The Reconstruction of the White House from 1949 to 1951

The Reconstruction of the White House from 1949 to 1951
March 01, 2013

By 1948, the house was declared to be in imminent danger of collapse, forcing President Truman to commission a reconstruction and move across the street to Blair House from 1949 to 1951. The work, done by the firm of Philadelphia contractor John McShain, required the complete dismantling of the interior spaces, construction of a new load-bearing internal steel frame and the reconstruction of the original rooms within the new structure. The total cost of the renovations was about $5.7 million. Some modifications to the floor plan were made, the largest being the repositioning of the grand staircase to open into the Entrance Hall, rather than the Cross Hall.Central air conditioning was added, as well as two additional sub-basements providing space for workrooms, storage, and a bomb shelter. The Trumans moved back into the White House on March 27, 1952. While the house’s structure was kept intact by the Truman reconstruction, much of the new interior finishes were generic, and of little historic value. Much of the original plasterwork, some dating back to the 1814–1816 rebuilding, was too damaged to reinstall, as was the original robust Beaux Arts paneling in the East Room. President Truman had the original timber frame sawn into paneling; the walls of the Vermeil Room, Library, China Room, and Map Room on the ground floor of the main residence were paneled in wood from the timbers.

President Truman and the Committee for the Renovation of the White House, 06/20/1949

White House Lobby, 12/27/1949

Renovation Work on the White House, ca. 1950

White House East Room, 01/19/1950

Split Beam above White House Lobby Ceiling, 01/25/1950

View from Servant’s Dining Room, 02/06/1950

Second Floor Corridor, 02/09/1950

Lower Corridor, 02/14/1950

Main Stairway, 02/23/1950

Removing Debris from the White House, 02/27/1950

Bedroom and Sitting Room, 02/27/1950

Second Floor Oval Study above Blue Room, 03/09/1950

The Shell of the White House, 05/17/1950

Northeast Corner of the White House, 11/06/1950

The Lincoln Room, 01/23/1950

East Room during the Renovation, 06/21/1951

Workers inside Ductwork, 07/19/1951

Northeast View of the State Dining Room, 11/21/1951

West View in the Third Floor Corridor, 12/04/1951

New Steps of the South Portico Being Erected, 01/04/1952

Northeast View of the State Dining Room, 01/23/1952

Northwest View of Second Floor Corridor, 03/24/1952

President Harry S. Truman and First Lady Bess Truman Returning to the White House, 03/27/1952

Broadcast Room on Ground Floor, 03/1952

View of the Grand Staircase, 04/24/1952

President Truman’s Study Second Floor Oval Room, 07/29/1952

East Room of the White House, 08/01/1952

Blue Room, Post-Renovation, 07/15/1952

White House Green Room, 07/15/1952

White House State Dining Room, 07/15/1952


  • Eric

    Any idea who the contracting firm was that performed the mechanical work during the renovation? (Workmen sitting in duct pic) Great story, thanks!

    • Webodysseum

      The architect was Lorenzo R. Winslow, but I can’t find more info.