Shortly after moving into the White House, President Harry S. Truman noticed the telltale signs of a building under serious physical stress. He frequently complained of drafts and unusual popping and creaking noises in the old house. Early in 1948, in response to the President's concerns, engineering reports confirmed that the White House was in a serious state. Burned to the exterior walls in 1814, further compromised by the successive additions of indoor plumbing, gas lighting, electric wiring, heating ducts, and major modifications in 1902 and 1927, some said the White House was standing only from the force of habit. The decision was made to move the Trumans across the street into the Blair House for three years while the White House underwent a complete reconstruction within its original exterior walls.
Abbie Rowe, a photographer for the National Park Service assigned to document the activities of the President, became the Official Photographer for the renovation of the White House. His photos document the condition of the White House before the renovation as well as the engineering challenges faced by workers to rebuild the inside of the White House without tearing down the outside walls. President Truman insisted that the outside walls of the building were inviolate – they could not be removed or cut in any way. Bulldozers and other heavy construction equipment had to be dismantled, moved into the empty White House in pieces, and rebuilt on the inside. The Truman family moved back into the White House on March 27, 1952, after being in Blair House for over three years.
This tour documents the renovation of the Blue Room. The Blue Room is a large oval room sometimes used for receptions. President Grover Cleveland married Frances Folsom in the Blue Room on June 2, 1886. As President Truman tells the story, one day in January 1948 he had his lunch brought to him on a tray in his Oval Study, directly above the Blue Room. As the staff person brought the tray in, the floor vibrated so much he nearly dropped the tray. This is one of the incidents that caused President Truman to hire engineers to come in and evaluate the structural stability of the White House. Their report revealed the serious extent of the deterioration of the White House and the need for a complete renovation.
Created by USNatArchives
The White House Blue Room - 1947
White House Blue Room - 20 February 1950
North View of White House Blue Room - 5 February 1951
Northeast View of White House Blue Room - 21 May 1951
Northeast View of the White House Blue Room - 4 December 1951
North View of the Blue Room, White House - 11 February 1952
Northeast View of the White House Blue Room - 14 March 1952
Blue Room at the White House, Post-Renovation - 15 July 1952