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Humble Beginnings
East Front of the President's House in 1817

East Front of the President's House. Learn surprising White House facts

Graphite, ink, and watercolor on paper, 1817. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

Many an American president has battled for the privilege to live at the nation's most prestigious address. And, like the presidency itself, the home at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. has seen conflict, controversy and surprising transformations. Indeed, the elegant porticoed mansion we see today looks very different from the austere Georgian house designed two hundred years ago.

Originally, plans for a "President's Palace" were developed by artist and engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant. Working with George Washington to design a capital city for the new nation, L'Enfant envisioned a majestic home approximately four times the size of the present White House.

At George Washington's suggestion, Irish-born architect James Hoban traveled to the federal capital and submitted a plan for the presidential home. Eight other architects also submitted designs, but Hoban won. The "White House" proposed by Hoban was a refined Georgian mansion in the Palladian style. It would have three floors and more than 100 rooms. Many historians believe that James Hoban based his design on the Leinster House, a grand Dublin home that is now the seat of the Irish parliament.

On Oct. 13, 1792, the cornerstone was laid. Although he never lived in the presidential house, President Washington oversaw the construction. Most of the labor was done by African-Americans, some free and some slaves.

In 1800, when the home was almost finished, America's second president, John Adams and his wife Abigail moved in. Costing $232,372, the house was considerably smaller than the grand palace L'Enfant had envisioned. The Presidential palace was a stately but simple home made of pale gray sandstone coated with lime-based whitewash.

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