Open post: Truman Balcony


Dennis mentioned that William Seale dislikes the Truman Balcony—something I didn’t know. I think it’s eminently practical and a huge improvement over the ghastly old awnings, but in need of some dentil molding or something. Discuss.

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21 thoughts on “Open post: Truman Balcony

  1. I like the Truman Balcony myself. I think that it is a great improvement over the awnings. However, I do wonder if a stone ballustrade would look better than the iron railing. I think it may “go” more with the architecture of the house. I could be wrong on this, however.

  2. I definitely agree with Mr. Seale,
    it’s practical but crowds the Blue Room’s window pediments below. Perhaps if the balcony slab itself was of a thinner profile, it wouldn’t look so ponderous. The iron railing, however should stay to match the one below. A stone ballustrade would just attract more attention and weight to the middle of the portico. Remember – “less is more”

  3. The stone ballustrade was actually discussed as the balcony was planned, but ruled out absolutely.

    I wonder if the balcony would have been built if the thought had come after the installation of central air. Those awful awnings would have no longer been necessary.

    I don’t have a problem with the balcony, and now America is used to it. And, if it makes the house more liveable for the family then it’s great. Anything to keep them there!

  4. The balcony is OK with me too – the whole South Portico/Truman Balcony configuration is actually very similar to a one on a (circa 1850) plantation house, here in Louisiana,called “Nottaway”. It’s on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The house itself isn’t really similar, but the balcony is.

    Thank goodness for William Adams Delano (the architect who designed it), or it could have been pretty weird. There was so much controversy at the time, that I think Delano bent over backwards to make the balcony as self-effacing as possible. I think that’s why it’s so plain. Also, when it was first built, it had that very simple white metal railing – again, to try to make it disappear as much as possible (what elephant? I don’t see an elephant…).

    I think they finally admitted the Truman Balcony was a permanent part of the house during the Reagan years (?) when they copied the main-floor South Portico railing to replace Wm. Delano’s white painted railing.

    I think Dennis has a really good point – it might not have been built at all if the house had had central A/C earlier – and we wouldn’t miss what had never been there to begin with!

  5. By the way – if you want to see that balcony on Nottoway House, you can go to (www.nottoway.com). Nottoway is also available for weddings, parties and if you have a "Scarlett & Rhett" thing – it is also a Bed&Breakfast – and you can definitely play it out there… (you'll have to rent your own hoopskirt, though).
    Also some nice photos (click on “Photo Gallery”) of the interior – with some mantles similar to the one in the “new” Lincoln Room.

    Yes, I know – shameless plug for Louisiana tourism…

  6. I didn’t like the balcony for many years. I’m not a fan of the railing on either section, but agree that the stone ballustrade would distract from the view even though I don’t like the rails. They sort of disappear into the balcony.

    It seems to me that I just read Truman make a reference to the fact that he’d have never gotten the balcony if the AC had come first. I also read they didn’t use it very much after the completion because of lack of privacy.

    Speaking of railings…it’s the main staircase railings I dislike the most!

  7. and John, I’ve been to Nottoway and it’s lovely. The balcony did remind me of the South Portico.

  8. I always liked the balcony, the house just looked wierd to me with the long, uninterupted columns.

    But then again, this is coming from someone who was born after the balcony was constructed, so thats what im used to seeing in pictures.

  9. @ Halcyondays:
    “agree that the stone ballustrade would distract from the view even though I don’t like the rails”

    I hope you’re not suggesting they just have no railing. The current president has already fallen off a bicycle, an electric scooter, and a couch. 😉

  10. The balcony looks obtrusive in the shot shown here, and it does detract from the columns and the rest of the facade.

    However, standing along the fence or seeing a photo taken from that perspective, the balcony does not look out of place at all.

    One has to give credit to HST for his persistence in getting the balcony. I think the awnings were his biggest argument. I also think the balcony is used more today than it was in his time.

  11. At least they got rid of those tacky 1952 light fixtures on the underside of the Truman Balcony floor. They looked like upside-down dog dishes. And somebody has painted the doors to the Diplomatic Reception Room, etc. a deep green – what we call “Charleston Green” down here. I really like it.

    I was also born after the Truman Balcony was built – and I think the House would look very strange without it. I’m just used to seeing it.

  12. There has…. that horribly intrusive secret service post on the North facacade just to the left of the pediment. Whose idea was that??

  13. I like the idea of a Food Court… and a Dome. 🙂

    Is there a picture of the intrusive Secret Service post on the web anywhere? I don’t think I’ve seen it. Sounds gross.

  14. I think that soon (by soon I mean withing the next few decades) there will be an addition to the White House. However not on the mansion itself.

    Im thinking more along the lines of the west wing. The west wing is horribly crowded, outdated, and visually underwhelming and I think that possibly within the next 20 years we will see a major renovation of it (comparable to the Truman renovation) that will redesign most of the interior and include an addition, most likely to the north, bringing the wall even with the colonade.

  15. Anonymous – I think you’re right – the West Wing will have to be enlarged eventually. Truman tried to do it back in the 1940’s, but Congress was ticked off at him and wouldn’t fund the extension.

    They could come north with an addition and still have it in keeping with the existing W.W.

  16. Derek, the possibilites of the current resident not having a rail are endless, but the thought of who would spring up behind him is just as scary :>

    Some years back, the Texas State Capitol needed more office space and handled the task deftly. They went underground, but with open courtyards and plenty of skylights and windows opening on the courtyards. I see no reason why the offices could not be extended from the building in a north south direction, and simply incorporating the landscaping to complement it. It was really an ingenious solution. You can get an idea here: http://www.tspb.state.tx.us/SPB/exten/extension.htm

  17. The US Capitol now also has a huge subterrainian Visitor’s Center under the East Lawn. Back in 1996 or so, there was a Comprehensive Proposal submitted that would have linked the Ike Office Building, the New EOB, Blair House, the White House and the Visitor’s Center with underground motorways, parking lots, new press facilities, moving sidewalks. It was a 10 year plan but I am sure the 9/11 is what got that plan shelved. The 600 page proposal makes for interesting reading though.

    Also, did anyone else notice that the balcony was built with a very simple white metal railing and didn’t get changed to iron untl much later. I’m not sure when, but the famous photos of the Kennedys watching the Black Watch pipers in November 1963 show the white metal one in place as do photos from August 1966 at Luci’s wedding.

    By the way, if you are referring to the structure that is behind the pediment on the North Front, adjacent to the 3rd floor, that isn’t Secret Service. It is a greenhouse that Walter Scheib talks about in his book–he grew herbs there and other items for the kitchen.

  18. The US Capitol now also has a huge subterrainian Visitor’s Center under the East Lawn. Back in 1996 or so, there was a Comprehensive Proposal submitted that would have linked the Ike Office Building, the New EOB, Blair House, the White House and the Visitor’s Center with underground motorways, parking lots, new press facilities, moving sidewalks. It was a 10 year plan but I am sure the 9/11 is what got that plan shelved. The 600 page proposal makes for interesting reading though.

    Also, did anyone else notice that the balcony was built with a very simple white metal railing and didn’t get changed to iron untl much later. I’m not sure when, but the famous photos of the Kennedys watching the Black Watch pipers in November 1963 show the white metal one in place as do photos from August 1966 at Luci’s wedding.

    By the way, if you are referring to the structure that is behind the pediment on the North Front, adjacent to the 3rd floor, that isn’t Secret Service. It is a greenhouse that Walter Scheib talks about in his book–he grew herbs there and other items for the kitchen.

  19. Last night I drove into DC (I live in Northern Virginia) and walked around the White House. Noting the Truman balcony from the south fence, with the south facade of the House darkened (no one was home) the balcony faded into near invisibility. At the same time there was a feeling of height and depth of the portico columns.

    Also, on the north, all of the shades were up, including on the window of the Usher’s Office. I could clearly see where the mezzanine floor/ceiling is located that divides that space into two offices, upper for the Chief Usher and lower as the Ushers’ Office.

    The divide is in the middle of the upper window sash. So, the Chief Usher can sit at his desk and look down to see the outside driveway.

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