The tale of the refurbishment of “America’s most famous house.”
It may come as a shock to learn that while President Harry Truman was working on the strategic doctrine named for him, the White House was declared unlivable and he and his family had to move out. In a worthy follow-up to his debut, FDR's Funeral Train: A Bereaved Widow, a Soviet Spy and a Presidency in the Balance (2011), Klara uncovers the shocking story of how the White House—a potent symbol of the nation's power, identity and history—almost collapsed and was reconstructed during the Truman administration. The author combines his proven skills as a researcher with his knowledge of architecture acquired from his earlier career at Architecture and other publications. His account of the history of the White House and the transformations made to the structure at the request of its successive occupants becomes a lively case study of how a lack of knowledge can lead to disastrous results. The expansion of formal dining facilities desired by Edith Roosevelt destabilized the walls that supported the slate roof, and this led to the occasion when one of Margaret Truman's baby grand pianos plunged “through the parquetry, through the subfloor and punch[ed] through the plaster ceiling downstairs.” Structural weakness, dry root, and the destruction of old beams notched and sliced to carry lead pipe, gas pipe, hot water pipe, telegraph and telephone had taken their toll. Klara really shines as he relates the back and forth among the White House and Congress and the architects, federal building inspectors and building crews as they diagnosed the problems.
An enjoyable read and a useful guide for visitors to the nation's capital.