find 20 rooms and nine bathrooms. The floor area — on a total of six floors — totals approximately 55,000 square feet.
There are plenty of White House rooms you don’t know about
Many rooms in the White House — like the Oval Office, the Situation Room, the Cabinet Room, and the Press Briefing Room — have become quite famous. But Business Insider reports that where the White House gets interesting is in the many other rooms that might surprise you. Bill Clinton turned a third-floor sitting room into a music room. Next to the music room, you’ll find a workout room for presidents and their families. Chefs make desserts — and eggs for the Easter Egg Roll — in the chocolate shop. Nearby, the florist has a flower shop. The White House also has an official calligraphy office. And don’t forget about a couple of more well-known additions: the bowling alley and the Family Theater.
The White House was once on the verge of collapsing
Donald Trump famously declared the White House “a dump.” The remark drew criticism. (Especially because the ostentatious style that Trump seems to favor has fallen out of vogue since the 1980s.) But as Architectural Digest reports, there was a time when the White House was “literally ready to collapse.” Harry Truman undertook a two-year, multimillion-dollar gut renovation to preserve the White House for future generations. (And to make it safe for its residents.) Other administrations have made renovations over the years, where the White House needed them or to add features such as swimming pools and tennis courts.
It’s not the only building with the address 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Everyone knows the White House’s address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. But the president’s home isn’t the only building with that address in Washington, D.C. As The Denver Post reports, you can live in a 77-unit apartment building at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue SE. The similarity to the White House’s address — which is 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW on the city’s grid system — has caused some confusion and some mail mixups. The apartment building even has an east and west wing, and other playful nods to the original 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
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