The official 2007 museum director portrait

Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed a new photo of me on the blog profile and the About page of the WHM that looks less like a self-portrait of a photography enthusiast taken in a mirror. I think it compares favorably with the one of Clinton looking like he had a little Captain in him.

Aside to John: I know how you like furniture, so before you ask–Yes, that’s a genuine 2005 Flexsteel “C5365” armchair covered in teal velveteen. Only the finest for Diamond VIP members at the Pittsburgh Doubletree.

Comfort, being relative to what arrangement one is accustomed to

Recent comments and an e-mail from Dale L about how comfortable first families might be in the big rooms of the second floor got me wondering. Most presidents have lived in mansions before the WH. Who do you think was the last president not to have any full-time household servants before coming to the WH? Truman, maybe? Clinton and Carter weren’t especially rich, but as governors they must have had cooks and housekeepers. There probably have been very few in total…. Lincoln probably being another. Coolidge, maybe?

Also: Thanks to Logan P for the scans of the Reagan era Residence from Architectural Digest, Dec 81. I’ll be adding those very soon.

White House as practical residence

The “Polkarama!” post produced a lively exchange about the livability of the White House. I personally think that any house that is over 200 years old pretty much inevitably becomes a museum. I think that most first families come from backgrounds in which they are used to very large houses with formal sitting rooms with uncomfortable furniture and more casual living rooms with more comfortable furniture. Some even split the difference and put their feet up on 150-year-old historic tables.

I wonder tho, if the WH is coming to a point where it’s impractical to really live there, especially for a younger couple with small children (never mind a pony). I wouldn’t be surprised if its 250th anniversary (in 2050) marked the moment that it gets turned into a permanent museum, with the president working out the the EEOB and living in a new mansion built on some former parkland or replacing some government building (there’s a Postal Service training facility around DC that gets rented to corporations that would be a pretty good site, I think). I’m not advocating it, just speculating.

I do think the WH needs more business-casual rooms. “Map Room”? Bah! Maybe it’s the jet lag talking, but I’d like to see a “Churchill Room” furnished in English club furniture and stinking of cigars and brandy.


Pete S sent along several more photos, a few of which I’ve added right away, including the historic first White House interior photo–the Polk Cabinet in the old State Dining Room–and a super-fantastic pic of the Grant Master Bedroom in which you can just see one of circus trapeze rings that Julia Grant used to stay fit.*

* I might be mistaken about that.

Update: The MB is actually Hayes and not Grant, apparently before Mrs. Hayes removed Mrs. Grant’s circus trapeze rings. **

** I could still be mistaken about that.

TR vs Taft

On the comments for the Reagan post, visitor Anonymous noted that one of the West Wing page pics looked a little odd (specifically, the one that says “(note the clothes line on the east side)”), which sparked a reevaluation of the early WW images. John in NOLA noted that the Roosevelt colonial Rose Garden was intact that pic, so it couldn’t be 1920 as I had labeled it and in fact looked to be freshly expanded by Taft in 1909.

I agreed and made the change and then noticed that what had led me to label that pic “1920” was my mistaken understanding of the evolution of the WW roof. Once I looked harder at the west side, I realized that a pic that I thought was circa 1910 (post Taft expansion) was probably 1908 (pre Taft expansion). The difference is in the roof shape, window count (5 for TR; 9 for Taft), and the addition of a west side entrance. This is great, because I was hoping to find a good pic of the WW in TR’s time, and didn’t realize I already had one. That pic is now captioned “Theodore Roosevelt’s original Executive Office Building, circa 1908.”

Old-timey White House funtacular

Pete S sent me a bunch of scans from one of the WHHA collections that I don’t have (but which I will order shortly), with a treasure trove (is there any other kind of trove?) of old-timey TR and Coolidge era pics of the family residence and old temporary Executive Office Building, which I’ve incorporated in too many places to list. Check the What’s New page.

There is an especially juicy diagram of TR’s original EOB, which I had tried to add before but which I couldn’t get a good image of. I’ve relabeled the rooms so you can see the layout of it really well.

Question & Answers

This weblog has largely taken on the role of correcting mistakes I’ve made in the placement or captioning of pictures. Just today John from NOLA pointed out by e-mail that I had a pic of Laura in the Lib’ary labeled as the Map Room–I pled ignorance owing to latenight copying of the WH’s own mistake!

Therefore, I have made changes to the Questions & Answers page to make it more strictly Q&A. Since this eliminates all the corrections visitors had sent, it has the added benefit of making me look like an infallible genius. Suffice it to say I greatly value (and am humbled by) the frequent corrections and contributions I find in my inbox. I look forward to many more in the future.

The Sentinel audio commentary

I’ve been doing audio commentaries for movies over on my other Web site, and I’ve just done one for The Sentinel, the 2006 Michael Douglas movie about the Secret Service’s efforts to stop an assassination. I put particular effort into my commentary on the White House scenes, of course. If you listen to it, you’ll have to pardon my tubercular voice; I still haven’t quite shaken a bronchial infection.

Google Earth

The new Google Earth is available. The White House is again not pixelated out. And it appears to feature the same or slightly-improved 3D White House. Pete Sharkey is working on a vastly better 3D White House that I just can’t wait for, so I’m including a picture of his West Wing so everyone can encourage him. (if you haven’t examined his 3D Oval Office, you are missing a treat.)

Some automatic links load with Google Earth so that you see little dots that represent more information available on Wikipedia and elsewhere. If anyone can figure out how to make one that links to the White House Museum and/or Pete’s 3D Oval Office, that would be awesome.

Update: Anonymous has pointed us to a commercial 3-D White House and 3-D Oval Office. I don’t much about 3-D software, so I don’t know what you need to view such things.

Update: I hereby award Pete Sharkey the Reathel Odum Award for Distinguished Service (“the Odie”).

Nixon in the National Archives

I found some more Nixon pics of use in the National Archives. Ugh, what an awful site that is; inconvient to use and containing low-quality images. It’s like mining for tin. “This sure is a lot of trouble. I hope I get a really good piece of tin out of it.”

Anyway, I added pics of the Basement flower shop, Tricia as bride in the Cross Hall, Dick in the Treaty Room, and Pat in the West Sitting Hall.

Also, I added a link to the What’s New page over on the right of the blog, so I don’t have to include it in every post where I say there are new images.

Reathel Odum

Happened upon a pic of Reathel Odum, Mrs. Truman’s personal secretary, at her desk in what is today the Beauty Salon–a real find. Looking a little deeper, I came across a transcript of an interview with her in 1988 where she talks about her room and office in the White House. She also mentions an incident with Ed McKim from the West Wing staff and, because I was also searching for info on the location of his office, I happened on an explanation in an interview with General Harry Vaughan: McKim had been tasked with cutting corners and in doing so stepped on a lot of toes all over the WH.

Article on Odum’s passing in July.

Calling all Wikipedians!

As a result of creating a new Kennedy Renovation page, I noticed that St├ęphane Boudin did not have an article in Wikipedia, altho he is mentioned numerous times in the WH-related articles. I’ve started one for him, but anyone with greater knowledge and interest should please contribute. Sister Parish and Henry DuPont did already have articles, but about half of Parish’s is about her nickname!

Also just noticed that James B West doesn’t have an article… yet Jim West–guitarist for “Weird” Al Yankovic–does!

West Wing miscellany

I posted Pete’s review of The West Wing season 3 (and my review of Backstairs has been up since I blogged it) on the Movies & TV page.

As a result of Pete’s interest in the failed Truman West Wing addition, I posted pics of the fulls set of drawings on the Truman Reconstruction page. There’s floors G, 1, & 2, pics of Side and Cross section and revised version 2.

Update: White House just posted pics of Bush with Merkel, including a teleconference in the brand new Sit Room. Added to the What’s New page. And, I’ve added links to the What’s New page to the front page, About, and the menu.

Third floor details

I made a few textual additions to the third floor rooms, describing the Kennedy renovation and culled from Designing Camelot. I plan to add a few more pics of these rooms also.

Update: Just added pics of JBK’s Empire Bedroom and a pic of the Chintz/Orange Blossom Bedroom. The source identified this as room 303, but judging by the layout in the pic, that’s impossible; it has to be room 324. I wonder if it’s possible that the Chintz Bedroom was 303 and the Orange Blossom Bedroom was 324?

New Years’ Resolutions

I wanted to capture a few things for 2007 and get feedback from visitors and regular contributors.

  • Tour the White House. This may seem odd, but, altho I’ve been to Washington DC on a few occasions and made plans to tour the White House, I’ve never managed to do so. This year, I’ll plan a long weekend in April or so. Any suggestions on how to prepare are appreciated. (camera tripod?)
  • Tour or encyclopedia? I’m happy with the look of the WHM site now, but the navigation is starting to get a little unwieldy (the multiple detail articles off the main history pages, for example), and I’m afraid casual visitors will get a little lost. Should it be a more linear experience (taking visitors to, say, 10 of the best known rooms) or more webby and interconnected, like a web encyclopedia? Can it be both?
  • Room maps. I occasionally think it might be useful for each room page to display an enlarged map of its immediate area, showing connections to adjoining rooms, but I’m not sure where it should go.
  • Furniture and art? I’ve been adding a little more on the art and furniture of the White House, but I’m considering full pages on major pieces. The Monroe furniture, the round sofa that was once in the Blue Room and later in the China Room, the cabinet table W props his feet on in the Treaty Room, and of course the Lincoln Bed. Then there’s Stuart’s GW portrait, the seated Lincoln, and some of the famous non-portraits and sculptures. I don’t want to try to recreate Monkman’s book any more than I want to recreate Seale’s, but certain things may deserve special recognition.
  • Games and lesson plans. Given that I’d like to attract schoolteachers and kids, I wonder if it would be of interest to have some pages that are scavenger hunts, trivia, and what-not. I did create a lesson plan page, so I think I’ll discuss it directly with a local history teacher.
  • Web forum? One visitor suggested a forum, but I think we have about half a dozen regulars, and it seems the blog comment functionality might be enough. There’s always the danger of a message board attracting political commentary and assassination conspiracy theories. And I don’t think I could stand to read another Lincoln/Kennedy coincidence list.