Polkarama!

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.

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25 thoughts on “Polkarama!

  1. Are you sure its the Grant bedroom? I’ve seen it identified as the Hayes bedroom. Maybe they used the same furniture.

    Has anyone noticed in many of the pre-Truman reconstruction photos the strange looking air conditioning units in the windows? They are in this new picture of the State Dining Room and also appear in the Green Room and Red Room.

    Also, behind Polk and his cabinet is one of the Monroe fireplaces that are now in the Red and Green Rooms.

  2. I’m sorry, the window air condtioners are shown in the Blue and Red Rooms. They are painted white there and if you look closely you can see them. I don’t know if air conditioner is the right word, perhaps air cooler would be better.

  3. I don’t know where Pete got that pic, but since he labeled it 1870s and other Grant-era rooms have similar (hideous) geometric wall covering, I figured it was Grant.

  4. Cool photos! Especially the one of Eleanor Roosevelt with the highschool girls…

    Dennis – I remember checking a little book out of the library, when I was just a little White House Nut, on the White House before the Truman Rennovation – by a guy named Randall Bond Truitt – and it did identify those big, clunky things in the windows as “air conditioners”. Whatever they were, I bet those things were LOUD…. Anybody know about that little book? I’ve checked Amazon and Abebooks and everywhere. If any of you guys have a copy of it, it’s apparently a VERY rare book!

    That pic of President Polk and his cabinet is amazing. Goosebump time!

  5. I checked in Betty Monkman’s book, “The White House and its Furnishings” and the photo is labeled as the Hayes bedroom. I think it was taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston in her series.

  6. Im especially fond of that photo taken durin g the Truman era pre-reconstructin state dining room.

    Its a shame that they didnt keep that room wood paneled. It eally made it feel like its own unique room instead of just “mini east room”.

    The same goes for the Library.

    Iv always really liked the way that Truamn decorated the white house. It was stately, but at the same time looked comfortable and like a house you could actually relax in at the end of the day. Today it looks like all the furniture is uncomfortable and will break if you sit in it.

  7. John,
    I have a copy of the Truett book. I bought it years ago from an used book seller and have never came across another copy. I had never really paid attention to the “air conditioners” in the pictures. Although I remember reading somewhere that FDR had one in either his Oval Office or his Oval Study on the Second Floor.

  8. John,
    I have a copy of the Truett book. I bought it years ago from an used book seller and have never came across another copy. I had never really paid attention to the “air conditioners” in the pictures. Although I remember reading somewhere that FDR had one in either his Oval Office or his Oval Study on the Second Floor.

  9. I prefer the white finished walls. it’s not about making it home-like, it’a about making it state-like, which is probably what the decorators and the people in charge decided was best.

  10. I read somewhere that Jackie Kennedy wanted to return the State Dining Room walls to their original wood finish, but, during the Truman Rennovation the original Mc Kim walls had been pretty extensively patched up from damage when they were removed in 1948 – and the woods wouldn’t have matched anyway. So they wound up painting it to hide the patches and repairs.

    The wall of paneling over the State Dining Room mantle was also extensively re-worked (during the 48-52 rennovation) to accomodate a smaller mantle and firebox. I had never noticed this until I really looked carefully at the two “Before and After” photos on page 264 of Seale’s “The White House, The History of an American Idea”.

    If you really look carefully you can see that the bottom row of panels – just above the mantle itself – are now several inches taller than the original 1902 woodwork. The mantle that McKim installed in ’02 was HUGE and pushed the Lincoln portrait up into the frieze (the part of the woodwork with the elaborately carved swags, etc.). Slightly reducing the height of the fireplace allowed the Lincoln portrait to drop down and hang below the frieze – and not look so crowded.

    So the “reproduction” of the McKim mantle that Jackie installed in 1962 is actually an adaptation – in marble – the McKim original was (I think) limestone.

    They tweaked the paneling in the East Room this way too, during the rennovation – they made the big center window on the east wall narrower to give George and Martha Washington more room and not be jambed in between the pilasters.

    Sorry – didn’t mean to go on like that. My profession is architecture and I spend my days drawing walls of paneling and I guess I just really notice stuff like that… I have no life other than that, so stuff like that is pretty exciting to me… : )

  11. wignut,
    you have to remember that at the end of the day, the white house is not a meuseam, its not a tourist destination, and its not a place to showcase old furniture. Its a home intended to accomodate the president and his family.

    So why should the first family be forced to decorate thier house around the accomadation of unusuable 200 year old furniture and styles that none of the common public is even going to care about anyway? ( people go to the white house to see the place where the president lives, not to see some french furniture that monroe ordered)

    Thanks to the kennedy rennovation, the president has basicly lost the ground and first floor for his personal use, with half of the second floor gone too.

    Now im not advacating putting a lazy boy in the blue room. The mansion is a symbol of the president’s power and should reamin stately. But the president should be encouraged to put some furniture in the first floor rooms that he can actually relax in and be used for his and his family’s personal use. Maybe some solid color carpets and slightly more modern sofas. Getting rid of the use of dining chairs. It would certainly make it alot more cozy and home like.

    Thats why I loved Truman, whoite huse so much. It looked like the presidents house, but had comfortable furniture and a cozy atmosphere. It actually felt like a home.

  12. I disagree. The ground and state floors are not for the family. The White House is an official museum, families have some say regarding stuff on the second and third floors. The White House is a symbol of the United States, and the fact that the people in charge chose to redo the rooms which are seen most often on the tours to look more regal has been done on purposed.

  13. I have to agree with Wingnut. The State Floor of the White House is where the nation puts it’s best foot forward. Like Jackie Kennedy said in her 1962 White House television tour :

    ” I feel so strongly that the White House should have as fine a collection of American pictures (and decorative arts) as possible. It’s so important, the setting in which the presidency is presented to the world, to foreign visitors. And American people should be proud of it. We had such a great civilization, yet so many foreign visitors don’t realize it… All the things we did so well, pictures, furniture – I think that this house should be the place where you can see them the best!”

    The White House should be about the very best that America can produce – and has produced in the past.

    Mrs. Kennedy didn’t take away the Ground and State floors from family use – that tradition has been in place for well over 100 years. Actually, according to J.B.West, a former Chief Usher of the White House, the president may use any part of the house in any way he sees fit. He could carpet the East Room in Astroturf, if he wanted to (and didn’t mind taking the flack for it…).

    There are plenty of places in the White House where the president and his family can curl up in front of the TV. The State Floor is about the exercise of Power on the World Stage.

  14. And is there any reason why he can’t exercise that power while sitting in a sofa that doesnt have a perpendicular, uncushoned back that wont break when he sits in it?

    There is no reason why the white house can’t have furniture that is really nice looking as well as cozy and comfortable.

    And plus, thets be honest here. Except for those who are really into the white house, no one is even going to notice (or care) if 200 year old furniture in the french empire style is in the room.

  15. Let’s not forget that before the Kennedy restoration all of the rooms on the State and Ground Floors were under the supervision of the Fine Arts Committee, going back to the Coolidge years, I think. According to West the pre-Kennedy furniture was “hated by three first ladies.”

    If one examines all of the photos on this site, especially of the second and third floors, one will see that the President’s Family has a great deal of space and comfort. Most presidents don’t want to actually live on the State and Ground floors because they are not very private.

    I have noticed too, that there are a number of pictures where the President and First Lady are entertaining in the West Sitting Hall on the Second Floor and it looks pretty cozy.

  16. Well the west sitting hall is part of the second floor that they have control over. But pretty much everything east of those 2 north bedrooms (except for the treaty room) isnt thier terretory.

    I wouldnt imagine that the ground floor or first floor are much less private then the 2nd and third floo. especially when most of the staff has gone home which is the time that the president is most likely to use them. I mean, how private can the third floor be when there are guys with sub machine guns pacing above your head.

    People go to the white house to see the place where the president lives and calls his home. Not the place under where the president lives and occasionally drops in for a photo op or party.

    I can understnad the president not wanting to get much personal use out of the east room or state dining room, but the red room, green room, library, vermiel room, map room, diplomatic reception room, queen bedroom, and queen sitting room are essentially just useless rooms that serve apsolutly no purpose except for the occasional photo op using this present philosphy.

  17. Good point Dennis. And JFK thought that the furniture in the WH looked like it came from Sears. Thanks to his wife, she took it to a new level of trying to make the place even more regal.

    The Queen’s Bedroom and the Lincoln Bedroom have all been useful for the president to have family come and stay with them. The Bush family is huge. And the Lincoln Bedroom is not an off-limits area for guests to sleep in.

    Many presidents have used the LB as a guest room for rewarding campaign contributors and close political allies.

    In the book “Standing Next to History” Secret Service agent Joe Petro said that it only takes a matter of weeks to see that president don’t find the WH to be a very relaxing place, even in the top two floors. And after months they opt to go to camp david every weekend to get away from the place.

    So with the secret service having an office on the ground floor in the residence, there being so much utility work and traffic happening on the ground floor, doctors offices so close by, and knowing that the ground floor rooms serve as a part of the regular tour as a president I would NOT feel very motivated to recreate in any room on the ground floor. Or even the State Floor

    The 2nd floor is so huge, I don’t see a need to use any other part of the house for any kind of everyday sort of living.

    I know it’s the “president’s house” but practically he only lives on the top two floors.

  18. The library actually looks like it would be a very relaxing place to shut all the doors, kick back and read. That is it would be, if it wernt for the lack of any comfortable chairs. same thing with the green, red and vermiel rooms.

    The president is really only likely to use these rooms when he is out of the office at night, and by that time there are no tours and most of the staff has gone home. Making it only a little more populated than the second or third floors would be.

    Maybe it isnt a bad idea if the residence furniture was bought from sears. Atleast that stuff is comfortable. Jackie Kennedy might have been right saying that the white house can showcase the best of what the country has to offer, but maybe that should be changed to the best that teh country currently has to offer. Today, furniture finds a perfect balance between looking good and being comfortable. Why hold the white house to accomodating furniture that no one cares about and isnt even functional anymore.

    The original intention of the house is as a home, nothing more. Making it a meuseam of impractical furniture should have to work around that, not vise versa.

    I dont know if youv been to the white house, but as big as it looks in photographs, it is suprisingly small. Out of a home that is desgined to be all for him, he essentially has been limited to 1 and 1/2 floors of space for that purpose. I wouldnt be suprised if your house was bigger than that space. Maybe the president wouldnt feel a need to go to camp david every weekend if he were allowed to make the entir white house feel like a white home.

  19. Both state floors should have furniture that is fine and historic if possible. And there is no sense that the furniture already in the White House is uncomfortable. If it were, you wouldn’t see people sitting on them.

    The White House is a communications tool. And I sure wouldn’t want it to communicate that sears is the standard.

    And I sure wouldn’t agree that the Library is a place to kick-back. I think it’s cool that you think so. More power to ya.

    The White House as houses go is enormous. It still is. Sure there are bigger, but when it was built, it was the largest home in the country, and a bigger home would not be built until after the civil war. I’ve never had a sense that thw WH was supposed to, or even come close to being as big as buckingham palace or anything like that, but that doesn’t make it any less huge.

    If I were the president, and I wanted to kick-back I would be in the treaty room. If I was bored of that spot, I’d go to the living room. If I was bored there, I’d go to the yellow oval room. If that got old, I’d be in the Lincoln sitting room. And if that got old I’d be in the dressing room off of the MBR. And if that got old I’d be in front of the fire in the MBR. And if that got old I’d kick-back in the West Sitting Hall. And if that got old I’d be in the East sitting hall. And even then I’d have the top floor to hang out in. There’s tons of room in the upper two floors to kick-back.

  20. I’m with Wingnut! Considering the fact that currently there are only two permanent occupants (empty-nesters) living in the White House, there is plenty of space on the second and third floors!

    I would be like the Trumans and eat most of my meals in the Solarium. I would love the sun and the views. If I really wanted a special retreat or hideway I would take the third floor sitting room.

  21. This entire debate is simply ridiculous. You cannot throw over 200 years of national history out of the door for the sake of one person, or even his family.

    The White House represents the institution of the Presidency and not the President himself. Any person worthy of becoming President will surely have the upmost respect of the Institution of the Presidency which includes the historical integrity of the White House as a national symbol to the world and a public monument. He will respect the hallowed halls and furniture so many predessors have made use of.

    The very fact that government websites, and even this website features pictures and maps of the very private rooms, where we can pin point right down to where the President sleeps at night only goes to show the public domain the White House is part of.

    The President has more than enough space on the second and third floors to install whatever amenities he may so need to make his stay at the White House as comfortable – for him to execute his role as President AND head of state. I do not believe the White House is ment to be paradise on earth for the President. If it were so, the Press Briefing Room will be the first to go!

  22. I don’t think people would line up 5500 per day (pre 9/11) just to see modern furniture or reproductions in the state rooms. Nor would the guidebook (which was introduced by Mrs. Kennedy in 1962)be in it’s 22 printing! Evidently there are a lot of people interested in the White House.

    As for comfortable furniture in the White House–President Nixon used an overstuffed “ratty” chair in the Lincoln Sitting Room. The Second and Third floors are for the First Families use. Also, don’t forget about President Clinton’s Music Room and the Game Room on the Third floor. These are places that the family can relax as well.

  23. Hey – on a different subject.

    I was studying the photo of the Polk cabinet and looking at the chandelier in the mirror. It’s design looks similiar to those now in the East Room. Could it be possible that when created during the TR renovation the East Room chandeliers were modeled after the one which hung in the State Dining Room?

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