The White House / South Façade

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This is it – The President’s House.

Standing silently and stolidly, this graceful house is synonymous with the presidency of the United States of America. During the time a president is in this house, the term “The White House,” embodies the policies and the accomplishments of his administration. At the same time, it represents the stable, seamless transition of power from one president to the next – so important in American democracy.

What you see from this vantage point is the South Façade. It’s the best view there is. This is actually the back of the house. The stately main entrance, the North Façade of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – the most famous address in the world – is on the walking tour (Site #17)

There is more to the White House Complex than what is visible from here. Artfully obscured by trees to the left is the West Wing; to the right is the East Wing.

The West Wing houses the Oval Office, the office of the President, offices of the President’s senior staff, the Cabinet Room, the Situation Room and the Press Briefing Room. The office of the First Lady and her staff, as well as offices of the social secretary and correspondence staff, are in the East Wing.

What you see here, the focal point of the complex – the historic Residence – is the home of the President and his family.  Their private quarters are on the 2nd floor. Additional bedrooms, sitting rooms, workout rooms, game rooms and offices are on the 3rd floor.

The external double staircases on either side of the columned South Portico lead to the first floor, the State Floor, whose elegant rooms are used for receptions, ceremonial occasions, and for entertaining dignitaries. The oval Blue Room, situated behind the curved portico, is flanked by the delicately hued Green Room and the gilded, color-drenched Red Room. The East Room and the large formal State Dining Room are on each end of the first floor, connected by Cross Hall.

The oval Diplomatic Reception Room, the MAP Room, the China and Vermeil Rooms, and the main kitchen are all on the ground floor.

The trees around the periphery of the property provide shade and privacy to the pool and tennis courts used by the First Family. Some of the larger trees, including the magnolias on either side of the South Portico, were planted by President Andrew Jackson.

The famous South Lawn, stretching between the fountain and the Residence, has been used by Presidents and First Ladies to host events, many involving children.  The annual Easter egg roll is a White House favorite. Parades for visiting dignitaries are sometimes held on the South Lawn.  It’s also the landing spot for Marine One, the presidential helicopter, a familiar television image.

The timeless composition beyond the fence has not always looked this way.  Its graceful balance has evolved through two centuries of alterations, additions, rebuilding and renovations, including a complete interior gutting and reconstruction

Although presidents and their families are but transitory caretakers of this historic home, from the moment they arrive it takes on their character and style.

Beginning with George Washington, who never lived in the President’s House but was involved in its architectural design, Presidents and their First Ladies have left something of themselves behind, each adding another layer to the history of this remarkable house.

The area was rural at first. Master planner L’Enfant’s intent was to have the President’s House situated in a large area he called President’s Park which included the land just to the north, now Lafayette Park (Site #18).

However, when Thomas Jefferson moved in, he disliked the grandiose implications of the huge lawn. He reduced it in size by having a new stretch of Independence Avenue cut between the White House and what is now Lafayette Park.

Construction on both the President’s House and the Capitol began in 1792, seven years before the government actually moved to the new city. Both were constructed from soft Aquia Creek sandstone, readily available and easy to transport by barge from nearby Virginia.

Over time, much of the Capitol was changed to marble (see East Mall Waking Tour App), however, the exterior of the White House is the original fragile material. While sandstone has a gray/beige hue, the building has always been white – achieved by whitewash in the early years; lustrous layers of white paint in later years.

The original neoclassic Federal-style design – a balanced, rectangular mass – was grand yet austere, a reflection of both the period and personal background of architect James Hoban.

The nation’s 2nd president, John Adams and his wife, Abigail, were its first residents, moving in the unfinished building on November 2, 1800.  The significance of the President’s House, undoubtedly felt by all those chosen to occupy it, was expressed by John Adams in a letter to his wife which was later engraved on the mantel of the State Dining Room during the administration of 32nd president, Franklin Roosevelt:

“I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house and all that shall hereafter inhabit it, may none but honest and wise men rule under this roof.”

Thomas Jefferson, who succeeded Adams, found the house to be a “very agreeable country residence,” but far too big and lacking in the design feature he believed to be fundamental element of architectural design – the Roman order of columns.

He sketched plans for graceful columned pavilions on each side of the main building to soften its appearance.  However, it was famed architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe who designed the pavilions and other additions to the grand house, including the distinctive South Portico, whose smooth columns of Doric order were so elemental to Jefferson.

During the War of 1812, the British torched the President’s House. Only a thunderstorm kept it from being totally destroyed. The ruined interior was gutted and restored as it was by the original architect, James Hoban. During that reconstruction, between 1814 and 1819, President James Madison and his wife Dolley Madison lived in the Octagon House (Site #36), the first residence in the neighborhood.

A few years later, in 1824, Hoban added the grand, curved South Portico, based on Latrobe’s design.  The North Portico was added five years later. The next additions: running water in 1833; natural gas lighting in 1848; electric lighting in 1891.

President Ulysses Grant left his mark with an ornate, high Victorian interior renovation which included Tiffany glass everywhere. He added the circular pools centered by fountains on the South and North Lawns. In keeping with Victorian decorative excess, the south fountain at the time featured classical fish figures spouting water. Large glass conservatories – indoor gardens – in vogue at the time, were added to the east and west sides of the house.

Theodore Roosevelt was the next president to make changes – major ones.  He had Grant’s Victorian décor removed and returned the interior to a more Federal style, as it was initially. In 1902 he replaced the huge glass conservatories with the West Wing addition to meet the expanding needs of the Executive Branch. It is linked to the Residence by a colonnaded gallery walkway – Thomas Jefferson’s graceful west pavilion.

The first Oval Office was built in 1909 by William Howard Taft, but not in its present location. The much photographed Oval Office of today was added to one side of the West Wing in 1934 by Franklin Roosevelt.  It overlooks the familiar Rose Garden, a lovely backdrop for White House ceremonies, which had been created in 1913 as an outdoor extension of the West Wing.

The East Wing is separated from the Residence by the Jacqueline Kennedy Gardens. The East Wing was initially built as an elegant entrance for formal White House functions. The building, as it stands today, was added to the White House in 1942 to act as cover for the secret construction going on below – a war time underground bunker. It is connected to the Residence by the glass-enclosed East Colonnade, created from the east Jefferson pavilion.

Time, use, and weight-bearing additions weakened the timber-framed sandstone building so much that in 1948, during the tenure of Harry Truman, the Residence was declared uninhabitable. The only way to fix the crumbling structure was to completely gut the interior, leaving only the exterior shell.

Newer, load-bearing steel framework was constructed inside, maintaining the plan of the interior rooms as they had been. Unfortunately, much of the historic interior finishes were lost along with the crumbling plaster and had to be reproduced.

Throughout this major renovation, the Trumans lived across the street in the Blair House. (Site #32)

During John Kennedy’s presidency, Jacqueline Kennedy spearheaded a major interior restoration to bring a museum grandeur to the historic house. With funds from private donors, the interior design elements of many of the rooms were researched, restored, refinished.  Rooms were re-decorated with antiques, art and artifacts, many original pieces that had once been in the house.

Since Mrs. Kennedy’s amazing effort, subsequent First Ladies have worked with curators to enhance and expand her work.

Telephone: 202-456-1414


Address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC

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Alexander Hamilton Statue

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On the south patio of the magnificent Treasury Building stands an elegant bronze statue dressed in the typical attire of an 18th century gentleman:  ruffled shirt, knee breeches, buckled shoes, a dress coat.  He is holding a tri-cornered hat.

The fine statue by sculptor James Earle Fraser memorializes Alexander Hamilton, no ordinary gentleman. Military aide to George Washington and highly regarded financier, he was appointed the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury in 1789.

An ardent proponent of a strong federal government, he was in constant disagreement with Thomas Jefferson over the reach and powers of the federal government and the independence of the Department of the Treasury. He believed the department should not only collect and allocate public revenue, but also promote the country’s economic development.

His initial focus as Secretary of the Treasury was to institute a revenue system to repay the debt incurred by the Revolutionary War. He was successful, and in doing so established confidence in the young country, so necessary to its economic viability.

He established the First Bank of the United States as the financial agent of the Treasury Department – a place where public funds were deposited.  He introduced plans for the U.S. Mint to be part of the Treasury Department, but lost out to Jefferson when it was established in the State Department in 1792.  It was finally transferred back to Treasury in 1873.

The donor of the statue is unknown.  Gossip of the day attributed the statue to a mysterious, veiled woman.

Address: 1555 Alexander Hamilton Pl NW, Washington D.C.

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Washington D.C. Overview

Category: Washington DC   Published by

Washington, D.C. – symbol of democracy, a magnet to people and causes, a place of power and prestige – is inspiring and interesting. Take the time to take it all in.

Washington is part history, part history in the making. The seats of power – the Capitol,the White House, and the Supreme Court – are testaments to the democratic process. In massive, often ornate, government buildings, the work of America is conducted. Extraordinary museums hold the tangible evidence of American achievement.

Visually, Washington, D.C. is lovely. Its horizontal scale is humanizing and appealing. Open space, manicured parks, and grand avenues converging at landscaped circles serve as an elegant canvas for a range of exceptional architecture spanning over 200 years.

As architectural specimens, Washington’s museums, memorials, federal buildings and historic homes chronicle the nation’s history. Through them the story of a fledgling nation unfolds as it gained stature, prominence and identity to become a global power. As repositories of the American experience for all to see, they are fascinating and moving.

Washington did not always look as it does today. Created out of farmland, swamp and forest, it began as an artificial city – as an idea of the founding fathers to build a “federal city” amid the independent-minded states. The location was chosen in 1790 by political compromise and, upon first seeing the site on which he was to plan a magnificent city under the guidance of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, the architect Pierre L’Enfant described his task as “turning a savage wilderness into a Garden of Eden.”

Although influenced by the Europe’s grand cities, the sheer vastness of the new country determined L’Enfant’s vision: “We must show the breadth of our nation with the width of our avenues and the lengths of our parks.” However, this grand vision did not materialize all at once. Growth spurts in the fledgling city were tied to key historic events, and with each crisis the city transformed itself, taking root and gaining importance and prestige.

As the plans took shape, streets were laid out and in 1792, construction began on the Georgian neoclassical “President’s House,” and the Classical Revival “house of the people,” the United States Capitol. However, the nascent capital had yet to develop an inherent identity – it was small, had dirt streets and was without sewer or water systems.

In the early city, private residences reflected the balanced simplicity of the reserved Federal architecture of the period. Wonderful examples of this distinctively American architecture can be seen in the elegant homes and in a parade of row houses, the signature residential dwellings of Washington, along the narrow, tree-lined streets in the Georgetown Historic District. Others are in Lafayette Square, across from the White House, where the first structure built was the small, simple St John’s Episcopal Church, where pew 54 has been reserved for all sitting presidents since Madison. In the 1830s, a time fraught with partisan politics, the government grew. Austere federal buildings were constructed, notably the columned Greek Revival U.S. Department of the Treasury, at the time one of the largest office buildings in the world.

By a stroke of good fortune, the Smithsonian Institute was established in 1848. James Smithson, a British scientist who had never set foot in the country, bequeathed his considerable wealth to America with the proviso that it be used to found an “establishment for the increase & diffusion of knowledge among men.” The first of its 16 spectacular national museums, the picturesque, medieval looking Smithsonian Institution Building, “The Castle,” was completed on the National Mall in 1855.

Civil War transformed Washington into a city teeming with people. It still had minimal infrastructure, was overrun by the military whose encampments were everywhere, by war wounded brought to rudimentary hospitals set up anywhere there was space, by runaway slaves who came by the thousands seeking refuge. It was chaotic, dirty and violent.

When America reunited there was a realization that her capital did not reflect stature. Massive efforts were undertaken to modernize the city whose population had doubled its pre-war size. Streets and sidewalks were paved; water and sewer system installed.

By the late 1800s and early 1900s, America was making great industrial strides, fast becoming a world economic player. Personal fortunes and increasing world prestige led to wholesale efforts to beautify America’s capital to become the cultural equal to Europe.

Power and wealth moved in and the Gilded Age of architecture in Washington began. Palatial homes were built on individual wealth accumulated through America’s success in the Industrial Revolution, and today entire neighborhoods showcase the grandeur of the time. The Dupont Circle Historic District is an immersion into a virtual museum of mansions in the decorative Beaux Arts, Victorian Queen Anne, massive Richardsonian Romanesque, baroque Spanish Colonial, and gracious Georgian Revival architecture. The Massachusetts Avenue Historic District, today’s “Embassy Row,” is a showcase of the elaborately ornamented Beaux Arts style, in vogue at the time.

Public buildings also heeded this elaborate trend. Mansard roofs and ornate granite distinguish the grand Second Empire Old Executive Office Building (1871-1888). Within its walls, Presidents had offices, dignitaries visited, and historic events took place. It now holds the Office of the Vice President and the National Security Council. The opulent gold-domed Italian Renaissance Library of Congress opened in 1897 with the intention of surpassing its European counterparts in style and substance.

Washington was the place to be, worldly and cultured. Visitors flocked in through the magnificent gateway to America’s capital, Union Station (1907), gloriously gilded, arched and columned. Concert halls and elaborate museums housing the personal collections of America’s wealthy were built and are still in place today. The Beaux Arts Corcoran Gallery of Art (1897), opened as a public gallery to exhibit William Wilson Corcoran’s personal collection of American art, one of the most comprehensives in the world. The Duncan Phillips family opened their Georgian Revival home in 1921 to exhibit their remarkable collection to the public as the Phillips Collection, thus becoming the first museum of modern art in America. The Freer Gallery of Art (1923), a low-rise neo-Italian Renaissance palazzo, opened to exhibit its benefactor’s extensive collection of American and ancient Asian art. The Japanese Cherry trees, a gift from the people of Japan, were planted around Tidal Basin in 1912.

The size of government also increased, initiating the country’s largest public construction program. The Federal Triangle, between the Capitol and the White House, was set aside to provide buildings for new agencies, each one uniformly dressed in limestone facades, red tiled hip roofs and classic colonnades. The first congressional buildings, the Cannon & Russell Buildings were completed in 1907 and 1909 in elaborate Beaux Arts style; notables stayed at the Willard Hotel, renovated on a grand scale 1904.

Having achieved prominence and confidence, America gained historic perspective and sought to honor the contributions of those key to the American experience by building classical monuments to memorialized leaders and heroes in contemplative silence. The serenely moving Lincoln Memorial was completed in1922; the cornerstone of the Jefferson Memorial, in the neo-classical design first introduced to the country by Jefferson himself, was set in 1939. The highest court in the land finally found a permanent home in 1932 in the dignified Supreme Court Building and the monumental National Archives, repository of the foundations of the nation: the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence was completed.

By 1941, Washington’s population was over 1 million, and the federal government kept growing. This expansion of government is chronicled in the authoritative neoclassical federal offices built at that time. The nation’s cultural wealth continued to grow as the blocks-long neoclassic West Building of the National Gallery of Art, exhibiting Western art spanning centuries, opened that year.

Bond drives in World War II brought glamour and publicity to the capital, energizing patriotism. A huge civilian work force supported the enlarging government; the massive, sprawling Pentagon punctuated America’s position as a super power. Victory in World War II firmly established Washington as the nation’s capital and the center of the world.

Washington was forever changed. In ensuing years, and with energy and purpose, more federal offices were built and additional exciting cultural venues with sleek lines emerged, offering awe-inspiring exhibits. Existing venues were enhanced or expanded, and moving memorials were erected to honor America’s 20th century heroes.

At the core of this remarkable city is The National Mall, an open 2-mile swath of green, stretching from the Capitol to the Washington Monument. Bordered by America’s cultural icons honoring America’s sacrifice, highlighting her diversity and representing the ingenuity of her people, this national public space – open, accessible and unpretentious – symbolizes all that is America.

Bridge of Lions

Category: St. Augustine   Published by

The Bridge of Lions spans the Intracoastal Waterway and connects downtown St. Augustine to Anastasia Island. Lions made of marble guard the bridge, begun in 1925 and completed in 1927 across Matanzas Bay. From its earliest days, it was hailed as “The Most Beautiful Bridge in Dixie.” It has long been a symbol of the nation’s oldest city.

It gets its name from two Carrara marble lion statues that are copies of those found in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, Italy. The statues were a gift of Dr. Andrew Anderson (1839-1924), the builder of the Markland House. The lions reference the name “Leon” in Ponce De Leon, which means “Lion” in Spanish.

Address: Bridge of Lions, Saint Augustine, FL 32084

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St. George Street

Category: St. Augustine   Published by

Shop if you wish or just take your time to gaze at all the unique items for sale in this 11-block stretch of shops, restaurants and historic sites. No need to worry about traffic because there is none since this area is a designated walking mall. On old St. George Street, in the heart of historic St. Augustine, charming shops, museums, historic buildings and beautiful views are on every corner. And many other intriguing points of interest are just a few blocks down the road. It is here that visitors from all around the world come to dine and shop and get acquainted with our nation’s oldest city.

Address: St. George Street, St. Augustine, FL 32080

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St. Augustine Visitor Information Center

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A great place to start your visit to St. Augustine is at the Visitor Information Center. Operated by the city, the center has historical exhibits, brochures, maps of the area, attractions, directions to local restaurants and tour information. You will also find public restrooms and water fountains. If anything, it is a great place just to get out of the summer heat. Looking for a place to park? Parking in St. Augustine can be very difficult. Try parking at the Historic Downtown Parking Facility behind the center. It is very convenient and affordable.

Telephone: 904-825-1000

Address: 10 South Castillo Drive, St Augustine, FL 32084

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Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!

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Shortly after Robert Ripley’s death in 1949, Castle Warden was purchased to house the first of Ripley’s famous Odditoriums. It opened the following year and showcased Ripley’s vast collection of strange and astonishing artifacts collected throughout his travels. Among other relics, the museum features a model of the original Ferris Wheel constructed entirely from Erector sets, a mummified cat, various objects used by shamans of cultures throughout the world, as well as celebrity life and death masks (including the likes of Abraham Lincoln). Perhaps the Odditorium’s chief crowd pleaser is Douglas Schnittker, the venue’s own one armed magician. The original museum garnered such success, Ripley’s associates were spurred to open Odditoruims throughout the United States, and later the world. Still, Ripley’s personal collection remains housed at Castle Warden. Additionally, the opening credits as well as segments for recent episodes of the Ripley’s television series were filmed here.

Primarily known as “The Castle,” Castle Warden had originally been constructed in 1887 by namesake William Warden, a millionaire in search of a winter home. The Moorish Revival style mansion later enjoyed success as a hotel, accommodating a slew of famous guests including renowned author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, as well as Robert Ripley himself.

Telephone: 904-824-1606


Address: 19 San Marco Avenue, St. Augustine, FL 32084

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Fountain of Youth

Category: St. Augustine   Published by

The Fountain of Youth Archeological Park has been open since its purchase in 1901, by Dr. Louella Day McConnell, also known as Diamond Lil’. Seeing the benefits of what she now owned, this entrepreneur decided to begin charging people to drink from the spring found on her property. The land was used for farming and growing citrus orchards for 350 years prior to Dr. McConnell’s purchase. Before 1513, the property was a Timucua Village known as Seloy, when the now famous explorer, Ponce de Leon claimed the land for his Spanish king and renamed it La Florida. Many attempts were made to settle this area by the Spanish but none were successful until 1565 when a man by the name of Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles arrived. Inside the borders of this property formed St. Augustine, the oldest continuously occupied European settlement on the continental United States, making this park an historical attraction.

The park consists of 15 acres in St. Augustine, Florida and a large archway greets you as it passes above you during your entrance to the park. People from around the world come here to sip the famous “Fountain of Youth” waters and learn about the benefits supposedly imbued upon one who drinks them. The park also contains other attractions, such as the Shipwreck Exhibit, Indian Burial Grounds, the Navigator’s Planetarium and the Discovery Globe. People of all ages can enjoy watching and feeding the squirrels and peacocks that roam the property. There is a picnic area available so visitors can bring their own lunch. Pets are welcome and parking is free. The park is open everyday, except Christmas Day, from 9am-5pm.

Telephone: 904-829-3168


Address: 11 Magnolia Avenue, St Augustine, FL 32080

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Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Category: St. Augustine   Published by

St. Augustine, Florida is home to the oldest masonry fort in the United Station. The Castillo de San Marcos was first built in 1672 by Spain during its occupancy in Florida. From 1763 through 1784 Britain occupied the state and renamed the masonry St. Mark. When Florida became a U.S. territory in 1821 The Castillo de San Marcos became Fort Marion, named after Francis Marion, a revolutionary war hero. It was not until 1942 that the Congress renamed the building Castillo de San Marcos.

St. Augustine is named after a European city founded by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés in 1565. This city was originally a Native American Village that was transformed over the next 100 years as the site of a Spanish defense town. Here nine wooden forts were built. After the attack of English pirate Robert Searle, the masonry was ordered by Mariana Queen Regent of Spain to protect the city.

This masonry was built with coquina stone, “little shells” in Spanish. These ancient stones create an adhesion similar to limestone. Native American workers as well as construction workers from Havana, Cuba built the masonry. Workers quarried the ancient shells at Anastasia Island which is now known as Anastasia State Park. This park and quarry site is located across Matanzas Bay from the Castillo de San Marcos masonry. A ferry carried the stones across the bay during the twenty-three year construction project (from 1872-1695).

Telephone: 904-829-6506


Address: 1 South Castillo Drive, St Augustine, FL 32084

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Florida School for the Deaf and Blind

Category: St. Augustine   Published by

The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind is a state-supported residential school for deaf and blind children established in 1885, in St. Augustine. In 1882, Thomas Hines Coleman, a young deaf man, was preparing to graduate from Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the only college for the deaf in the world at that time. He had previously graduated from the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind and knew he wanted to make education for children his life’s work. Florida was one of the few states that had not yet made provision for the education of children who were deaf/hard-of-hearing, or who had visual impairments. Coleman wrote Governor William D. Bloxham of Florida and found he was favorable toward the establishment of such a school. As their correspondence continued, the sum of $20,000 was reached as a minimum appropriation to start the School. In 1883, Florida´s legislature established an institution for the blind and deaf children for two years at $20,000. They requested bids from various towns in the state for the location to build the School. The City of St. Augustine offered the best bid with $1,000 cash and 5 acres of land, the land donated by Captain Edward E. Vaill, a pioneer of the City. Contractor William A. MacDuff erected the original first three wooden buildings at $12,749 and they were completed in December 1884. The first graduating class was 62 students in 1892 and the first graduation ceremony was held in 1898. Notable alumni include Ray Charles and Ashley Fiolek.

Telephone: 904-827-2200


Address: 207 San Marco Avenue, St Augustine, FL 32084

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