MAY 18, 1949
NEW YORK, Tuesday—While I was in Washington over the weekend I heard a good deal about the repairs to the White House. The President has asked the Congress to appoint a committee to supervise these repairs and it was to be composed of two members appointed by the House, two by the Senate and two by the President. The House appointed its members and the President has appointed his, but the Senate has as yet to name theirs.
I was horrified to hear that the two big brick pillars that hold up the roof, which was put on in President Coolidge's day, are in danger of collapsing. The cement is crumbling. This, indeed, would be a calamity and would add greatly to the expense. We hope that Congress will hasten to pass the needed appropriation and that the Senate will name its members of the committee to supervise these repairs.
I was troubled to hear also that some members of Congress are discussing the advisability of tearing down the old building and constructing something entirely new.
I feel very strongly that, as far as it is humanly possible, the outer shell should be preserved. The repairs certainly should be made but in such a way that the house should be reconstituted as nearly as possible as it has been since George Washington planned it. No new design or new house could possibly have the historic interest of this old one. The original plans were approved by George Washington and every one of our Presidents from John Adams has lived there. In spite of the fact that it was gutted by fire, when the City of Washington was burned during the war of 1812, the walls stood up well and the Executive Mansion was rebuilt.
One gets a feeling for the history of one's country as one sees where Andrew Jackson kept his cows; as one looks out of the same window that Abraham Lincoln looked out of during the Civil War when he watched the retreat from Bull Run. There is an atmosphere in that old house that could not be recaptured by any modern building.
Everyone who lives in it feels it.
The President told me that he had the woodwork, fireplaces, mirrors and chandeliers all carefully stored away and he had even had plaster casts made of the ceilings since they are among the greatest beauties of the house. There is a dignity and a simplicity about the White House that many foreigners, coming here, comment upon and which give to many of our own people who visit it a sense of pride. It seems to express the spirit of American democracy.
We are a proud people, conscious of our greatness, and yet our traditions of simplicity are important to us. We want dignity but no false pomp and show. I think it invaluable to preserve traditions, whether they exist in buildings, in customs or in the things of the spirit. They are the heritage which years of history bring to a nation and they should not be lightly thrown away.