The White House, the architectural symbol of greatness and stability for the American people, has, on occasion, needed a thorough gutting-and we’re not just talking about the administrations that seem to take more pride in their Oval Office curtains than their policies. Between 1949 and 1952 President Harry S. Truman had to find himself a new home to lay his head while the White House, literally falling to pieces at the time, underwent major renovations.
Under Truman’s orders, 66 rooms of the White House were completely razed and re-built after the bathing president almost fell through a dilapidated bathroom floor onto guests gathered in the ballroom below him.
Window openings provide bursts of light into the cavernous interior of the White House, supported only by a web of temporary steel supports. The exterior walls rest on new concrete underpinnings, which allow earth-moving equipment to dig a new basement. The renovations would end up costing taxpayers $54 million in today’s dollars.
Demolition of the Second Floor Oval Study and the Blue Room below, March 1950
Bunker: A rare photo of ‘The Tunnel’, the steel-and-concrete artery that ran through the White House’s lower basement level. The Tunnel connected the West and East Wings and access to the atomic shelter which Truman ordered built after the Russians successfully detonated their first nuclear bomb – deepening the Cold War.
The White House’s lower corridor.
View of the State Dining Room during the White House renovation.
Demolition of the second floor Oval Study and the Blue Room below, March 1950
White House lobby during the renovation, December 1949.
Photos of a White House gut renovation shell circa 1950 Circa 1950: The inside of the White House, after being gutted to accomplish the renovation. Iron beams hold up the original walls of the White House, which were not replaced. — National Archives
Replacing the White House main stairway.
View of the South Portico of the White House.
During the Reconstruction, Truman and his family lived close by in Blair House.
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