White House Wednesdays
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.

On the evening of March 27, 1952, in a small ceremony at the entrance door, President Truman received a gold key to the newly-renovated White House. After spending more than three years living in the smaller quarters of the Blair House a block to the North, the first family returned to the mansion for their first night back in residence. It was both the same home they had left three years earlier and a new
and larger home as well. Its original 48 rooms had expanded to 54, not including two entirely new sub-basement levels containing service areas and other support facilities.

These photos also appeared on the Harry S. Truman Library’s Facebook page as part of a weekly feature, White House Wednesdays, in 2012.
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