The white building that stands at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation's capital city is familiar to most of us, yet few people are frequent callers there. When Franklin Roosevelt said that this house is owned by all the American people, he had something else in mind. Whatever our political views,family backgrounds, or special interests, we all live there in a sense through shared history and citizenship.
To walk over the manicured grounds toward the White House entrance is to feel the significance of our nation's history. Those who do cross the threshold of the President's House renew a kinship with what must be understood as a widely extended family. Like a grand European house of three or four hundred years ago, the White House encloses both public and private rooms that serve multiple functions. Through the same hallways pass the casual vacationer, the hurried diplomatic adviser, and the current presidential family. Their common ground is the house itself and the history it represents.
First occupied in 1800, the White House has served as the official residence of all the Presidents of the United States except George Washington, who chose the site. Presidents and First Ladies alike have directed expansions, renovations, and redecorations. Many played important roles in shaping the appearance of the house and in forming the collection of fine and decorative arts. The aggregate of decisions determined the direction and content of the Executive Mansion as it exists today. While the White House fine arts collection is now a permanent one and the State Rooms presently enjoy museum status, this was not always the case. The art and decoration in the house changed noticeably from administration to administration.
Not surprisingly, the families of the
Presidents remained attached to the White House after leaving it.
Some made gifts to the collection.
The great-great grandson of John Quincy Adams presented Gilbert Stuart portraits of his ancestors, John Quincy Adams and Louisa Adams (shown at left). The works may have hung in the White House during the John Quincy Adams Administration.