The iconic mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C., has welcomed its newest resident, President Donald Trump. But the White House, which has housed every U.S. president since John Adams in 1800 has long been more museum than home.
Even smudges and details that look like trivialities are steeped in history, from the blackened sandstone under the north portico—200-year-old evidence that the British burned the place down in 1814—to the star-spangled moulding added to the East Room during President Harry Truman’s large-scale 1948-52 renovation. As a piece of real estate, the White House is now worth more than ever—and that’s not counting the hundreds of priceless works of art and furniture that are part of its permanent collection.
President Trump is no stranger to living in ultra-expensive opulent homes, with his three-story Trump Tower penthouse in New York rumored to be worth north of $100 million.
He has, however, moved into the U.S.’s most expensive house, according to Zillow Chief Marketing Officer Jeremy Wacksman. The property portal values the White House at a staggering $397.9 million.
If the 55,000 square-foot White House was put on the market, its price would dwarf the most expensive home currently for sale in the U.S.—a $250 million spec mega-mansion in Los Angeles’s tony Bel Air neighborhood, which came on the market last week.
During President Barack Obama’s presidency, alone, the building appreciated 15%, according to Zillow. It says: “President Obama’s term coincided with a massive recovery of the U.S. housing market, and that’s reflected in the updated value of the White House. Home values across the country are growing at their fastest pace since 2006, with many markets setting new records—one of the reasons why the White House is worth more now than it has ever been.”
So what would the property’s selling points be? Apart from its obvious history of having 44 presidents to date call it home, it has 132 rooms, 32 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, three elevators and sits on 18 acres. Other features include basketball and tennis courts, an ultra private outdoor pool and cabana, a sunroom and a library.
A house of priceless objects
Zillow’s estimate excludes the millions of dollars worth of art and antique furnishings in the White House permanent collection. There are some 500 paintings in the collection, ranging from a subdued landscape by Georgia O’Keeffe to the iconic eight-foot-tall Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, according to the White House Historical Association.
The painting of Washington, which according to legend First Lady Dolley Madison saved before the British set the White House on fire in 1814, now hangs in one of the building’s most televised rooms, the East Hall, the place where modern-day presidents host news conferences and bill signings.
In the time of President Theodore Roosevelt, the president’s children used the enormous parlor as a skating rink, roller-skating over its parquet floors, said White House Curator Bill Allman in one of several video clips published by the White House. Roosevelt also used the room for judo demonstrations and boxing matches.
Throughout history, however, presidents have often used the East Room, located on the first floor, for musical performances. In fact, one of the centerpieces of the room is a custom-made Steinway piano, with golden bald eagles as feet, art deco key design and diverse scenes of American life painted in white.
There’s even video of President Harry Truman tickling the ivories himself.
Priceless objets d’art abound throughout the residence, even in hallways and passages. Among the many historic treasures are Sir Jacob Epstein’s 1946 bust of Winston Churchill, which most recently decorated a hallway; the desk where Mr. Obama worked in the Treaty Room dating back to 1896; and a table by Denis-Louis Ancellet, where the 1978 Camp David peace accords were signed, according a recent article in Architectural Digest.
Works and gifts of art in the permanent collection were sometimes peace offerings. For instance, Charles Bird King made a number of portraits of Native American chiefs, who President James Monroe brought to the White House in an effort to convince them to cooperate with U.S. expansion westward, according to the White House Historical Society.
Slightly more recent masterpieces include O’Keeffe’s 1930 “Bear Lake, New Mexico” landscape, added to the White House Collection in 1986, and eight paintings by French Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne, bequeathed to the house in 1928.
Adding their own touch
Every administration leaves its mark on the design, and sometimes amenities, of the White House, rearranging and supplementing the permanent collection to try to make the building more like home.
For instance, Thomas Moran’s 1895 landscape “The Three Tetons” has traveled around the White House, from the Oval Office to the Red Room, where it hung during President George W. Bush’s tenure.
First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln purchased a hulking rosewood bed around 1861, and while President Abraham Lincoln is not believed to have slept in the bed, many of his successors did, including presidents Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge, according to the White House Historical Association.
When Wilson used the Lincoln Bed, as it became known, First Lady Ellen Wilson completed the master suite with textiles, including a rug and coverlet, handmade in Appalachia. Her design earned the bedroom the nickname the “Blue Mountain Room.”
Meanwhile, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy redecorated large swaths of the house, including some sensuous frills like a large fur covering on a sofa in the Yellow Room.
Many presidents have also altered the building’s amenities. President Franklin D. Roosevelt installed an indoor pool in 1933. The pool was later installed outdoors and the indoor facility converted to press offices in the 1970s. And notoriously overweight President William Howard Taft installed a 40-quart ice cream freezer, according to the White House Historical Association.
The Obama years
The most recent administration was no exception. The Obamas instituted a number of changes to the White House, including planting a large garden from which fresh fruits and vegetables were grown on the grounds for the first time in modern history. Staff planted the garden with seeds from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate in Virginia.
“As a really productive, feeding-a-lot-of-people garden, this is the first one in well over 100 years,” said former White House Chef Sam Kass in a video about the garden. The White House also began harvesting their own honey from beekeeping, and Mr. Obama had the White House kitchen staff brew beer for the first time on the premises.
Décor-wise, the Obamas hired California interior designer Michael S. Smith to decorate several rooms, including a dining room and bedrooms. The family borrowed a number of contemporary and modern artworks from local museums and galleries, and played up works by or depicting African Americans.
For instance, Mr. Obama handpicked for the West Wing a painting from 1862 called the “Watch Meeting” by William Carlton, which depicts a gathering of black subjects waiting the hour of emancipation, according to curator Mr. Allman.
Ms. Obama also selected a 1966 canvas by Alma Thomas, the first African-American woman artist represented at the White House, for the permanent collection.
— Additional reporting by Kathryn Hopkins
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