Historic America

A Trip to the White House

Home to our chief executive, the White House is a treasure-trove of historic artifacts and artwork rivaling the country’s best museums.

I recently had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour the White House in Washington, DC. Its simple neoclassical architecture and humble name hide the beauty within. Inside is a treasure trove of history and art rivaling the best museums in the country. Getting in, of course, is difficult but only requires submitting a request through your Member of Congress. Tours are free and security is tight–I couldn’t even bring my regular camera and had to settle for using my cell phone camera.

The self-guided tour starts in the East Wing, which was built in 1942, and goes past the presidential movie theater and a small gift shop into the ground floor. Visitors are allowed to view but not enter the Vermeil Room, China Room, and Library, before heading upstairs.

On the ground floor, visitors walk through the East Room, which is a large open hall, to the Green, Blue, and Red rooms (all decorated in their respective colors), through the State Dining Room, to the Entrance Hall. The Cross Hall, where the President sometimes holds press conferences or makes announcements, was roped off during our visit.

The White House was first completed in 1800 and has undergone a series of renovations. It was burnt by the British during the War of 1812 and rebuilt by 1817. The West Wing was added in 1900 and the East Wing in 1942 to conceal an underground bunker.

The White House interior is actually relatively new. The entire interior was gutted and rebuilt between 1949 and 1952 during the Truman Administration, and many of the artifacts adorning these rooms were added by First Lady Pat Nixon and Curator Clement Conger during the Nixon Administration. Nixon and Conger added over 600 artifacts.

Visiting the White House is a great experience, if only to see things firsthand that you’d normally only see in photos, movies, or on TV. I’ve never been enamored by the presidency, but it’s incredible to walk those halls, the same halls where so many historic figures have walked. Presidential portraits lining the walls remind you of all the significant events that have taken place there.

We think of the President as a powerful figure, but he doesn’t even have control over his own house. If the President or First Lady want to make changes to any State Rooms, they need to be approved by the Committee for the Preservation of the White House. The building is a National Heritage Site owned by the National Park Service; the First Family are just temporary residents. While we fight over who occupies the White House, it would do well to remember that.

The White House is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. Tours are free of charge, but you have to submit a request through your Congressman at least 21 days in advance. These self-guided tours are available from 7:30am to 11:30am Tuesday through Thursday and 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.


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