The president's residence


Wednesday 14 January 2009 01:00 GMT

The president's official residence in Washington – 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – has a history scarcely less colourful than that of the presidency.

Work began on it in 1792; John Adams was the first to occupy it (before it was finished) in 1800; Dolley Madison famously did it up, with the help of a grant from Congress, only for the British to burn it to a shell in 1814. James Monroe spent $50,000 – controversially – doing it up again, in extravagant Parisian style; Martin Van Buren was attacked for turning it into "a palace as splendid as that of the Caesars"; Chester A Arthur auctioned off wagon-loads of priceless presidential memorabilia in order to pay for another makeover in the 1880s.

There have been numerous refurbishments and additions since, including extensive restorations under Theodore Roosevelt (who added the West Wing), William Howard Taft (who added the Oval Office) and Harry S Truman (after the house was declared to be in imminent danger of collapse in 1948). The most extravagant recent redecoration was instigated by Jacqueline Kennedy, with the help of the French designer Stéphane Boudin.

President Theodore Roosevelt officially gave the White House its current name in 1901. It had previously been known by an assortment of names, including the "President's Palace", the "President's House" and the "Executive Mansion".

The White House now has six storeys, and includes 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, eight staircases, and three lifts.

Around 570 gallons of (white) paint are required to cover its outside surface.

The house did not get running water until 1831; central heating arrived in 1837; James Polk added gas lighting in the 1840s; and Millard Fillmore installed the first stove in the 1850s.

For many decades, the house had a problem with rats. Andrew Johnson, an animal lover, used to leave out food for them (while his daughter Martha, acting as his First Lady, tried to poison them). Rutherford Hayes claimed that they nibbled his toes at night. The problem was solved by Benjamin Harrison, who let ferrets loose in the house until all the rats had been killed.

Five full-time chefs are employed in the White House kitchen. Up to 140 guests can be entertained there at a time for dinner, while there are facilities to provide hors-d'oeuvres for more than 1,000.

There is an underground bunker – the Presidential Emergency Operations Center – located under the East Wing. There is also an tunnel to the Treasury building.

The Hayes family banned alcohol from the White House between 1877 and 1881.

There are many mature trees in the gardens, including several magnolias planted by Andrew Jackson.

Many presidents have added recreational facilities on arriving at the White House. Attractions currently available include a tennis court, a jogging track, a swimming pool, a putting-green, a cinema and bowling lane. It has been reported that President Obama wants to replace the bowling lane with a basketball court.

In detail: The White House

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