Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The White House: An Historical Guide / Mrs. John N. Pearce [a.k.a. Lorraine Waxman Pearce] and William V. Elder III -- Washington, D.C.: White House Historical Association, 1963

Over the years, the White House has undergone numerous changes.  Perhaps most dramatically was the complete gutting of the interior and subsequent steel reinforcement of the structure that took place duringTruman's administration.  It has also accumulated a significant collection of furnishings, some of which are unquestionably outstanding historical pieces.  The portrait of George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart and the President's desk, built from the timber of the H.M.S. Resolute come immediately to mind; but there are numerous more interesting and beautiful objects in the White House's collection.  At the direction of Jacqueline Kennedy, the White House Historical Association took on the task of creating a guide to the history of the White House and its furnishings.  Originally intended for children, it was quickly understood that the treasury of artifacts was too important not to address the work to adults.  The result was a clear introduction to the history of the White House, illustrated by photographs of some of its most important possessions.

The extent to which the building's interior was remodelled is somewhat surprising.  One might,  however, justify the expense by claiming that the President's house should, for the benefit of visitors and foreign dignitaries, remain relatively stylish and contemporary.  On the other hand, a degree of classical dignity might also be appropriate.  Upon reading The White House, one is left with a sense that a reasonably good balance has been met over the years up to 1963.  Many of the features of the original structure remain, of course, but with any building that sees regular use, repairs and replacements are required now and then.  These present opportunities to update the interior decorating styles.  At the same time, pieces art and furniture have been retained and can be brought out of storage according to the taste of the current occupant.  What is among the more satisfying consequences of these additions and changes, is that each occupant will leave behind something of their taste and time,  making the building and its contents a reflection of the history of the country and the presidency.


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