White House Museum down *Update

The White House Museum website has been down since last night. I have a support ticket in to GoDaddy.

UPDATE: GoDaddy says…

Due to its complex nature, your issue has been relayed to our Advanced Technical Support Team. Our most skilled technicians will be working to resolve your issue quickly and completely. You will be notified promptly upon resolution.

Rex Scouten

The New York Times reports that one-time White House chief user Rex Scouten has died. He was 88 and suffered complications after hip surgery. Our best wishes go out to his friends and family.

Scouten served 10 presidents, from Truman to Clinton not only as chief usher from 1969 to 1986 but also previously as a Secret Service agent and afterward as curator. Scouten never wrote a book or otherwise published any memoirs.

The White House: An Illustrated Architectural History

patrick's bookPatrick Phillips-Schrock, who has long supported and contributed to this site, has recently had his White House book published, and it’s available now on Amazon and from other fine bookmongers.

From Amazon: “This meticulous history, featuring more than 325 photographs, diagrams and other illustrations, captures each stage of the White House’s architectural and decorative evolution.”

Patrick’s contributions to this site have primarily been with fascinating diagrams that show the details of which parts of the White House were constructed and when and what the rooms must have looked like before the time of photography. They can be found dotting the site, such as here, here, here, and here.

UPDATE: I got mine a few days ago, and it’s just fascinating. Patrick goes into great detail about losing proposals, original designs, failed expansions, and renovations. He has great recreations of the various rooms’ decor from the early days. It’s just incredible. Thank you, Patrick!

Major acquisition: original builder’s prints


In 2008, I was contacted by Darren Dumont in Maine about some builder’s plans that had come into his possession from family and which dated back to the Truman reconstruction of the White House in 1948-1952. He looked into other offers but eventually decided that the White House Museum was the right venue for them, and in December we at last settled on a price. They are now in my possession.

These are big, 4-foot by 3-and-half foot documents (some smaller) with great detail, most of which are in good condition. Together with my copies of The Report of the Commission on the Renovation of the Executive Mansion, I feel like I have a real window into that very special time in the history of the White House.

The areas included are primarily basement and ground floor rooms, with some first and second floor areas. No particularly security-sensitive areas are included. In fact, everything in the plans is already covered in the White House Museum, but these provide fascinating detail about construction and dimensions, particularly about moldings and wall structure. One has an enlightening comparison of the windows in the East and West Sitting Halls. Another shows exactly how the president’s closet is constructed.

It is my privilege and pleasure to offer images of these documents on the White House Museum site. Please consider making a donation to help offset the cost of acquisition.

You can even sponsor a specific document. Half ($100) and full ($200) sponsorships are available for each document. The sponsor’s name will be attached to any images posted on the White House Museum site for as long as I own the documents (which should be a good long while) in the format “From the collection of Derek Jensen; sponsored in full by XXX” or “…sponsored by XXX and YYY”. Just click the Donate button under the document you’d like to sponsor (donate a second time for full sponsorship). THANKS!

My plan is to stabilize the documents to preserve them and to make high-resolution copies. Some of these I will likely make available for purchase at large size, suitable for framing. Should I do so, sponsors will be offered one gratis for each document sponsored.

Thanks, Darren Dumont, and thanks to all those who have written with compliments and suggestions over the years and made this site a pleasure.

Real news

I added a couple of new photos yesterday (inauguration day) that I got from the White House official stream.

Also, I hope to have some big news in the next few days….

New West Wing construction being completed

The Washington Post reports that construction going on for years around the West Wing is being completed now, with the fences and such coming down and the equipment silenced. The official line is only that the utilities have been upgraded: sewers, storm drains, steam pipes, and so on, and not that any additional office space, parking, or bomb shelter has been created. If that’s true, it seems like a missed opportunity.

Truman gest busy

My hat is off to Matthew, who directed me to a terrific find…

The December 13, 1948 issue of Life magazine, wherein President Truman’s East Wing and West Wing first floors are diagrammed with offices designated. What a find! The fun starts on page 35….

Thanks, Matthew!

I’ve added images of the wing diagrams and ordered a copy of the magazine from eBay. When that comes, I’ll scan it and re-do the diagrams so the labels are more readable.

What do these images tell us that we didn’t already know? Well, they show that we (Pete Sharkey and I) have the East Wing elevator on the wrong side of the corridor, and that the main hall there is a little too wide, which distorts our depiction of the offices on the east side. It’s hard to say what the modern orientation of rooms is, since walls may have been moved in the past 64 years, so I’ll leave those as they are. The West Wing diagram shows that the swimming pool dressing rooms were still very likely intact and generally clarifies the north side. And of course both diagrams show who occupied which offices, which is of historical interest.

Treasure troves

Google has recently released their Museum View of the White House as part of their Google Art Project. It’s pretty cool and, altho it’s not exactly an all-access pass, the nature of wheeling a set of cameras thru the building shows some interesting views that we don’t normally ever see.

They’ve also documented a fair number of art works in the White House, ranging from paintings to furniture to swords. They even categorize them by location, which is interesting, altho it seems hard to maintain, since art and furniture get moved around quite a bit.

Also the Gerald Ford Library has posted a big collection of images in, as one would guess about such matters, the least convenient format available to humans. They are PDFs that contain lists of links with no thumbnails to high-resolution* scans of crude contact prints of rolls of slide film, organized by day, complete with grease pencil circles obscuring the best shots.

* High enough resolution that they take forever to load but not enough to be useful to me, since each frame ends up being only about 280 pixels across. *sigh*


Thanks to Mike B and Jason B!

Obama rug

Obama Oval Office rugVisitor Mark A has sent me a fantastic picture of the 23 x 30-foot Obama rug for the Oval Office, created by Scott Group Custom Carpets, the same company that created previous carpets for the Oval Office, State Dining Room, and (I believe) Air Force One.

I was able to straighten it out and create a simulated overhead view that is very convincing and fairly high resolution. This adds to our little collection of recreations that include the Bush 2, Clinton, and Reagan rugs, but this is certainly the best of them. Thanks to Mark and special thanks to the Scott Group!

New renovations to the West Wing

The Washingtonian and others are reporting that the West Wing will have to be vacated next year so that extensive remodeling can be done. The press area and the Situation Room have been renovated recently, but most of the West Wing hasn’t been updated for decades, so this is no huge surprise, particularly with the conspicuous construction being done on the west side for the past few years.

I’m sure it will be a long time before there is any official announcement and longer still before we see pictures, but hopefully, the end result will be a roomier, more comfortable space, probably involving expansion underground that would perhaps include a tunnel to the EEOB.