tv History Bookshelf Robert Klara The Hidden White House CSPAN November 3, 2018 4:00pm-5:11pm EDT
pop john paul ii. >> you had two leaders, one in the secular world, one in the religious world, with parallel trillions so when those parallel interests were obvious, as what happened in poland there, when they were under attack, if you will, threaten it was logical then for ronald reagan, particularly with his ylts about american history tv airs every weekend on c-span3. klara talksert about the history of the white house, harry truman and renovations met were made. this involved the gutting of the entire interior and the addition of a steel frame and underground shelter.
this was recorded at the new york city bar association in 2014. it is about one hour and 10 minutes. robert: thank you very much. thank you for inviting me. thank you all for turning out. it is nice to be here. this is something that has taken up the last three years of my life. in researching and writing this book -- and encompasses a time. of eight years. it is of no small challenge how to you.nt this and figured out that if i did this thoroughly, i would have to cover one day per second for an eight your story. if i did that, i would already be terribly behind.
i thought what i would do addressed to central questions i am often asked about this book. the first is how is it that the most important house in the united states of america was able to deteriorate to the point where it almost killed our president by collapsing? how did we get the white house that we have today? , when yout know this look at the house, you are seeing a federal era house that fortunate enough to be inside, as soon as you step inside, you are not in a historical building anymore. that was built in 1950. that is quite a bit of engineering. off, every good
story needs a villain. a 1902 factory photograph of a chandelier built by caldwell company -- caldwell and company. they called this the pendelique. they never weighted it. it was 3.5 feet across and six feet tall. it probably wait around 1000 pounds. 1948,inter afternoon in it was hanging in the blue room of the white house. imagine when hundred women in this room. -- 100 women in this room.
was standing right below this chandelier making small talk. ,mid all the pleasant chatter she hears a tinkling sound. she looks up and she sees the chandelier start to sweat. at first she ignores it but the sound gets louder and she cannot. is looks up again and it truly moving. she asks an usher to go find out what is going on. goes up the stairs to the oval study. that is the room above this one. he finds nothing amiss except one thing. and the adjoining room, harry s adjoiningn the
room, harry s truman was bathing. i don't think he was a vigorous enough to it was get the chandelier shaking. the daughters of the revolution are sent away. came upstairs and said i was afraid that chandelier would come down on all of those people. president truman burst out laughing. he thought that would be fantastic. he thought it would be wonderful if the bathtub slipped through the floor with nothing in it but him wearing his reading glasses. he thought it would be funny to descend in the tub among the ladies. but truman was a practical man. after he stopped laughing, he told engineers to take a look around.
that is how my book starts and that is how i just started. i will move faster now. suspicions about the white house integrity almost since he moved in. he would work in his oval study late at night and he was troubled by the sounds he kept hearing. they were creaking noises and curtains would sway on their own even though the windows were closed. at one point in june of 45 he wrote i sit here in this hold house he wrote to his wife that the floors pop and the drapes move back and forth. this was the hallway. i have looked. if you see any ghosts, can you talk to me when i finish? heard so manyman
sounds coming from this hallway that he thought ghosts might be the reason. at one point, the chandelier's shaking and trembling became of a good thing. that was possible. truman borrowed one of his dr. and heor's stethoscopes pressed it against the wall. he heard it creaking. this is a two-story house. it should not be doing that. he said the big fat brother -- butler brought me my breakfast and the floor was shaking like a ship at sea. we need a last rot. here it comes. as 1948 progressed, the problems
got worse. not only the daughters of the butican revolution tea, when the family was not home in , it fell through the floor. be clear that the entire piano did not fall through the floor. one of the legs fell through the floor. but that is enough. it tells you there is a problem with your house. it is a said -- this or about whether that fell through the floor. margaret wrote that if there was evidence that the white house was falling apart, it was when my piano fell through the floor. did this during all of
these spooky things going on. confidential letters to douglas orr and richard dougherty. an architect and an engineer. them to come to the white house and kick around and keep it a secret. they did. these gentlemen and more and more architects and engineers would visit the white house throughout 1947 and into 1948 and inspect the house. where did not get out to the public what they were finding. did not get out to the public what they were finding. until was not elected 1948 but the moment he was evacuated.they were
they were tremors. why would they evacuate the president of the united states? what did they find? these gentlemen had formed into an official body known as the commission on the renovation of the executive mansion. when i say commission, i am referring to these gentlemen. what did they find? when they chipped away the plastic covering the interior and laws, they found cracks. not in the plaster, in the bricks. some of them were two stories tall. it was obvious what was happening to the engineers. the interior brick walls were pulling away from the outer stone walls of the white house. they photo is far that they left -- they enough
big enougheft holes that you could figure arm through. fit your arm through. the ceiling of the east room six six inches -- dropped inches in about an hour. carpenters would rush in and build scaffolding. soon, it was all over the house. they were desperate to keep the place standing. the wonder of all of this is how truman's up with the scaffolding and the public did not know about it. they found cracks in the beams of the floors. these were 130-year-old beams that were dried out and rotten. they were cracks. not little cracks. if you look at this shackle and that shackle, you might be able to make out one of the cracks.
maybe you can see it now. this is the actual beam. truman had this cut out and set aside. he didn't think that people bad this had how gotten. the engineers found this and things that were inexplicable. knotches cut into the beam. there was only two inches of wood left supporting tons of weight. it is a wonder the house did not fall in at all. was safely49, truman reelected. they were able to make the announcement that a complete rebuild was what was needed to send the house. we have a president that has been hastily moved across the
street to the blair house. that is him on the front steps. we have one of the most significant architectural a compass miss in the united states heritage about to collapse. you're thinking what everybody else is thinking in that moment. who is to blame? since we are what -- talking about washington dc. i thought we would blame some people. i will start with names you probably already know. we will start by blaming presidents jackson, polk, pierce, johhnson, hays, arthur, harrison and taft. why? these gentlemen brought in what they called at the time -- improvements to the house. advanced andience something came along to make domestic living easier, the
president had to have it. it started with jackson who brought in water pipes and hollowed out logs. polk brought in gas light, pierce piped in hot water, johnson brought in the telegraph, hays, the telephone, arthur, an elevator, harrison, dc electricity and taft, a one ton bath tub. that was the weight without mr. taft. this seems reasonable. there was a problem. every time they brought in a system like this, they had to drill a hole through a beam or a wall stud. they were told to hurry up. you are inconveniencing the president, hurry up. they would hacked their way through and cover it all back up. that is what constituted the damage in those beams. the other problem is that these additions were very heavy.
a lot of them were cast iron. in a house that would be built in a lot ofing steel pipe would not be a problem. it was a problem in the white house. i want to explain why. distinct house had a system for distributing its weight loads. the outer walls of the house are in black. thick.ere four feet they were stoned. the foundations went five feet below the ground and they caps off with sprint footings. it is a pure middle -- pyramidal foot. the interior walls where the problem. they are red. those were numeral walls of brick. -- those were walls of brick. they had no foundation at all. i don't think you need an
engineering degree to know that is a problem. people asked me, seriously? seriously. the engineers were slow to discover. a lot of stuff for the white house was thrown away or lost in a fire. i found this photo from 1902. this is the installation of a new boiler for teddy roosevelt in 1902. it is not easy to see. if you can narrow in on this, it is rather instructive. on the groundk floor level of the white house. that would be of brick that would help to support all of the house about it. what you see broken up is the bottom of the house. what you see here is what they excavated. for note of the man there scale. look at this, that is rubble
work. it is a crude foundation. they found stones that they dug and threw them down there with a little bit of mortar. maybe not. they don't the brick on top of them. so.ave about three feet or you may think that three feet of stone is not a bad foundation. maybe not but consider that on on this p - here -- ier and every other one in the -- the whitee 20 house was pressing down at 20 tons per foot. the white house would expand. that was another problem. back to the blame game. his into the real culprit, james ? -- james hoban?
he designed the building. he designed a country gentleman's house. it was perfectly suitable at the time. it was not suitable for 1950. the white house was designed as a comfortable late 18th-century home but it has become the nerve center of the world. this damage.e with i am adding edith roosevelt on the left who decided that she needed the bigger dining room. 107.ad 60 feet, she wanted the only way to give that to her was to take this wall and the staircase and rip it out. that is what the builder of penn station has to do. what do they do to replace the law? he put a hanging truss.
he was hanging support from above. it was perfectly fine on self destroyedellen wilson by modifying the third floor and adding bathtubs and living quarters and more tons of piping and iron. calvin coolidge rebuilds the roof but he did it out of cement. when this was done, the two upper floors had risen to 180 tons. i have to blame harry truman for .dding a balcony even though he was aware that the house was in trouble. it was made of steel beams and concrete. it weighted --
weighed another 62 tons. that is why we are seeing cracking walls and sinking. this is the commission. these men were trusted with solving a big problem. what on earth were they going to do about this house? not only do they have to decide what to do about the house but they had to face off with those who said if the white house is in this bad of shape, maybe we should rip it down. you may think who would say this? this man. this is congressman clarence cannon. he believed that $5.4 million, that was the price tag for the renovation work was too high. he argued to harry truman in a letter that the people want a new building.
if you think that is a fringe opinion, consider that congressman clarence cannon got the washington post editorial page to agree with him. the commission always favored the plan that has been drawn up by lorenzo winslow. he was the white house architect. keptired him and truman him on. the commission voted to preserve the house. i want to explain what preserve means. back then it meant something .ery different what they were able to save was the facade of the house. the outside wall, those are the original footings five feet down. they determined they would have to bring them down 22 feet to four they hit a solid layer of gravel that the white house could sit on. they had to build these walls and by excavating columns
pouring cement into them. then they had to dig out all of the earth inside and inside the house they would erect a steel skeleton. not like -- unlike what you would see in a steel skyscraper. that is a big job. white house furniture was sent over to the national gallery. this is the white house furniture and storage at the national gallery. if you don't think it looks like it, this was an unfinished gallery that security guards converted into a basketball court. most of mention that this furniture was not worth very much. presidents routinely decorated and redecorated. we are not looking at chippendale's. author -- chester arthur brought in a lot. when shelidge lamented
became first lady that she looked around for original furniture and she could only find one single chair that belonged to abraham lincoln. there was not much to save. they moved it to the national gallery. this is the state dining room. this is before the renovation began. imagine it without furniture and the lincoln portrait and the ?ighting picture -- fixture is there anything that looks like it is worth preserving? eddie all that nice carved oak penalty -- maybe all of that ?ice carved oak paneling the commission did not care about those things. they were ready to demolish all of this stuff. one mandate care and that was -- one mandate care about this and that was the renzo winslow.
--ne man did carea bout one man did care about this and winslow.lorenzo he thought that they could take all of these doors and paneling's and put them back. that was the plan. remember that, we are coming back to that. this was opened on october of 1949. mcshane.r. his hands are folded in front of him. let me give you a better picture of him. was known as the man who built washington. by this time he had already
built the bureau of grading and --rinting, this memorial and he was a man who not to get things done. most of the bids for the job on the white house job, it was a fixed fee contract. fee.s bidding on his what would be his profit? most contractors put in a bid of three quarters of a million dollars. he bid $100,000. it was impossible for him to make a profit on it did that love -- bid that low. he did not care. says that there was no way that daddy was not going to get that job. john mcshane and his men only
have 160 days. a raised a steel skeleton and doug at foundation. here is a second-floor corridor. dug the foundation and raised a steel skeleton. here is the second floor corridor. this is what they did to the blue room. this is what they did to the east from. they were good. mauled the house down to the outer walls. the white house looks like this. five months into the job, the house looked like this. cousin,rote to his ethel. this is the summer of 1950.
he said the old building is nothing but a shell. there isn't one thing in it from the seller up -- the cellar up. 1.3 millionuse had feet. nobody counted the beams and the wall studs. somebody estimated there were one million bricks that came out of this. where did it all go? what happened to it? the common debris, the brakes and the nails wound up in a steel warehouse. it was chopped up and fed into one of the strangest government programs in history. there are a lot of those in history. this was the official white house souvenir program. you could write in and they would send you a catalog.
you could choose whatever souvenir you wanted. if you wanted a brick, it was a dollar. if you wanted book ends, they were made of the actual stone from the house, that was only two dollars. if you are willing to pay the shipping, they would send you enough white house stone to build a fireplace. did this.e many of the souvenirs are floating around. on the left is the paperweight, that went for $.50. they give you a piece of the foundation and the white stone. .lso, authentication plate ,ere is one of the book ends that was only two dollars. what about the rest? vernon,it went to mount to washington's home. camp david received plumbing and
radiators. up inf the stone wound georgetown. they had so much still left over that some of it was left on the ground. they figured they may need it later. i got permission to show you this photo in exchange for you wherenot to tell it is located. there are three jobs in process in 1950. the demolition is finishing up and they are bringing the foundation down 22 feet. they are trying to have ground level. you can see where the stone gives way to smooth cement. you can see the bulldozer there. they had to scoop out all of that earth.
270,000 cubic feet of earth had to be taken out. finally, since the decision was made to keep the third floor of the house, they had to build these temporary columns to hold the roof up. they brought in these lateral support beams that kept the white house historic walls -- white house's historic walls from caving in. > look a the thickness of the steel beam. -- look ating into a the thickness of this steel beam. what on earth were they thinking? this is goingaid to be the last time the white house was ever going to be rebuilt. he was right. onre are other things going
on the global stage that led to these decisions. two events on the global stage that were important. of 1949, the soviets exploded their first atomic bomb . many years before we thought they would. we did not know the manhattan project had a mole in it. "joeall this -- called this 1." it was a cute name but nobody was laughing. hiroshima was 15 kilotons, this one was 22. the soviets were better at bombs than we were. the north koreans invaded south korea and they did it using soviet tanks. it made it clear to truman that the soviets were willing to engage by proxy. his security men took a second
sub-basement two levels of the house. foras only going to be used storage. this memo shows up. here are two euphemisms. one of them is that -- this is from admiral dennis and. -- admiral denison. that they were going to great protective measures and protective characteristics. what does that mean? exactly what you think, a bomb shelter. this gets tricky. abomb shelter is still sensitive installation and we don't know much about it. we should not. what we know is historical. we know that in august of 1950,
he was designing a shelter under the east terrace. this connected the mansion to the east wing. this happened to be the location .f a bomb shelter it is a logical extension to believe they appropriated that and expanded that. one thing is clear, they are building something here. sitting -- if truman was sitting in the west wing and the bomb was in the east wing, what do they do often marked -- what do they do? they built a tunnel. it would permit him from getting from one him to get wing of the house to the other. that concrete is two feet thick.
before i move on, i want to make something clear. the bomb shelter was obsolete almost from the time it was built. tested as the soviets hydrogen bomb in 1953, moving from the kiloton to the megaton range, the idea of a president sheltering in place was preposterous. the bombs were too powerful. the funny thing was that truman never had any intention to use the shelter. he said so. he said you have to go ahead with all of these planning and arrangements. i want to tell you, if a develops, i am not leaving the white house. i am staying right here. there was a false alarm and truman stayed upstairs. he believed that if americans did not have a shelter, he should not have one. i submit that we don't have
president of that ilk anymore. upstairs, since mid-1950, this job started running seriously behind. i mentioned the korean war. why is that a problem? it showed off a supply of labor and increased the cost of materials. that is going to be important in 20 seconds or so. by early 1951, the interior masonry is going up. this is the plan for the new interiors. this is complicated. this is the main floor. the layout of the walls was considered sacrosanct. they wanted to make it so that once you step into the white house, if you are thomas jefferson, it would look familiar to you. he did not want to move things around too much. upstairs freer hand
and downstairs. he moved walls around a little bit to get all the bedrooms their own bathrooms. you get the white house's closets. i can appreciate that. i don't have any. for the first time in a long time, the house looked like a house again. fourierthe four-year -- in 1951. i want to start with money. had $5.4 million to work with that they were given a little bit more money. we will stay with that figure. andof this cost 1.2 billion after that was done, they had to pay an avalanche of those. insurance,levators, drafts, all of that. then came the electrical and
mechanical systems. that was another $1.3 million. to finish theime interior of the house so it looked like an executive's house, these bills were very problematic. marble and stone for 247,000. 5000,r, georges hundred plaster,would be -- 405,000 dollars. this was charles. he was the director. they are done on 34th street. they said that we will do the decorating for free. all of the labor is free.
all we will charge you for is the cost of materials. that is a pretty good deal. they saw a marketing tie-in pretty well back then as well. charles thought you would begin in a generous budget for the decorating. a cold water check. he was told we have $210,000 left. that was for everything, furniture, rugs, draperies, everything. youre said i can spend $210,000 the best it can be spent and we will not make a penny. it was not enough. it was not. want to do tow how it looked in the 1800s. -- wanted the house restored to how it looked in the 19 -- the
1800's. the truth is that most of this furniture were colonial reproduction pieces. this is what you would find in a traveling salesman's hotel. i don't think you have to be an expert in the federal. to realize that is not something thomas jefferson would have done in his own hand. although some of the pieces were nice. the mental peace was nice. mr. truman -- ellen said that mr. truman show me around the house and it looked like a sheraton hotel. itqueline kennedy said that was early. and put back,ored leaving the state floor looking respectable. they had chippendale's and they did their best.
overall, the interior decoration was disappointing. redecoratedennedy in 1953. that is a different story. last portion. harry truman wanted to live in the restored white house for a year. of 1951, her realized that was not terribly likely. he said to jb west, i have been on the curry comb contractors to speed up reconstruction. he leaned on them and said hurry it up. you would expect a president to say that. unfortunately, that pressure instrumentally what exact a serious toll. i mentioned all of those interior furnishings. how winslow doors,
moved them all to this warehouse. the woodworkers discovered that wasng reproduction pieces faster and cheaper. a lot of the historic pieces would be marooned in this warehouse and not be put back in the white house. some of the interiors were put back. this is the state dining room. they got the original paneling back. the same thing happened with the red, green and blue friends. that was only four runs out of 48. -- four rooms out of 48 that had been dismantled. it was given away and in some cases, thrown away. this is the state penitentiary in virginia.
it is now closed. they received the ornamental ventilation grills. three crates of doorframes, window trim and 22 crates of hard wood paneled doors. -- prisoners had nicely nicer looking rooms than the president did. it gets worse. much of what was left over was buried in the fort myers military base across the potomac. you can visit. i don't recommend that you should visit with a shovel. to tryguy said not digging. everything is under the topsoil. if you take a walk and you stand between the child development center and the softball field, you will be standing where much of the white house was buried. it mingled with the debris of the pentagon and they covered it up. i don't want to end on a downer.
the fact is that despite the reproduction furniture, the house was saved. much of the work that was done was truly first-rate. caldwell and co. were still in business and reinstalled their chandeliers. in 1952.turned his private feelings were mixed but in his diary he said he could have done it faster and for less money. but he was also the consummate politician. ays public persona was "y renovation." he was the first president who could give a televised tour.
he did it before jackie did it. he took americans on a tour of the white house that they paid to restore with their tax dollars. this is him talking to frank coulter of cbs. they wandered into the blue room. i thought that was fitting because that is where the trouble started. what he is looking up at is the chandelier. that is where a lot of this trouble started. home a pity that people at could not see how beautiful the blue room was on their black and white television. it looked like this. you might also notice that they swapped out the chandelier. i doubt that was an accident. the one they put in was a lot smaller and lighter.
i want to leave you with a closing thought. million in 1949 -- assuming we believe the currency convertor on google converts to todayle over $31 million -- $51 million today. of a cargo cost plane for our government. history of government spending in this country, we actually got a pretty good deal. i got a good deal because you guys have been extremely patient with me. i want to thank you all for coming. if you have to go, find but thank you all for coming. but thank you all for coming. i think we have a roving microphone guy.
am i on? you mentioned that truman wanted to keep it secret. why was that? robert: he had a very good reason. the question is why did he keep the disastrous results uncovered by the architects secret from the public? he was running for reelection at the time that these terrible problems were coming to light. if the publichat found out the state that the white house was in, they would blame it on harry truman. it is important to understand the context. harry truman, his own mother in law still referred to him as a dirt farmer. he was from missouri.
establishment turn their noses up at him. so did many people in the country. that if theer wrote public had found out about the condition the white house was in, it would have become a metaphor for the truman administration itself, rotten to the core. so they all caps the secret. in wonder of this is that some ways you could say they kept the secret at their own physical expense, at their own peril. there were so many scaffolding erected inside the house at that time, the place was in such dire , the family should have been moved out sooner. the fact that it was concealed from the public was a political decision. anyone else? happened to that
chandelier? robert: i have been looking for it to pop up on ebay. i vote to the white house curator and asked him -- wrote to the white house curator and asked him. i want to thank him for his patients. the chandelier was never put back in the house. they circulate them as needed. every time you have a new first family, they decorate as they wish. it is like a museum. the chandelier was put into storage and never brought back out. it was kept inat fine shape and it still has its crystals but it was never rehome -- re-hung.
this would be the time to put it back. given the thickness of those beams that you saw, they could put more than one up there now. that chandelier was from the 1902 renovation. it was significant. had acorator at the time neoclassical ecstatic -- aesthetic. that agreed with winslow. also has a strong affinity for neoclassicism. to amight have translated column. that chandelier was way over the top. that as aad found quote. somebody saying that it was way over the top. that is what they thought, it was too much. >> in your research, did you
to ask for permission to accesss the -- access the white house? if you want to go to the white house, you can write to your congressperson. i could not arrange a time that was reasonable and convenient because i have a job. some ways, itt in was not that important for me to go. my parents took me when i was little. you to the old ground floor and then they take you to the state floor. the two most interesting spaces in any house are the basement and the attic.
that is where they were not going to take me. they were not going to take me down to the shelter. i thought that maybe i don't need to. finally, it is important to remember that with every first tend to leave the state floor's alone -- state floors alone. i was afraid of seeing the way the house would have looked like as the obamas had done it and having that as a mental picture. i really needed to discipline myself and not go past 1950. it was important for me to not see the white house in some ways. anyone else? >> how was the support in congress for the funding? standards,today's
bipartisan. to get the difficult funding out of congress. that is the short answer. congress first funded the inspections atf $50,000. this was a congress that did not like harry truman for a variety of reasons. they were not from it to him. they were not eager to fork over the money. they did for over the money for the initial inspection. they testified on what they had found. name.et the gentleman's he testified that the white house is staying up through force of habit alone. he scared the hell out of them and scared the funding out of them. it was that simple
today. they were antagonistic about it. ofre were instances congressman who toured the house. them and said look at the cracks, look at the walls. even then, there were congressman that did not want to spend a dime on this house. that gives pause. i think fdr treated the knowledge of the white house the way that he treated the knowledge of his own health. it was that he did not want to know. i found a report that had come to fdr that want him that the house was a fire trap. he did nothing about it. because --ware of it i threw this in the book.
when the trumans were at the eleanor wasand packing up and moving out, fdr had died a week earlier. eleanor went across the street to pay a visit to bess and margaret truman. just to say have a good time over there. by the way, the place is infested with rats, just figured i would tell you. she did not mean that metaphorically, there is a history of rats. go all the way back to the harrison administration and there were reports of theodore roosevelt in the family dining room with his sons having dinner and they would have to put their forks and knives down to chase
rats out of the room. the problems with the house were understood. the other answer to your question is that fdr loved old houses. truman did too. what houses that create, it is probable that they thought it was not a big deal. you go up the stairs and it creaks a little. theydid note to a degree, did not know it was this bad. -- they did know to a degree, they did not know it was this bad. hated thenne kennedy decoration. she said the eisenhower's made -- jacqueline kennedy hated the decoration, she said
the eisenhower's made it worse. they were worse than the trumans. you see andlly what the i saw at this time, newspaper will run a story that the first lady is redecorating. what that means is they hire a decorator who comes in with drawings and swatches and says pick what you would like. tried -- try to and the first lady gets the credit. that happened with best truman. --bess truman. gerrish floral curtains. i saw picture of the curtains in the white house, they were the
same flowers. obviously, that was her touch. they are given a considerable degree of latitude but the important thing -- to give miss , she came from an upper middle class background. a merchant class background. mrs. eisenhower was a military wife. men would not have come off park avenue. they brought their tastes with them. jacqueline kennedy was fancy. she did something, it baffled me why the commission did not do this. they had almost no money for decorating. wealthy and cultured people were writing it and saying we will
give you things. would you like this secretary? this chesterfield? the answer was no. they said they did not want things accumulating. they made the second floor look like the park hyatt and they could have done better. was what mrs. kennedy did. she deployed the private sector to give gifts that were tax-deductible to the white house and imbue them with this wonderful sense of patriotism house with this big things that belonged to them. they were able to bring back pieces that were there before. her.ll ought -- owe alot to , we we owe to the trumans
owe it to them that the place did not fall down. the decorating, not so much. >> how serious was the idea that they should knockdown the white house and on another -- how serious was the idea that they should knock it down and build another? robert: on paper? entirely serious. i found a transcript that showed that they tossed the idea of moving the white house out to the suburbs. have't know if that would been a split-level ranch house or something. i hope not. said theye note that wanted to build a magnificent marble palace in maryland. the key question is this, there was clarence cannon that wanted
the house demolished. there were but there were not too many people who wanted the house simply razed. there were some. was a involve his own good argument. he made the case, hey, look, the fall down andt to some politicians said, for heaven's sake, don't let it fall knock it down. but the real question wasn't so much whether they should absolutely raze the place, as it was, whether they should keep haveouse as a museum and the president live elsewhere or whether they should go for the fix. and ultimately when the onlyssion voted, there was one member that voted not to go the renovation plan. and i tried to deal with this in the book. foregonend of a conclusion, because truman, remember, also had an enormous amount of weight that he carried with the commission. there were six people on it but
of consultantst and he had a hand in everything. influence. heavy and he wanted the place renovated. and so more than likely it would been, in any case. but what i found really disturbing was notwithstanding the fact that the probability they would rip the place down, i was disturbed by the fact that it was even a consideration. but i think it's important to was 1948.hat this we lost penn station in this 1963.n totook us a really long time learn that we needed to take had.of what we and, of course, to this day, iere's question about, well, get asked this -- could they have done this in a way that more sensitive to the historical integrity of what was in the house?
and those are very difficult questions to answer. the british it burned the house and as i write in the book, some of the burned timber was back in when they rebuilt it. heat from the fire had weakened badly that the bureau of standards determined they had only about 40% of their left, i believe that was the figure. so they couldn't really leave they walls in place and certainly couldn't leave those floors in place. and so this is the slippery of restoration. you know, as aida louise huxtable has written far more eloquently than i can put it. really restore anything. you replace it. you know, when they say, well, this wallpaper is of the period. well, it is of the period. it's new wallpaper, but what are you going to do? you can't have the president ruin for the sake of keeping it. it's one thing to keep the
ruin but nobody lives there. so these were very difficult questions that they were with and they were doing it at a time when the understanding what have meant was in its embryonic phase. preservation meant keep the outside of the building and you're good. today, if you're familiar with our landmarking process here in new york, you know that some are only landmarked on the outside. and some have interior landmarking and some buildings have maybe only the lobby is landmarked. say, the osborne apartments on 57th street. that amazing moz ache lobby is is the the landmark as exterior but if you're unfortunate enough to have an landmark'shere, isn't going to tell you you kitchen sink.your of course you can. restoration begin and
replacement begin? these are tricky questions. blair houseiving at and i was cranky. whojohn mcshane's daughter, became a catholic nun, she told me, truman was hard on daddy. man.s a difficult and if the president's pounding his fist saying, finish my you're going to finish the house. sir? taking a project like this? robert: i'm crazy. i committed was funeral train book and because the roosevelt administration or what remained overlapped with the truman administration, i had an had tonity to start -- i do some truman research, right? boarde truman was on
f.d.r.'s funeral train so i had to familiarize myself with him remember exactly where i saw it -- if it was a library or a book. kind of blurry to me now. coming across a photo of the inside of the just thosee with beams and that bulldozer driving i didn't giveand it much thought. i first thought it was a parking garage or a warehouse or something and then i went back and i read the caption and it said white house, 1950 and i thought, what? you know, i hadn't heard about and i'm fairly well read on historical topics, at least i startednes and little trial balloon conversations and found out nobody else knew about this figured somebody must have written a book about this but nobody had, so i did it. >> how did your view of truman
change from the start of your work to the end? my view of did truman change? it's funny. i developed a deeper understanding of him and the thing was, is that even as i -- even as i learned about of his strong-arm tactics, ime things about him that didn't necessarily like very much on a personal level, i respectingme away the man more. and i'll tell you why. because this man was not only not groomed for the presidency at all. with f.d.r. something like, i don't know, six or eight times, and these were just informal meetings. f.d.r. shared nothing with truman. a runningtured him as mate because he was a consensus candidate. ratified at the convention and f.d.r. figures truman's popular in the senate to ratify thee
peace treaty to end world war ii, truman will do it for what, harry, you're on the ticket. that was it. he didn't let truman into the ant on anything so you have man who basically had to crash-learn the most difficult office in the world in about two weeks, which he did. he'shen amid that, president at the birth of the cold war, at the collapse of europe, you know, as the soviets started grabbing, you know, all andhe eastern states, taking them over, installing puppet governments and everything. that enormous pressure, this man, who was was,ly as old as f.d.r. put in 18-hour days, and went he got home, he still cared about what was going on with the white house. he was interested. the reports.see he was instrumental in picking paint colors for the -- they decided to paint the state this green.
it's like a moss green. they took the paint off. a huge, you know, process, with, you know, guys across back and forth pennsylvania avenue with paint samples and i was thinking what of guy has time for that, and truman had time for it, cared about it. so he might have been a little ham handed in terms of what we know, perhaps somebody from a slightly more -- i don't cultured background. truman was extraordinarily well read. have gotten perhaps a more refined house. but i don't know if we would have gotten a better one and structurally, i think he's the reason why we haven't had to really worry about the place since then. and we haven't. question?answer your >> if there are no further questions, we thank mr. klara. [applause] you.t: thank
>> thank you for coming and if like to be on the email a pad and pen at the back. thank you for coming. get home safe. [captions performed by national captioning institute] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2018] announcer: history bookshelf featured the country's best known american history writers about past decade talking their books. you can watch our weekly series every saturday at 4:00 p.m. on american history tv on c-span3. nine-week series, 1968, america in turmoil, is podcast. as a you can find it on our website, c-span.org/history. this is american history tv, c-span3.
announcer: next on american new books, authors of on world war ii reflect on military operations led by the and its lose to defeat germany and re-establish peace in europe. also remember u.s. army commanders that rose through the ranks during the war. the association of the united states army thosted 50-minute program. >> i anegize for not introducing cirillo. he started our book program when ausaal sullivan came to and he carried it off very successfully. joe craig is a great replacement but roger, thank you for years pa