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The Hidden White House: Harry Truman and the Reconstruction of America’s Most Famous Residence

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Critically acclaimed author Robert Klara leads readers through an unmatched tale of political ambition and technical skill: the Truman administration's controversial rebuilding of the White House. In 1948, President Harry Truman, enjoying a bath on the White House's second floor, almost plunged through the ceiling of the Blue Room into a tea party for the Daughters of the Critically acclaimed author Robert Klara leads readers through an unmatched tale of political ambition and technical skill: the Truman administration's controversial rebuilding of the White House. In 1948, President Harry Truman, enjoying a bath on the White House's second floor, almost plunged through the ceiling of the Blue Room into a tea party for the Daughters of the American Revolution. A handpicked team of the country's top architects conducted a secret inspection of the troubled mansion and, after discovering it was in imminent danger of collapse, insisted that the First Family be evicted immediately. What followed would be the most historically significant and politically complex home-improvement job in American history. While the Trumans camped across the street at Blair House, Congress debated whether to bulldoze the White House completely, and the Soviets exploded their first atomic bomb, starting the Cold War. Indefatigable researcher Robert Klara reveals what has, until now, been little understood about this episode: America's most famous historic home was basically demolished, giving birth to today's White House. Leaving only the mansion's facade untouched, workmen gutted everything within, replacing it with a steel frame and a complex labyrinth deep below ground that soon came to include a top-secret nuclear fallout shelter, The story of Truman's rebuilding of the White House is a snapshot of postwar America and its first Cold War leader, undertaking a job that changed the centerpiece of the country's national heritage. The job was by no means perfect, but it was remarkable—and, until now, all but forgotten.


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Critically acclaimed author Robert Klara leads readers through an unmatched tale of political ambition and technical skill: the Truman administration's controversial rebuilding of the White House. In 1948, President Harry Truman, enjoying a bath on the White House's second floor, almost plunged through the ceiling of the Blue Room into a tea party for the Daughters of the Critically acclaimed author Robert Klara leads readers through an unmatched tale of political ambition and technical skill: the Truman administration's controversial rebuilding of the White House. In 1948, President Harry Truman, enjoying a bath on the White House's second floor, almost plunged through the ceiling of the Blue Room into a tea party for the Daughters of the American Revolution. A handpicked team of the country's top architects conducted a secret inspection of the troubled mansion and, after discovering it was in imminent danger of collapse, insisted that the First Family be evicted immediately. What followed would be the most historically significant and politically complex home-improvement job in American history. While the Trumans camped across the street at Blair House, Congress debated whether to bulldoze the White House completely, and the Soviets exploded their first atomic bomb, starting the Cold War. Indefatigable researcher Robert Klara reveals what has, until now, been little understood about this episode: America's most famous historic home was basically demolished, giving birth to today's White House. Leaving only the mansion's facade untouched, workmen gutted everything within, replacing it with a steel frame and a complex labyrinth deep below ground that soon came to include a top-secret nuclear fallout shelter, The story of Truman's rebuilding of the White House is a snapshot of postwar America and its first Cold War leader, undertaking a job that changed the centerpiece of the country's national heritage. The job was by no means perfect, but it was remarkable—and, until now, all but forgotten.

30 review for The Hidden White House: Harry Truman and the Reconstruction of America’s Most Famous Residence

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    The Hidden White House: Harry Truman and the Reconstruction of Americas Most Famous Residence by Robert Klara was is about the 1949-53 rebuilding of the president's mansion, revealing its secrets while offering an interesting view of President Truman's character. It was fascinating to learn that the building was literally falling apart because earlier restorations had left original beams that had been burned in the 1812 fire! Over the years, modernization to add heating, gas, electric, and The Hidden White House: Harry Truman and the Reconstruction of America’s Most Famous Residence by Robert Klara was is about the 1949-53 rebuilding of the president's mansion, revealing its secrets while offering an interesting view of President Truman's character. It was fascinating to learn that the building was literally falling apart because earlier restorations had left original beams that had been burned in the 1812 fire! Over the years, modernization to add heating, gas, electric, and plumbing cut into beams and retaining walls. The original footing was never meant to hold the expanding house. The house, after all, was built in a swamp. President Truman and his family moved into a haunted house, footsteps and noises heard at night. Actually, it was the wood expanding and contracting with temperature changes. And when the president moved his huge desk and books into his study, a few visitors more stressed the floor beams. Truman and his daughter Margaret had their pianos sitting side by side for family musicals. It was all too much for the old house to handle. It was time to check things out, a fifty-year check up as it were since it was last remodeled under President Teddy Roosevelt. The structure was found to be so bad that the building had to be gutted to the sandstone outer walls! And even they were falling apart in places. Meantime, the economy was adjusting from WWII and the Korean conflict was beginning. Getting money out of Congress was a battle, and so was every decision down to the wallpaper. The original wood trim, windows, fireplaces, and wood panels were sent into storage but proved too costly to restore; it was cheaper to make new. Sovineer relics were sold to raise money. And tons of the house were repurposed at other federal buildings--and sent to the dump. President Truman and his family were relegated to Blair House, which proved insecure when an assassination attempt caused the death of several guards. He drove the security people mad by insisting on walking to work every day. The president pushed to get the work done quickly, hoping to live a year in the new house. But haste made waste--and mistakes. Three years and $5.8 million later, the house was finished. The sewing room lacked electric outlets. Only four rooms were refitted with their original interiors. Everyone was finding fault. Eleanor Roosevelt pronounced that the house looked like a Sheridan hotel! The mass-produced furniture was all that could be afforded. No wonder Jackie Kennedy pressed to restore the decor to original pieces. There is nothing worse than a job coming with a house. You never know what you are going to get. As a clergy wife, for me it was parsonages that flooded, had cockroaches and mice, rattling drafty windows, iced over closets in winter, water that turned whites orange, and an antique pink refrigerator. For the Trumans, there were rats, worn out carpets and furniture and drapes, and a house in danger of collapse. Plus three years in temporary housing that was inadequate in every way. I had it better. I enjoyed learning about the people involved and the history and process of the rebuilding. It was an enjoyable read. I received an ebook as a gift.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    Find this and other reviews at: http://flashlightcommentary.blogspot.... Since we met, my husband has teased me for reading books like Robert Klara's The Hidden White House, likening me to Abigail Chase and giving me a hard time for burying myself in information that will never come up in regular conversation which is why I found it so amusing when the tables turned and he suddenly wanted to know more about the book I'd casually mentioned over dinner a few days before. Suspicious, I began fishing Find this and other reviews at: http://flashlightcommentary.blogspot.... Since we met, my husband has teased me for reading books like Robert Klara's The Hidden White House, likening me to Abigail Chase and giving me a hard time for burying myself in information that will never come up in regular conversation which is why I found it so amusing when the tables turned and he suddenly wanted to know more about the book I'd casually mentioned over dinner a few days before. Suspicious, I began fishing for details and managed to discover his curiosity was sparked by the passing reference to Truman's reconstruction project in Olympus Has Fallen and the discussion that followed made me appreciate Klara's work all the more. The White House is one of the most iconic buildings in the United States, but it is also one of the most enigmatic. We all know what it looks like and the names of those who've called it home, but we don't value the history of the building itself or the effort required to preserve this living piece of our nation's heritage. In point of fact most of us are completely unaware of how close we came to losing it through slip-shot engineering and poor maintenance. Declared in danger of eminent collapse in 1948, Truman essentially had the building gutted and rebuilt from the inside out, leaving only the famed exterior intact. Klara's work details the massive scope of the project, chronicling how the building fell into such a state of disrepair and the extensive reconstruction that was required to save it. Enjoyable and informative, I appreciated both Klara's insight and light humor. A great read for anyone interested in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Brack

    As a news photographer who has covered the White House for fifty-three years, Id had the honor and good fortune to walk through the White House grounds Northwest gate, (after a tight security check), and look to my left and marvel at the magnificent building that we have for our presidents. I knew a little about the Truman restoration, certainly the assassination attempt at Blair House, but I knew very little about the nuts & bolts of the massive project that took place in Harry Trumans only As a news photographer who has covered the White House for fifty-three years, I’d had the honor and good fortune to walk through the White House grounds Northwest gate, (after a tight security check), and look to my left and marvel at the magnificent building that we have for our presidents. I knew a little about the Truman restoration, certainly the assassination attempt at Blair House, but I knew very little about the nuts & bolts of the massive project that took place in Harry Truman’s only full term as president. THE HIDDEN WHITE HOUSE: HARRY TRUMAN AND THE RECONSTRUCTION OF AMERICA’S MOST FAMOUS RESIDENCE, by Robert Klara is a wonderful story about the politics and problems that President Truman faced to begin and finish a task that he thought we as Americans needed done. Lots of little details and characters make this book more than just a dull book on an aspect of American history: stories about Abbe Rowe, the crippled Interior Department line gang worker who sent First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt a photograph. The First Lady asked him to come to the White House as a photographer and he documented the entire restoration process with great care. The mystery of a hidden bomb shelter being built in the basement--bomb shelters were big about 1950. Many others, that make this book worth the reader’s time.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sallee

    Very few people know that in 1948 President Truman found that the White House was slowly collapsing. The White House was in extremely poor shape and was not safe to live in. Walls were cracking, floors were moving and foundations were sinking. This book is about the rebuilding of the entire frame and foundations of the White House while keeping the exterior intact. The job took millions of dollars, much red tape and inside bickering between the contractors and the government commission Very few people know that in 1948 President Truman found that the White House was slowly collapsing. The White House was in extremely poor shape and was not safe to live in. Walls were cracking, floors were moving and foundations were sinking. This book is about the rebuilding of the entire frame and foundations of the White House while keeping the exterior intact. The job took millions of dollars, much red tape and inside bickering between the contractors and the government commission overseeing the reconstruction. The Cold War had started, Korea was an issue and Russia had just detonated its first Atomic bomb. Truman took a personal interest in the whole project and felt it was one of the most important things he was responsible for in his presidency. The details of this reconstruction are mind boggling and this book reads like a novel with rich details of the lives of the Truman family. If you are a history buff, you will love reading this story. I can guarantee you will learn things that you never knew before and the time spent reading it will be a pleasure.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    I enjoyed reading about the Truman's and how serious the structural problems were at the White House and the details that went into the rebuild. Not a book for everyone, but if you are interested in architecture and history then check this one out. "In 1948, President Harry Truman, enjoying a bath on the White House's second floor, almost plunged through the ceiling of the Blue Room into a tea party for the Daughters of the American Revolution. A handpicked team of the country's top architects I enjoyed reading about the Truman's and how serious the structural problems were at the White House and the details that went into the rebuild. Not a book for everyone, but if you are interested in architecture and history then check this one out. "In 1948, President Harry Truman, enjoying a bath on the White House's second floor, almost plunged through the ceiling of the Blue Room into a tea party for the Daughters of the American Revolution. A handpicked team of the country's top architects conducted a secret inspection of the troubled mansion and, after discovering it was in imminent danger of collapse, insisted that the First Family be evicted immediately. What followed would be the most historically significant and politically complex home-improvement job in American history. While the Trumans camped across the street at Blair House, Congress debated whether to bulldoze the White House completely, and the Soviets exploded their first atomic bomb, starting the Cold War. Indefatigable researcher Robert Klara reveals what has, until now, been little understood about this episode: America's most famous historic home was basically demolished, giving birth to today's White House. Leaving only the mansion's facade untouched, workmen gutted everything within, replacing it with a steel frame and a complex labyrinth deep below ground that soon came to include a top-secret nuclear fallout shelter. The story of Truman's rebuilding of the White House is a snapshot of postwar America and its first Cold War leader, undertaking a job that changed the centerpiece of the country's national heritage. The job was by no means perfect, but it was remarkable—and, until now, all but forgotten."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Denton

    Fascinating. As someone who doesn't read much nonfiction unless it reads like a story, this one kept me hooked from the beginning through the end. If we ever get back to DC, I'd love to walk through the White House with all of this knowledge and these stories in mind.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Charlie Newfell

    Very interesting account of the reconstruction of the White House in the late 1940's, early 1950's. The White House has been around for over 200 years, but by the mid 1940's it was literally collapsing on itself. Much needed repairs were required - and needed quickly. So much of the original woodwork, flooring and trim were replaced by reproductions, in order to save time and money. The budget was a constant concern - which was surprising to me as the government never seems to be much concerned Very interesting account of the reconstruction of the White House in the late 1940's, early 1950's. The White House has been around for over 200 years, but by the mid 1940's it was literally collapsing on itself. Much needed repairs were required - and needed quickly. So much of the original woodwork, flooring and trim were replaced by reproductions, in order to save time and money. The budget was a constant concern - which was surprising to me as the government never seems to be much concerned about spending too much. Perhaps post-WWII it was different, but the team that was assembled did an outstanding job in a difficult environment and cost structure. This would appeal to general readers, not just non-fiction lovers, as the story is interesting and well told. Highly recommended.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Leslie Goddard

    A terrific book. He not only uncovers mountains of research on what was a fascinating project, but also tells the story in a lively, entertaining way. I have little background in engineering or architecture, and was impressed at how well the technical information was clearly, concisely explained. Loved this book. Should be a model for other writers of history for the general public. Highly recommended.

  9. 4 out of 5

    WendyB

    A wonderful bit of history that has many interesting facts about the rebuilding of the White House during the Truman era.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Whitaker

    A complete history of the renovations of Americas most historic residence. Even the Secret Service doesn't know some of this stuff

  11. 5 out of 5

    Gerry Welsch

    I loved this book. Fascinating and very well written. A great mix of history, politics, architecture, design and humor.

  12. 5 out of 5

    David

    "FDR's Funeral Train" by Robert Klara is one of my favorite history books published in recent years, so I was excited to learn he'd written "The Hidden White House," and it did not disappoint. The once-dilapidated state of the White House and Harry Truman's renovation of the collapsing building usually merits just a few paragraphs in biographies of the 33rd president, but Klara provides a 262-page deep dive into the subject. In theory, a book about a renovation and construction project shouldn't "FDR's Funeral Train" by Robert Klara is one of my favorite history books published in recent years, so I was excited to learn he'd written "The Hidden White House," and it did not disappoint. The once-dilapidated state of the White House and Harry Truman's renovation of the collapsing building usually merits just a few paragraphs in biographies of the 33rd president, but Klara provides a 262-page deep dive into the subject. In theory, a book about a renovation and construction project shouldn't command such fascination and attention, but Klara's writing makes it a page turner. As the White House renovation project gets farther behind schedule and increasingly over budget, you find yourself rooting for the men in charge (construction magnate John McShain, General Glen Edgerton, and others) to succeed. Government red tape, an impatient and temperamental president, and an uncooperative Congress eventually led them to cut corners that destroyed a large number of historical and architectural relics. If I have one criticism of the book, it's the lack of a final chapter that traces the post-renovation lives of the major characters. After reading the book, I did some of my own research. For example, White House Usher J.B. West, who was first hired in 1941 and played pivotal roles in Truman's renovation and Jackie Kennedy's restoration efforts, was forced to retire from his job during the Nixon administration when an investigation revealed that after-hours guests he brought into the White House had stolen some artifacts. The investigation also reportedly concluded that West, who was married with two children, was a closeted homosexual (a fact Klara mentions in passing), which was considered a security risk at the time and prompted his forced departure from the White House. West later wrote the book, "Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies," which is considered by historians to be among the best contemporary accounts of everyday life in the White House. Surely all of that information, along with post-renovation factoids on other key players in the book, would have helped put a neat, finishing bow on "The Hidden White House." Even with that omission, I found Klara's book to be a fascinating read and highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in White House or presidential history.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lora

    I think this book had lots of great stories and a ton of detailed architectural history. The first part held my attention and the second part got me scanning halfway through. It is well researched and the author's passion comes through, not just his research. But I did tired of hearing the minutiae of detail about committee meetings and scaffolding in which western corner of which room, etc. I read this because I was mildly curious and my husband pressed it on me. I also finished it and shared I think this book had lots of great stories and a ton of detailed architectural history. The first part held my attention and the second part got me scanning halfway through. It is well researched and the author's passion comes through, not just his research. But I did tired of hearing the minutiae of detail about committee meetings and scaffolding in which western corner of which room, etc. I read this because I was mildly curious and my husband pressed it on me. I also finished it and shared bits with the kids. It wasn't a really significant book for me, however.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Bowen

    4.5 should be the real rating. As you get closer to the end of the book, the author can get opinionated but he also throws in some light bits of humor in as well throughout the book. Most of the chapters are bite-size in terms of reading. Ever since I was young, I've been fascinated by the White House and it's history. This book is the most in-depth book that I've ever read in terms of not only the Truman renovation but also about the overall construction of the house as well.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lesley

    I first heard about this book when I saw a special about the White House on TV. The author was a contributor. I read all things history, so I gave it a whirl. Its well researched and interesting especially the behind the scenes politics regarding the WH renovation. It was disturbing to me to learn that the majority of the treasures, antiques and artifacts of the WH were not put back into the WH and basically discarded as trash and/or lost to history. Overall, it was a good read. I first heard about this book when I saw a special about the White House on TV. The author was a contributor. I read all things history, so I gave it a whirl. It’s well researched and interesting especially the behind the scenes politics regarding the WH renovation. It was disturbing to me to learn that the majority of the treasures, antiques and artifacts of the WH were not put back into the WH and basically discarded as trash and/or lost to history. Overall, it was a good read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Tim Lake

    Loved it. Had no idea the White House was in such bad shape following the Roosevelt administration. I chuckled when I read about President and Bess Truman's escapades in Blair House. The pictures from the official White House photographer allows you to see the restoration progress as Klara is describing it. If you enjoy Presidential history and the White House, this is a must read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Terri

    Interesting reading. I haven't yet figured out if Harry Truman was right in what he did, or should have planned better. Am still wondering how they got a bulldozer inside the gutted Whitehouse...(pictures included)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Elspeth

    This is a fascinating book about the White House renovations during Trumans administration. Im not a huge fan of nonfiction so it takes a lot for me to enjoy a nonfiction book. But this one passes my test. This is a fascinating book about the White House renovations during Truman’s administration. I’m not a huge fan of nonfiction so it takes a lot for me to enjoy a nonfiction book. But this one passes my test.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michael R. Nelson

    An entertaining, sometimes funny, sometimes frustrating look in part of White House and Presidential history that I knew practically nothing of. Recommended.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jay Walsh

    Interesting part of history but way too long with a lot of boring details. Only a history buff would enjoy this and even then to a very limited extent. I struggled to finish this book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bill Clarkin

    Very interesting look at the inside of the White House. Maybe a bit too much on the mechanics of the schedule but very interesting to learn

  22. 5 out of 5

    Marlys

    This book was fabulous, even though I don't read much non fiction. I enjoyed the way, Robert included personal stories of all the characters. Once I started this book, I did not want to put it down.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Heise

    Anyone who has read either Backstairs at the White House or Upstairs at the White House is aware that the Big White Jail, as Truman once called it, nearly fell down on Truman's head during his second term, and had to have extensive structural repairs. However, most people don't know how extensive those repairs were. Or how much danger the Trumans, and other denizens of the White House, were in before the building was closed for repairs. Nor, of course, do they know (though they can probably Anyone who has read either Backstairs at the White House or Upstairs at the White House is aware that the Big White Jail, as Truman once called it, nearly fell down on Truman's head during his second term, and had to have extensive structural repairs. However, most people don't know how extensive those repairs were. Or how much danger the Trumans, and other denizens of the White House, were in before the building was closed for repairs. Nor, of course, do they know (though they can probably suspect) how hideously boondoggled by politics, paperwork and personalities the reconstruction was. Mr. Klara, apparently the first one to shovel through the archival material about the project and cross-link it with the published reminiscences of White House staff-- remedies that in quick-reading prose. This would even make a good beach book, and a comfort to those undergoing the vicissitudes of either home or institutional renovation projects. Klara leans heavily on information about Truman's presidency-- like myself he is fond of Truman-- especially the reminiscences of Margaret Truman, as well as the memoirs of J.B. West (revealed here to have left the White House not out of distaste for the Nixons but because his secret homosexuality was discovered), Alonzo Fields, and Lillian Parks. But he also interviewed the children of some of those who worked on the renovation, such as MacShain and General Edgerton, waded through what must have been miles of petty paperwork, and viewed the photos of the renovation taken by Abbie Rowe, and the TV show in which Truman introduced the American People to the refurbished house. Klara definitely takes sides; despite what appears to be an admiration for Truman, he's critical of Truman's deadline-driving at the end of the renovation; Klara is also very much pro the head contractor, McShain-- who he feels got short shrift for doing a monumental job--, and General Edgerton, who supervised the project, and who Klara sympathizes with. However, starting out sympathetic with Lorenzo Winslow, the White House Architect, Klara eventually condemns him for wastes of time and money and original materials that ended up stinting the final result not only of money, time and supplies, but of tradition. Klara is also quite doubtful about the addition to the project of a bomb shelter, necessitated by the newly developing Cold War: in retrospect such a construction was a waste and it probably wouldn't really have been helpful if a bomb had been dropped. Klara's civilly-expressed scorn for the nipcheese ways of the Congresses of 1949, 1950, 1951 and even 1952 is matched only by his distaste for the maneuverings and dilatory progress of the "Commission on the Renovation of the Executive Mansion." On the other hand, not only does Klara introduce us to characters we would never have met, he casts new light on minor and major characters, including Truman's involvement in the project, and digs out much new information. (Who can forget the beleaguered bulldozer operator hired to help dig out the new foundations, who struggled to maneuver in the confined space and declared it was no place for a bulldozer. The staff of B. Altman's, who struggled to scrape together the decorating on the rag-end of the budget, Klara also portrays sympathetically-- despite the later scathing opinions of Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy, and successive White House curators. Though it may detract from one's fannish admiration for the building, Klara's story is one that any fan of White House life will read with enjoyment. Perhaps a little rushed at the end (Klara, too, may have alloted more time and material to the first half of his project!), but overall a good read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rebekah Scott

    Its one of those stories so utterly ridiculous, it cant be anything but true. It was early 1948. President Harry Truman, relaxing in a bath upstairs in the family residence of the White House, while downstairs his wife, Bess, was entertaining a group of ladies from the Daughters of the American Revolution. As she stood, fulfilling her duties as First Lady, shaking hands and greeting people, she became aware of a faint tinkling sound. The Blue Room chandelier, a massive display of crystal and It’s one of those stories so utterly ridiculous, it can’t be anything but true. It was early 1948. President Harry Truman, relaxing in a bath upstairs in the family residence of the White House, while downstairs his wife, Bess, was entertaining a group of ladies from the Daughters of the American Revolution. As she stood, fulfilling her duties as First Lady, shaking hands and greeting people, she became aware of a faint tinkling sound. The Blue Room chandelier, a massive display of crystal and bronze, more than five feet tall and three and a half feet wide, and weighing at least twelve hundred pounds, was quivering. Concerned, Mrs. Truman kept a wary eye on the fixture, and when the chandelier actually began swinging back and forth, she sent an usher upstairs to discover the source of the movement. But all he found was the President, enjoying his soak, completely unaware of the possibility that he might plummet through the floor into a room full of dignified ladies wearing nothing but a smile. When the Trumans first moved into the White House in 1945, they were surprised to find that it was not the stately mansion they had expected. The house had been neglected during the Roosevelt presidency. With his priorities being the Depression and then World War II, Roosevelt hadn’t paid much attention to the upkeep of the White House. And now, after decades of use by Presidents, First Ladies, visiting dignitaries and tourists, the house was showing its age. Despite being aware of the disrepair of the mansion, it wasn’t until the bathtub incident that the Trumans realized something was seriously wrong. The President commissioned a group to secretly conduct a survey of the condition of the house, and what they found was appalling for any home, let alone that of the Leader of the Free World. But despite the deteriorating conditions of the home, it took Margaret Truman’s piano leg actually falling through the floor above a broken beam in 1949 for anyone to take any real action in saving the historic structure. Over the next three years, the interior of the White House was dismantled, gutted and rebuilt completely. “The Hidden White House” recounts a fascinating and often appalling history of the renovation. Caught up in red tape, bureaucratic nonsense and budget woes, the reconstruction lagged in committees and political power plays. It seems inexcusable now that anyone would have begrudged the funds to restore such an important building in our country’s history, but Klara’s well researched account shines a light on just how close we came to losing the nation’s most famous residence.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dave Donahoe

    Read as a first reads selection I loved this book. I thought it was a great read that had just the right amount detail, background and "hey, I didn't know that" to make it a perfect history book. Klara has taken an event that many people probably don't know about, myself included, or may have never thought about and brought it to life. Do you really think that Barack Obama lives in the same house as John Adams? In 1948, the White House is falling down, quite literally, on the President and his Read as a first reads selection I loved this book. I thought it was a great read that had just the right amount detail, background and "hey, I didn't know that" to make it a perfect history book. Klara has taken an event that many people probably don't know about, myself included, or may have never thought about and brought it to life. Do you really think that Barack Obama lives in the same house as John Adams? In 1948, the White House is falling down, quite literally, on the President and his guests, and must be renovated. The house is inspected and the decision is made to completely gut the building, leaving only the four outer walls, and start over. Now comes the greater task of emptying the architectural symbol of the presidency without destroying its history and determining who will bear that responsibility. The book reads like fiction, is very well-paced and has well developed characters. These are not dry two dimensional figures of history, these are vibrant, interesting people trying to do the right thing and being stymied by the realities of their time. Klara examines everyone's role from the President to the overseeing committee to the subcontractors in the recreation of a modern, and safe, White House. By the end of the book, the White House itself has become a character. As it loses its physical, as well as spiritual, presence the concern becomes whether the house will maintain its personality, dignity and memories. Most everyone involved in the endeavor has the best intentions and wants to preserve the heritage of the house, but political infighting, the economy, Soviet nuclear armament and a war in Korea force a different outcome than the one intended. In fact, long delays mean that President Truman will spend less than one year in the White House after the 1948 election. Ultimately, not everyone was satisfied with the outcome. And, whether or not it is still "the" White House, for those generations born after the event it is the only White House they have known. This is a story that deserved to be told, and Klara told it exceptionally well.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lynne Perednia

    Harry Truman had more to worry about than carrying on FDR's work when the president died and the plainspoken man from Missouri became the nation's leader, winning the war and deciding whether to drop the atomic bomb. The White House was falling apart right around him, his family and visitors to the country's most famous residence. Although it's not true that the leg of Margaret Truman's piano went through the floor and the ceiling of the next level, it did break through the flooring. The house Harry Truman had more to worry about than carrying on FDR's work when the president died and the plainspoken man from Missouri became the nation's leader, winning the war and deciding whether to drop the atomic bomb. The White House was falling apart right around him, his family and visitors to the country's most famous residence. Although it's not true that the leg of Margaret Truman's piano went through the floor and the ceiling of the next level, it did break through the flooring. The house was literally falling apart around the Trumans. Over the years, various changes to the building had wreaked havoc with its stability. Chandeliers swinging above guests' heads and floors swaying beneath the passing feet of color guards prompted the Trumans to move out and Harry to battle Congress for funding. The entire interior was gutted and a new foundation dug for the brilliant facade the surrounds the structure. Plans for technological updates, renovations that both recreated what many would consider classical White House rooms in various time periods and the best in new decor were drawn and redrawn. And Harry Truman was in the middle of it all, even as the family adjusted to living in Blair House and security was hurriedly adjusted for less-than-satisfactory conditions. The entire process is chronicled in Robert Klara's The Hidden White House, written in a facile narrative style that is a hallmark of contemporary popular history. Klara also includes sources for his material in copious endnotes that provide more information while not distracting from the narrative pull of events. That the work was completed in a fashion anywhere near the original redesign plans is astounding. The sad state in which the interiors were left because of the Truman wish to get back to the White House before he left office and lack of funding after the actual construction was complete is noted, and it is not surprising that one of the first things Mamie Eisenhower did after Ike won the presidency was to redecorate. Some photographs were published in the advance reading copy; including even more would have helped bring the story of each stage of the work into better focus.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Brooks

    Easy and fun read. Covers the history of the rebuilding of the White house from 1949 through 1953. Really fascinating story of how close the white house was to falling and/or burning down. Why was it so bad? - Original house was well buit for the time - 1792 and 1818. 12 x 12 wooden beams, 12' wide foundations for outerwalls. Except for one critical item. The outerwalls had good foundations, but the interior walls did not and all of Washington DC is poor soil. So interior sank, while exterior Easy and fun read. Covers the history of the rebuilding of the White house from 1949 through 1953. Really fascinating story of how close the white house was to falling and/or burning down. Why was it so bad? - Original house was well buit for the time - 1792 and 1818. 12 x 12 wooden beams, 12' wide foundations for outerwalls. Except for one critical item. The outerwalls had good foundations, but the interior walls did not and all of Washington DC is poor soil. So interior sank, while exterior leans inward. - Rebuilt in 1817 after burned down by the British and re-used a lot of material - including burned beams. - Each new president changed layout and moved doors. And they wanted it done quickly. So, doors cut into load barring walls, ducts cut through support beams. In some cases 12 x 12 beams were cut down to 2 x4s. - New technology added weight - Gas lines for lighting, then multiple heating systems. None ever removed. - 1920s update by Coolidge basically suspended the third floor from roof as already seen house was deficient. - They find sawdust from previous work inches from uninsulated electrical wiring Tidbits: - Truman is in the bath tub one afternoon, while the Daughters of the American Revolution have a tea downstairs. The giant chandilear starts swaying on its own. - The large butler walks across the floor and finds the floor detaches partially from the supports and sways like a ship. - They have a piano fall through the floor. - They have a meeting on the condition of the house and they ask the director of buildings for DC, would he allow a house in this condition to be occupied. He says No. So, then why we would have the president of the US in a death trap? The best part is the pictures. They keep the outer walls, but completely gut the inside. So, there is a picture of the inside of the house with only the outerwalls and a steel frame. While a dump truck and bulldozer work inside - they are tiny. Gives an impression of the size of the building and the level of work done.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Fascinating book about the infamous reconstruction of the White House from 1949 to 1952, in which Harry S. Truman spent most of his 2nd term as President living at Blair House, a government residence generally used for visiting dignitaries. Occupants and employees of the White House had noticed for years that the building was making loud creaks and that the floors were sagging, the ceilings sported large cracks, and the house was obviously in some danger. It took another year or so to obtain the Fascinating book about the infamous reconstruction of the White House from 1949 to 1952, in which Harry S. Truman spent most of his 2nd term as President living at Blair House, a government residence generally used for visiting dignitaries. Occupants and employees of the White House had noticed for years that the building was making loud creaks and that the floors were sagging, the ceilings sported large cracks, and the house was obviously in some danger. It took another year or so to obtain the money from Congress for the repairs and after the 1948 election, the Trumans moved across the street to Blair House in early 1949, moving back into the Executive Mansion in late March 1952, so that the Trumans only got to enjoy the new surroundings for the last 10 months of his Presidency. After several alternatives were discussed with the building commission and Congress, it was decided to preserve the original outer walls and completely gut the inside of the several-story mansion, which was obviously quite an undertaking. Once the work began, it was shocking and sobering to find out how close the White House had been to imminent collapse; Truman joked that he could have fallen through the 2nd floor in his bathtub and dropped right into the midst of a Daughter of the American Revolution tea going on in one of the public rooms on the main floor, but it was a miracle that it did not collapse when thousands of guests were there at one time for large receptions. Truman visited the work site almost daily, although to the annoyance of the primary contractor. At last, it was completed. Since that time, the White House appears to have remained structurally sound, although it is certain that any remodeling from that point forward did not involve such blunders as cutting doorways through load-bearing walls, which had been going on for about a century. Really interesting reading if you enjoy White House history and/or are a fan of the Truman family. **#38 of 120 books pledged to read/review during 2016**

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    I was trilled to win this book through the Goodreads giveaway program. "The Hidden White House" managed to take a slightly boring topic, White House repairs, and turn it into an engaging read. This is clearly attributable to the strong writing and energy that author Robert Klara brought to the subject. After visiting Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago, I was prompted to learn more about our nation's most famous residence, and this book was perfect! The author discussed the interconnection between I was trilled to win this book through the Goodreads giveaway program. "The Hidden White House" managed to take a slightly boring topic, White House repairs, and turn it into an engaging read. This is clearly attributable to the strong writing and energy that author Robert Klara brought to the subject. After visiting Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago, I was prompted to learn more about our nation's most famous residence, and this book was perfect! The author discussed the interconnection between the repairs, the First family, the architects, important political figures and members of the White House staff, which all culminated into a political upheaval! When President Truman wanted to add a balcony to the exterior of the White House the public was outraged! He received nasty letters telling him to leave the structure alone. While in D.C., I learned that the White House was dilapidated and had been infested with rats when the Lincolns lived there. So I was surprised that so many decades later, vermin still infested the White House! Some of the other problems with the White House included, termites, water damage, fire damage (from the War of 1812), mold, and unsound architecture. Although Truman's balcony was met with resistance, it soon became necessary to commence serious repairs to the mansion's structure when a piano leg fell through the floor. These repairs would allow the only attempted assassination of a president in a home that was not the White House. This book also briefly focused on Truman's path to the White House, and his presidency. I don't know that Truman is a president I would have read about, but the information Klara selected to discuss about him in this book was very interesting. The book was very well researched, as evidenced from the numerous references and footnotes. This was an interesting read that I would recommend to history buffs. Read more of my reviews on my blog: http://fastpageturner.wordpress.com

  30. 5 out of 5

    Biblio Files (takingadayoff)

    I love these thin-sliced histories that focus on a very specific piece of the past. The Hidden White House details the remodeling of the White House in the early 1950s. To call it remodeling is a little misleading. The White House was in such poor repair that it really had to be rebuilt from the foundation up. Robert Klara describes the state of the White House that forced the president and his family to move out of the White House and into Blair House for three years while the planning and I love these thin-sliced histories that focus on a very specific piece of the past. The Hidden White House details the remodeling of the White House in the early 1950s. To call it remodeling is a little misleading. The White House was in such poor repair that it really had to be rebuilt from the foundation up. Robert Klara describes the state of the White House that forced the president and his family to move out of the White House and into Blair House for three years while the planning and rebuilding was going on. The floors buckled and the chandeliers swung threateningly over the heads of guests at State dinners, and finally the president ordered an inspection by engineers. They were flabbergasted at the condition of the walls, the supporting beams, the ground beneath the White House -- there was little keeping the building from collapsing at any minute. Surprisingly, this is one story about a remodeling fiasco that is not one big snooze. It's really quite fascinating -- you get to see Harry Truman taking his speed walks while his Secret Service detail try to catch up. There's the secret installation of a bomb shelter beneath the White House, and the assassination attempt on Truman's life that left one Secret Service agent dead and another wounded. There's Truman, as any homeowner concerned about the time and cost, daily surveying the progress and urging the workers on. And the numerous fights with Congress to wring the funds necessary to fix the White House. Finally, the proud resident gives a tour on live television of the completed home. Like Destiny of the Republic, which looked at the weeks that followed the shooting of President Garfield and the effort to save his life, and Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure, which tells of Harry and Bess driving from Missouri to New York a few months after he left office, The Hidden White House is a well-researched and anecdote-filled history of a little-known episode in 20th century history.

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