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Art for the President's House--An Historical Perspective
McKinley's assassination at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo,
New York, Vice President Theodore
Roosevelt took the oath of office. The White
House, now more than a hundred years old, entered a new era with
the Roosevelts, who loved the residence for its many associations. As
the President once responded when asked whether the Executive Mansion
should be abandoned to office space: "Mrs. Roosevelt and I are firmly of
the opinion that the President should live nowhere else than in the
historic White House." Historicism once again became the dominant ideal
for the State Rooms.
During the Roosevelts' tenure, in 1902, the prestigious firm of McKim,
Mead, & White began extensive renovations by sweeping away the exuberant
Victorian decorations--by then seen as free-wheeling incongruities--and
returning the mansion to a simpler, if equally stately, neoclassicism.
(At left is the East Room prior to the 1902 renovations.)
The Ground Floor Corridor and the rooms opening off it had been used as a
behind-the-scenes work area for years. As early as the Lincoln
Administration an aide had complained that the White House basement
reminded him of "something you have smelled in the edge of some swamp."
Now the elegant vaulted ceiling originally designed by James Hoban was
restored, transforming the Corridor into a gallery for the
First Ladies' portraits that had been collected at the end of the 19th
Roosevelt wrote to McKim:
The President and I have consulted, and we hope it is possible for you
to put all the ladies of the White House, including myself, in the
downstairs corridor that the dressing rooms open on; also the busts. It
could then be called the picture gallery, and you know a name goes a long
way. I am afraid the Presidents will still have to hang in the red and
green rooms, and I suppose Washington and Mrs. Washington and Lincoln must
remain as before, in the east