Even the White House gets the blues: during Harry S. Truman’s presidency in 1948, the head-of-state digs at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue looked more than a little peaked. The building, nearly 150 years old at the time, was suffering structural deterioration, unsanitary plumbing and a third floor that was a huge firetrap.
“The ceiling of the East Room, elaborately done in the frescoes of fruits and reclining women and weighing seventy pounds to the square foot, was found to be sagging six inches on Oct. 26, and now is being held in place by scaffolding and supports,” The New York Times reported. “But it took the $50,000 survey authorized by Congress to disclose the fact that the marble grand staircase is in imminent danger. Supporting bricks, bought second hand in 1880, are disintegrating.”
Although the congressional commission charged with fixing the mess suggested building an entire new structure, Truman pushed for a renovation, arguing that the property’s historical significance made it worth saving. As a result, the social events of the 1948 holiday season were canceled, and the White House got one heck of a makeover, leaving only the exterior intact.
In December 1949, crews began taking apart interior rooms, saving most of the wood trim, doors, hardware and other detailing, according to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum. Construction workers poured 126 new reinforced concrete suport columns to a depth of 25 feet to bolster the original exterior walls.
During the restoration, Truman and his family lived in the smaller Blair House a block away. On March 27th, 1952, the President received a gold key to the revamped White House, which had expanded to 54 rooms from the original 48 and had two brand-new sub-basement levels with service areas.
Photographs below from the National Archives: