Stables and Conservatories: 1800-1901
Even in the earliest days of nationhood, it was recognized that the presidential mansion did not offer quite enough room for all the functions required of a head of state. Thomas Jefferson, the first full-term occupant of the White House, proposed one-story extensions to the east and west to connect the president's house with adjacent office buildings. President Jefferson's design concepts survive in part through the galleries that connect the Residence of the White House with the East and West Wings. The galleries were used for household functions and did not provide additional office space.
In the later 19th century, extensive conservatories were built on the west side of the White House and provided flowers and other plants to the White House. The president continued to live and work in the White House proper for the remainder of the century with his executive offices taking up much of the second floor, the same floor as the living quarters. Official and family needs, however, made this arrangement unsatisfactory. For example, in 1860 a state visit by Edward, Prince of Wales, distressed the Buchanan administration because of the lack of appropriate guest accommodations. Elaborate schemes were proposed to alleviate the crowded conditions under the Harrison, Cleveland, and McKinley administrations, but few changes were actually made until the beginning of the new century.
Executive Office Building: 1902-1934In 1902, Theodore Roosevelt began extensive renovations that included demolishing the conservatories and building a one-story office structure, connected to the Residence by a colonnaded gallery. In the original design, the "president's room" (his "office" remained in the Residence) was rectangular.
In 1909, William Howard Taft had the interior remodeled, creating the Oval Office for the first time, reminiscent of the three oval rooms in the Residence (the Diplomatic Reception Room on the ground floor, the Blue Room on the first floor, and the Yellow Oval Room in the family residence). This design also featured ground floor rooms with open courts on either side of the Oval Office similar to those on the north side of the residence.
Just a few weeks after the stock market crash in 1929, the West Wing was significantly damaged by an electrical fire on Christmas Eve. Herbert Hoover had the building remodeled and the roof replaced but did not make extensive changes.
Throughout this period, the West Wing gallery contained laundry and other facilities that supported the mansion. Clotheslines occupied the location of today's Oval Office.
West Wing: 1934-1968In 1933, when Franklin Roosevelt became President, he undertook the third major reorganization, under the eye of architect Eric Gugler. He built a second story and moved the Oval Office from the south to its present location in the southeast corner, adjacent to the Rose Garden. Roosevelt disliked the original central location because it lacked privacy. His new design allowed him to slip back and forth between the main White House and the West Wing without being in full view of the West Wing staff.
This design also featured expanded ground floor offices with a large central courtyard below grade to provide windows for the new offices. This space would later be covered and finished to provide a Mess Kitchen and Mess Hall. During this period, the term "West Wing" for the new executive office space came into common usage.
At the same time, the March of Dimes (the polio charity) funded a swimming pool so that FDR could exercise, given his disability. The swimming pool still exists, accessible through a trapdoor in the floor of the Brady Press Briefing Room.
Ongoing Enhancements: 1969-2006
The wing has not seen further exterior alterations except for a small porte cochere on the north side, constructed in 1969. In 1970, Richard Nixon had the swimming pool and gymnasium in the gallery into the present-day Press Briefing Room and Press Corps Offices to accommodate the growing number of reporters assigned to the White House and based in the West Wing.
Today, the West Wing is the center of activity at the White House, housing the president's top staff, including the White House chief of staff, press secretary, the president's assistants, the White House counsel, and their own staffs. In 2005, the Bush 2 administration announced that the gallery would be remodeled to improve the aging White House Press Corps facilities. And in 2006, they enlarged and renovated the Situation Room.