The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
November 13, 2002

Mrs. Bush's Remarks for 100th Anniversary of the West Wing Symposium
White House Historical Association
Washington, D.C.

Life in the White House
Take a room by room look at life in the White House over the years and view Laura Bush's tour of the
Thank you for your warm welcome. Today, we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the West Wing and 100 years of change in a home that has shaped - and has been shaped by history. From John Adams to George W. Bush, every American President and their family have lived in and transformed this historic landmark, the White House.

Perhaps none have shaped it as much as President Roosevelt and the renovation of 1902. Roosevelt built the West Wing to separate his office from his living quarters, where his wife and six children lived. Until then, what is now the Treaty Room on the second floor of the White House was variously the Cabinet Room or the President's Office. What is now the Lincoln Bedroom was once President Lincoln's office. In this historic room, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

In Lincoln's day and for many years after, citizens would enter the White House on the North Side, climb the grand staircase and mill around outside the President's offices. Citizens who were looking for jobs or who just wanted to meet the President and shake his hand. In fact, there is a secret door in the corner of the Treaty Room that enabled the President to get to his private quarters just down the hall without encountering the public. Today, thanks to Roosevelt's renovation of the second floor, the President and his family can relax in truly private quarters. The President can relax on the couch, watch baseball and eat pretzels.

The renovation provided office space in the new West Wing. And it established a visitor's entrance in the East Wing, where my office is. The East Wing staff is proud to welcome the thousands and thousands of visitors who visit the White House every year. The East Wing as we know it today was built by Franklin Roosevelt in 1945 to serve the war effort, allowing for military office space and an underground bomb shelter. The shelter was small and cramped with concrete walls. After President Roosevelt saw it for the first time, he told White House usher Howell Crim that he would never return. In the event of an air raid, he said, "I would rather go to the South Lawn and enjoy the fireworks."

Theodore Roosevelt's original coatroom in the East Wing became the movie theater in the 1940s. Later, offices for correspondence, calligraphers and the social secretary were placed in the East Wing. Mrs. Roosevelt employed the first social secretary. Today, the social secretary prepares all of the invitations and written correspondence for every event held at the White House. This office works with me and the West Wing to ensure that every event is orchestrated perfectly.

But as many presidential families can attest, working in the White House is different than living there. Although it took her a while to get used to its magnitude, Abigail Adams, the first, First Lady to live there, once said of her new home, "This is a beautiful spot.and the more I view it, the more I am delighted with it.this House is built for ages to come." Today, 210 years since the cornerstone was laid, the White House continues to stand as the central symbol of America. Even with the West Wing and the changes to the East Wing, perhaps the greatest result of the 1902 renovation was that the White House truly became a home.

Much of the White House today reflects the Roosevelt's desire to create a home for America and a home for themselves - one which exhibited their personal style, where their children could grow and their pets could play.

The Roosevelt children made every part of the White House their home and their playground. T.R., as they lovingly called their Dad, often joined the children for games in the White House attic. The Eisenhowers established the White House as the most permanent home they had ever known after a long military career spent moving from post to post. Mrs. Cleveland and Mrs. Kennedy established kindergartens in the White House for their children. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt's thirteen grandchildren grew up in the White House. Eleanor had swings, sandboxes and slides built on the South Lawn. My children especially remember rolling down the slope of the South lawn when their grandfather was president.

All children have found the South lawn a great playground. Once a year on the Monday after Easter, they gather for an egg rolling party here. In 1879, this event, which had been held on the Capitol grounds, was moved to the White House by President Hayes. This year, 35 thousand cheered the children as they rolled their eggs across the grassy slope with a spoon. Everyone was a winner. My favorite part of the day was reading to the children on the lawn. For the past two summers more fun was had here when the South Lawn Sluggers played the first White House tee ball games. Many homeruns were hit and the Sluggers and their families celebrated with hamburgers and hotdogs after the game.

Children are not the only ones who have fun at the White House - pets do as well. Animals of every kind have entertained and comforted Presidents, their families, and visitors. President Theodore Roosevelt's children loved animals, and they literally had a zoo inside and out - from a bear, to pigs to a calico pony named Algonquin. When Archie was sick in bed, his brothers brought the pony to visit him on the President's elevator. Thomas Jefferson had a pet mockingbird, which he taught to hop up the stairs after him. The Lincolns had dogs and goats, which kept the boys in constant amusement and occasional trouble. Lincoln bought the goats Nanny and Nanko for five dollars each. He got his money's worth in entertainment when the boys hitched the goats to a kitchen chair and went for a wild ride through a reception in the East Room.

Our dogs, Barney and Spot and our cat India also feel very much at home in the White House. In fact, they are the only residents who make no distinction between the West and East Wings. Spot, an English Springer spaniel was born in the White House to Millie,

Barbara Bush's dog.

Spot is the only presidential pet known to have lived in the White House during two administrations. Barney, our Scottish terrier, was a birthday gift to me from the President. Our cat, India, also known as Willie, has been our family pet for more than ten years.

Every morning, the President walks the dogs on his way to work. The dogs spend time playing in the garden and then Spot retires to the Oval Office for her morning nap. Later, she joins Barney for an adventure along a well worn path from the West Wing to the East Wing. First stop is the medical unit for treats. Then to the Social Office in the East Wing, which has the best treats of all - and finally next door to the Military office, where Barney barks like mad at the electric shoe polisher. Spot and Barney particularly enjoy their trek during the holidays. They not only get treats, but toys as well.

The White House is magical during the holidays and everyday, because the families who have lived there have always made it special - creating a home by furnishing it in their own taste. Since the early Federal period of the Adams, The White House has mirrored America's everyday furnishings and dcor - and everyday life - from celebrating holidays to chores to quiet time. During the Adams time, the presidential laundry was hung to dry in the East Room. Dolley Madison expressed her personality with bright yellow draperies and upholstery. Abigail Fillmore, a onetime schoolteacher, built the first library in the mansion. With a dictionary and sets of Dickens and Thackeray, she filled the bookshelves in the upstairs sitting room. There, she and President Fillmore spent many evenings reading and chatting.

But perhaps no First Lady has brought as much style and elegance to the White House as Jacqueline Kennedy. Mrs. Kennedy was compelled to transform the White House from the President's home to a glorious museum of America. She first visited the White House when she was just 11 years old. And she recalled being disappointed. She told then LIFE magazine reporter and our host, Hugh Sidey, "From the outside I remember the feeling of the place. But inside, all I remember is shuffling through. There wasn't even a booklet you could buy." She changed this dramatically - literally creating a museum in which visitors can learn and explore.

Like many Presidents' wives, Mrs. Kennedy was intimately involved with the dcor of the Oval Office. She made the H.M.S. Resolute desk the centerpiece of the room. This beautifully carved oak desk, given to President Hayes by Queen Victoria in 1880, was found on the ground floor of the mansion by Mrs. Kennedy. The original brass presentation plaque explaining its rich history was still intact. The H.M.S. Resolute was abandoned at sea in 1854. She was discovered by a United States captain and sent back to England as a gift to Queen Victoria from the President and the American people. There, when the ship was decommissioned, a desk was built from the ship's timbers. The desk was a given to the President of the United States by the Queen of England.

Many Presidents have used the H.M.S. Resolute as their desk. John Kennedy Jr. loved his father's desk. He called it "My House." Everyone remembers the famous photo of John Jr. peeking out from behind the central panel while his father worked above. The desk has twice been modified from its original version. Franklin D. Roosevelt requested that the rear kneehole be fitted with a panel to cover his braces. And President Reagan requested that it be raised by two inches to accommodate his 6 foot 2 frame.

President Bush also uses the desk made from the H.M.S. Resolute. He requested portraits of President Washington and Lincoln for the walls. The room is decorated with a bust of Winston Churchill loaned by the British government and a bust of President Eisenhower. A wool rug with the presidential coat of arms bordered by laurel leaves and bronze draperies accent the room. In front of the fireplace sits a pair of blue and gold striped chairs that were reproduced from a favorite armchair in the White House collection.

We chose paintings of Texas to remind us of home. One of our favorites is a painting by W.H.D. Koerner called a Charge to Keep. The picture of a determined horseman charging up a hill is the only painting the President brought with him from his Texas Governor's office. It was loaned to us by our dear friends Joe and Jan O'Neill - the couple who introduced us 25 years ago. The O'Neill's were given the painting as a wedding present, but Joe wanted the President to be inspired by it.

Tom Lea's Rio Grande also hangs in the Oval Office and it reminds the President of our good friend. Tom Lea was a gifted El Pasoan artist and writer who passed away at age 97 shortly after my husband's inauguration. The President likes to quote Tom and he used his favorite lines in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. Tom once said, "We live on the East side of the mountain. It is the sunrise side, not the sunset side. It is the side to see the day coming; not the side to see the day that is gone. The best day is the day coming with eyes wide open and the heart grateful."

The White House has seen many sunrises. And with all its glory and strength, it will bear witness to many new days to come. I want to thank the White House Historical Association and all of you here today for sharing the enduring history of the White House. Together, we will ensure that it continues to stand a permanent symbol of our great democracy - and that the doors always remain open to welcome Americans home.


Return to this article at:

Click to print this document