The Renovation


As it became obvious that the White House was in serious danger of collapsing, President Truman and Congress had to decide what was the best course of action. Three options were heavily debated: First, should the White House be completely demolished and then have an entirely new executive mansion built?; or, second, should the house be restored in a manner that included carefully removing each piece and replacing it all on a stronger foundation?; and lastly, was it a better idea to save the existing outer walls and rebuild the interior on modern framework, using only the original material that would be practical? ┬áThe Truman’s thought that it was important for there to be a form of “continuity as well as change in this symbol of the presidency.” Therefore, it was decided that the outer walls would stay intact and the White House would be gutted on the inside. Many items were carefully removed and placed in storage for reuse, but many of the stored items were not returned to the house.


The Trumans would not return to live in the White House until 1952, once reconstruction began. The interior of was demolished and gutted; the old wooden timbers were replaced with steel beams and two sub basements were added. New wiring, plumbing and ductwork began to appear throughout the house as the interior was closer to completion. Although there were drastic changes, “the size and shape of the first and second floor rooms were rebuilt to appear as they did throughout the building’s history.” Only a few things were changed drastically, such as the main staircase and modern service areas.


The renovation of the White House was no small feat. It took a large number of men, materials, and money to complete the project. These items were also affected by events that took place outside of Washington D.C. The development of the Cold War caused the prices of materials and other construction needs to rapidly rise. In addition, the successful testing of a Russian atomic bomb raised concerns about the safety of President Truman. In response to this concern, architect Lorenzo Winslow, worked to create a new secret underground bunker which added even more costs and delays.



In the spring of 1952 the White House renovation was coming to a close, nearly a year later then what was originally scheduled. On March 27, President Truman was presented a gold key. The Trumans lived in the newly renovated house for the last portion of their administration.




For further information regarding the process of renovation, please take a look through the Meeting Minutes of the Commission meetings. They are available here or in the Research Room at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum.