On the 14th of March, 1792, the Commissioners of the City of Washington offered a premium, by advertisement in the public papers, for a plan for the President’s house, and another for a design for the Capitol, to be presented on the 15th July.
The plan for the President’s house, presented by Capt. James Hoban, was approved, and on the 13th October a procession was formed for laying the corner-stone of that building.
The President’s house was wholly constructed after the designs and under the direction of Capt. James Hoban, and the interior was rebuilt by him, after it had been destroyed by the enemy in 1814. It is situated at the westerly part of the city, at the intersection of Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and Vermont avenues, which radiate from this point as a centre.
It stands near the centre of a plat of ground of twenty acres, at an elevation of 44 feet above the usual high water of the river Potomac. The en-trance front faces north, upon an open square, and the garden front to the south, opens to an extensive and finely varied view of the Capitol and most improved part of the city, of the river and Potomac bridge, and of the opposite Virginia and Maryland shores. The building is 170 feet front and 86 deep, is built of white free stone, with Ionic pilasters, comprehending two lofty stories of rooms, crowned with a stone balustrade. The north front is ornamented with a lofty portico, of four Ionic columns in front, and projecting with three columns. The outer intercolumniation is for carriages to drive into, and place company under shelter; the middle space is the entrance for those visiters who come on foot; the steps from both lead to a broad plat form in front of the door of entrance. The garden front is varied by having a rusticated basement story under the Ionic ordonnance, and by a semi-circular projecting colonnade of six columns, with two flights of steps leading from the ground, to the level of the principal story.
In the interior, the north entrance opens immediately into a spacious hall of 40 by 50 feet, furnished simply, with plain stuccoed walls. Advancing through a screen of Ionic columns, apparently of white marble, but only of a well executed imitation, in composition: the door in the centre opens into the oval room, or saloon, of 40 by 30 feet the walls covered with plain crimson flock paper, with deep gilded borders. The marble chimney piece and tables, the crimson silk drapery of the window curtains and chairs, with the carpet of French manufacture, wove in one piece, with the arms of the United States in the centre, two large mirrors and a splendid cut glass chandelier, give the appearance of a rich and consistent style of decoration and finish. On each side of this room, and communicating therewith by large doors, is a square room of 30 by 22 feet. These three rooms form the suit of apartments in which company is usually received on parade occasions. To the west of these is the company dining room, 40 by 30, and on the North West corner is the family dining room. All these rooms are finished handsomely, but less richly than the oval room; the walls are covered with green, yellow, white and blue papers, sprinkled with gold stars and with gilt borders. The stairs, for family use, are in a cross entry at this end, with store rooms, china closets, &c., between the two dining rooms. On the east end of the house is the large banquetting room, extending the whole depth of the building, with windows to the north and south, and a large glass door to the east, leading to the terrace roof of the offices. This room is 80 by 40 feet wide, and 22 high; it is finished with handsome stucco cornice. It has lately been fitted up in a very neat manner. The paper is of fine lemon color, with a rich cloth border. Theme are four mantels of black marble with Italian black and gold fronts, and handsome grates; each mantel is surmounted with a mirror, the plates of which measure 100 by 58 inches, framed in a very beautiful style, and a pair of rich ten-light lamps, bronzed and gilt, with a row of drops around the fountain; and a pair of French cepina vases, richly gilt and painted, with glass shades and flowers. There are three handsome chandeliers of 18 lights each, of cut glass of remarkable brilliancy, in gilt mountings, with a number of gilt bracket lights of five candles each. The carpet, which contains nearly 500 yards, is of fine Brussels, of fawn, blue and yellow, with red border. Under each chandelier is placed a round table of rich workmanship of Italian black and gold slabs and each pier is filled with a table corresponding with the round tables, with splendid lamps on each of them. The curtains are of light blue moreen with yellow draperies, with a gilded eagle, holding up the drapery of each. On the cornices of the curtains in a line of stairs, and over the semi-circle of the door, be-sides large gilded and ornamented rays, are 24 gilded stars, emblematic of the States. The sofas and chairs are covered with blue damask satin. All the furniture corresponds in color and style. The principal stairs on the left of the entrance hall, are spacious and covered with Brussels carpeting. On ascending these, the visiter to the President is led into a spacious anti-room, to wait for introduction in regular succession with others, and may have considerable time to look from the south windows upon the beautiful prospect before him; when in course to be introduced, he ascends a few steps and finds himself in the East corner chamber, the President’s Cabinet Room, where every thing announces the augast simplicity of our government. The room is about 40 feet wide, and finished like those below. The centre is occupied by a large table, completely covered with books, papers, parchments, &c., and seems like a general repository of every thing that may be wanted for reference; while the President is seated at a smaller table near the fire place, covered with the papers which are the subject of his immediate attention; and which, by their number, admonish the visiter to occupy no more of his time, for objects of business or civility, than necessity requires. The other chambers are appropriated to family purposes.
Some persons, under every administration, have objected to the style of the President’s mansion, as bordering on unnecessary state arid parade but we are of a different opinion. It is the house provided by the people for the residence of the chief magistrate of their choice, and he is the tenant at certain seasons for four, or at most eight years: it hardly equals the seats of many of the nobility and wealthy commoners of England, and bears no comparison with the residences of the petty princes of Germany or the grand dukes of Italy : it exhibits no rich marbles, fine statues, nor costly paintings. It is what the mansion of the head of this Republic should be, large enough for public and family purposes, and should be finished and maintained in a style to gratify every wishful convenience and pleasure. The state of the grounds will not meet this description; they have an unfinished and neglected appearance; we hope they will not long remain so rude and uncultivated. Historical Sketches of the District of Columbia.