Now here's something hard to believe: The White House, one of the most historically significant buildings in the world -- and the most valuable home in America -- once came close to being a teardown. When Harry Truman took office in 1945, the grand home of the POTUS was falling apart. It was 150 years old at the time, and its history of being beaten up (the British tried to burn it down in 1814, and the later installation of indoor plumbing and heating was a wreck) was taking a toll.
As The New York Times reported in November 1948, the entire mansion was closed and presidential holiday events canceled that year after it was discovered that the ceiling of the East Room was sagging six inches, among other problems. A survey of the home found that its plumbing was "makeshift and unsanitary," and the "appalling degree" of structural deterioration would soon make the White House uninhabitable. A Congressional committee in charge of the matter considered demolishing the home and building a new one from scratch. But Truman was able to push for a complete renovation instead.
"It perhaps would be more economical from a purely financial standpoint to raze the building and to rebuild completely," Truman testified to Congress in February 1949, according to National Journal. "In doing so, however, there would be destroyed a building of tremendous historical significance in the growth of the nation." That was enough to convince Congress to spring for a total rehab of the White House. From top to bottom, stem to stern, the entire interior of the home was replaced. Want to see what the White House looks like completely gutted? Click through the gallery below to see photos from the major renovation. (All photos and captions are from The U.S. National Archives.)
See the White House Completely Gutted
White House Gutted: See What It Looked Like Ripped Up From Head to Toe (PHOTOS)
Northeast view of the State Dining Room during the White House renovation. The carpenters are laying the quartered white oak floor in a herringbone design.
Northeast view of the State Dining Room during the White House renovation. Most of the paneling has been re-installed. The pilaster in the foreground is painted light green, which is to be applied to all of the paneling in the room.
To underscore the size of the massive new ventilation system being installed above the tunnel in the new White House basement, the photographer placed workmen inside the illuminated ductwork. All are unidentified.
Window openings provide bursts of light into the cavernous interior of the White House, supported only by a web of temporary steel supports. The exterior walls rest on new concrete underpinnings, which allow earth-moving equipment to dig a new basement.
Photograph taken in sitting room number 16 looking west into small bedroom number 17 at the northwest corner of the second floor of the White House. The studding between these rooms and the sub-flooring date from 1815-1818 when the White House was reconstructed after being burned by the British in 1814.
East wall of the State Dining Room with doorways into the Red Room. The design above, uncovered when the oak paneling was removed, dates from 1902. The old fireplace, bricked up since 1902,is also seen.
View above the northeast fireplace of the East Room of the White House, taken during the renovation. Some of the brickwork was cut out in installing the water pipes. The design above on the right dates from 1902.
Detail of the north wall of the Blue Room after the removal of the plaster from the walls. The jambs of the doorways to the Red Room (left) and Green Room (right) have also been removed. This is from a series of photographs of the renovation of the White House.
Southeast view of the Yellow Bathroom (B-13), into corridor and brick wall west of the stairway, which is one of the main support columns of the building. The wall has been weakened greatly by cutting into the bricks for the installation of the water pipes shown in the photograph. From a series of photographs of the renovation of the White House.
A view from the Servant's Dining Room to the bottom of an underpinning pit approximately 30 feet below. The concrete underpinning here will support a steel girder reaching to the roof of the White House. This is from a series of photographs of the renovation of the White House.
A bulldozer removing debris from the inside of the White House, during the renovation of the building. The bulldozer had to be taken apart and moved into the White House in pieces, as President Harry S. Truman would not allow a hole large enough to fit the bulldozer to be cut into the walls of the White House.
View showing timber construction of the White House, dating from the restoration of the White House following the destruction by British forces in August, 1814, of the north central corridor, second floor.