Replacement WH exercise

This is an interesting video done, apparently, as an architecture-school exercise in replacing the WH with a new structure. In this case, the structure chosen was a couple of elevator shafts and a staircase, I guess.

This related site is about open-source (brick-and-mortar) architecture but uses a new WH as its central exercise. (Pete, you may be interested in the SketchUp model of the area around the WH.)

This calls to mind a thought experiment. Since the capital was not moved to Cincinnati after the 1814 fire, we have a capital that sits at the extreme east of the nation. Some presidents have maintained a “Little White House” or “Western White House,” primarily as vacation getaways, but do we need a genuine “Western White House” for the president to sometimes work out of and what would it look like?

West Wing history

Visitor Alec sent me photos of a tiny government publication from 1995 called Architecture of the West Wing of the White House. He made modifications to the c1911 diagram to make it a more authentic 1909 diagram, and I used the photos he sent to create a 1935 diagram from the 1945 one. Other photos confirmed Pete’s current floor plan. See the First Floor of the West Wing History page.

Thanks Alec!

San Francisco

I’ve been working in Sacramento for a while now and traveling home on the weekends (it’s what I do). This weekend, I stayed in California and visited San Francisco. Down on Fisherman’s Wharf, I ran into a surprise: a big copy of the Oval Office Remington bronze Bronco Buster—and, right across the street, the Boudin restaurant (Boudin being the name of the Kennedy’s second interior designer). Not more than 20 feet on was a wax museum chock full of presidents. Lincoln looks a bit hydrocephalic, and Washington looks very angry about having swallowed a bug, but most of them are good. There were more presidents, but it was quite dark, so some of my photos didn’t turn out well at all.

Check out my Fisherman’s Wharf gallery. I’ll be posting more on Lombard street and downtown late tonight. And I hope to get the Golden Gate Bridge before fighting my way back to Sacramento.

PS for photo enthusiasts: the way I got the best photos in the wax museum was not using a flash, which tended to wash out the figures (and trip the proximity alarm) but rather to shoot the figure once, set a custom white balance based on the pic I just shot, then shoot the figure again. They were under various colored lights (yellow, blue, white, and red), so it was a bit arduous. I got it figured out at Napoleon.

Hoban’s original plan

An interesting note from visitor Andrew McCarthy regarding the “original” Hoban elevation reconstructions on the Residence Overview page:

The reconstructed elevations you’ve posted seem inaccurate in several respects, even to the early-revised plan of Hoban’s which they purport to emulate. Not only that, but the two images were done by different draftsmen, so they are slightly inconsistent even with each other. (I understand completely that they’re the best you have – I’m no artist, myself – but you’d think the original artists would’ve put more effort into it.)

In the front reconstruction, a pediment has been added that was not there: as William Seale points out in most of his books, the surviving wall section from Hoban’s second plan doesn’t show one. However, it does show fluting on the central columns, carvings on the frieze, and a more elaborate balustrade than ended up in the final plan – none of which is in the reconstructed image.

Another detail shown in Hoban’s wall section is shown incorrectly: a carved strip of molding ran all the way along the second-story wall, flush with the base of the Ionic columns and acting as a sill beneath the second-floor windows. This exists at Leinster House, and was apparently adopted by Hoban. Below the stone molding on most of the windows, the wall section shows two long scroll supports, similar to the ones holding up the first-floor window hoods on the finished WH. However, at Leinster House, the second-floor central windows have a balustrade beneath their sill instead of carved supports, and I would guess that Hoban copied this detail as well.

Also, the second-story window hoods were probably a little wider than shown in the picture, with the scroll supports beneath them resting on either side of the stone window frame, not on top of it (this is the arrangement both at Leinster House and the final WH). Plus, the windows in the first-floor center, within the rusticated area, are shown as arched. Since both Leinster House and the Charleston County Courthouse (the two buildings which are closest in form to Hoban’s original intent) have rectangular windows in the corresponding area, I suspect that the arching may be incorrect, and that the windows were sunk in rectangular openings in the rusticated wall.

Finally, (and this is just a guess), the window hoods of the central windows on the second story might be more elaborate than the ones to each side – this is the case on the rear façade of Leinster House, and was common in 18th century Dublin architecture. My personal guess is that the window directly above the door had a triangular pediment, while the ones immediately to either side had arched hoods. This idea is based on the placement of the window hoods in the final WH front, where two arched pediments flank an arched transom, a curiosity given Hoban’s alternating hood-shape scheme elsewhere on the house.

As for the rear reconstruction: the windows on the second story, as on the front, should have wider hoods with small scroll supports to either side, and a strip of molding running along the second-floor wall acting as a windowsill. As well, the balustrade and frieze should be more elaborate, as with the front side (and the pillars should be added back to the balustrade, a detail the artist forgot). Plus, the second-story window hoods might have more elaborate designs, mirroring those I proposed on the front. Also, the first-floor door in the center of the bow is missing: this should be an actual doorway, not a jib door, given that in the early-revised floorplan Hoban drew it wide open, as he did the front door, while he drew the other jib-doors as plain windows. Lastly, the artist forgot to draw in the windowsills beneath the third-floor windows, and drew the wrong number of chimneys (these were pretty much as they are in the final WH.)

I was in Charleston about a month ago and took pictures of the Charleston County Courthouse, a building which, even if Hoban didn’t help build it (the records are lost), was certainly known to him and Washington. The back façade of the building has a curious window design which may represent how Hoban envisioned the central side windows of the revised three-story WH plan. The building was exactingly restored about 10 years ago to how it would’ve looked in Washington’s day – judging from old photographs they did an excellent job.

On the first floor is a Palladian arched window, very similar to the one that today graces the East Room. The floorplan for Hoban’s second design indeed shows such windows on the side walls. However, this window is slightly different from the WH version – the smaller side window panels are one tier lower than the height of the “normal” windows to either side. To suit this change, the carved entablature just above the window does not arc over the central fan-shaped panel, as it does on the actual WH, but instead rests in two sections atop the side panels, while a much less elaborate arched window frame curves atop the center of the window. Also, the four Ionic pilasters holding the entablature up have different shapes: the two on the outside are rectangular, and the two inner ones are curved (this was shown in Latrobe’s floorplan of 1803, but is not visible on the window today). Finally, I suspect that if Hoban carried this scheme over to his revised WH plan, he added carving to the frieze on the entablature, and fluting to the Ionic columns, to make the side windows more harmonious with the front façade. In fact, such a carved frieze is visible in an engraving of the ruined WH walls after the fire of 1814 – it may have been altered, like the columns, in the rebuilding.

On the third story is a lunette window with a carved keystone on top and a plain sill beneath. However, this one lacks the row of straight glass panes on the bottom edge of the WH lunette. I suspect that Hoban originally wanted to put the lunette window on the smaller third floor, and when he removed one floor he brought the design down, adding glass panes to the bottom to lengthen it.

Between the wide top and bottom windows on the courthouse back, on the second floor, is a window of ordinary width, but with an arched top tier. Such a design would be awkward on the side of the WH, given the window hoods on the second floor in Hoban’s revised wall section, so I suspect he substituted a normal-shaped window with an arched pedimented hood. Such a curved hood would be complemented by the pointed and curved hoods which I suspect he also put on the center of the second-story front façade (see above).

If you want to see the photos for yourself, ask and I’ll send them along. It’s very rare that the back of the courthouse gets photographed.

As for why Hoban had such an elaborate entablature in the first place: I suspect that, as on Leinster House and the Charleston courthouse, Hoban’s very first plan did indeed have a pediment, but a plain one, without carving on it, or a balustrade or a complex entablature beneath. Then, when Washington ordered more elaborate stonework, he probably removed the simple pediment and added a fancy balustrade and frieze. Later, when he made his final plan, he added the pediment back on and scaled back the entablature carvings, but kept the new balustrade and drew an elaborate bald eagle image to be carved on the pediment (which was never acted on).
As you can see, I’ve probably thought about this too much.

Hoban’s inspiration

I got a substantive question from visitor Andrew on James Hoban’s sources which I have been unable to answer, but I know some regular readers have more insight into the subject:

I am curious about the possibility of James Hoban having used an architectural reference book when designing the White House front elevation.

A few months ago, when I was browsing in my local university library, I stumbled on the book The United States Capitol: Designing and Decorating a National Icon, edited by Donald R. Kennon (published by Ohio University Press, in Athens, OH, in 2000). On page 32 of this book is reproduced an elevation drawing of Leinster House (Hoban’s inspiration for the White House). The engraving in question was originally taken from the 1780 architectural reference book Views of the most remarkable public Buildings, Monuments and other Edifices in the City of Dublin, written by Robert Pool and John Cash.

This engraving is most notable because in one regard it seems to be an intermediate step between the actual Leinster House as built and Hoban’s final plan for the two-story White House. Specifically, the elevation is much as Leinster House actually looked in the 1780’s (judging by a 1792 painting reproduced in William Seale’s The White House: The History of an American Idea) except for the second-story window pediments, which are inaccurate.

The actual Leinster House has (and has always had, going by the painting in Seale’s book) window pediments that are arranged (in terms of rounded vs. pointed pediments) much differently than those on the White House first-story windows. However, the engraving of Leinster House published by Pool and Cash, reproduced by Kennon et al., incorrectly shows the front side of Leinster House with second-story window pediments arranged almost exactly like those on the first-story front of the final White House.

Because of this inaccurate detail which was reproduced in Hoban’s designs, I think it quite possible that Hoban had a copy of this 1780 book, which he would have used to refresh his memory about Leinster House’s architecture when designing the original 3-story WH plan. Moreover, judging by the floorplan and partial side elevation which survive of his original three-story concept, it is quite possible that the Pool and Cash elevation is very close to what Hoban originally had in mind before budget costs forced a reduction in scale of the project.

I always thought that Hoban was indeed working from an architecture book and not from personal study of Leinster House, but I don’t recall seeing the book named.