West Sitting Hall

George W Bush has coffee with future Chief Justice John Roberts in 2005 (White House - Eric Draper)

A View of the West Wing

The West Sitting Hall features an elegant half moon window (which has its twin in the East Sitting Hall) and access to the west rooms on the second floor, including the Master Bedroom, Private Dining Room, and Family Kitchen.

 

Frances Cleveland, circa 1888, in front of the Tiffany window (Library of Congress)

Before 1869, the West Sitting Hall was little more than a staircase landing. The presidents and first ladies would descend to the Cross Hall below on state occasions. President Ulysses Grant had the grand stair remodeled, allowing sitting space by the window.

Charles McKim removed the steps completely in 1902 and the defunct landing became a private sitting area. Eleanor Roosevelt, who screened the area off from the Central Hall, particularly enjoyed it. In the subsequent Truman renovation, architects enclosed the hall with solid partitions and created a living room. At that time, the kitchen elevator was extended to this floor, and the door opened into this room; the Kennedy renovation rerouted it into the little hall when the room to the north was converted into the Family Kitchen.

Avoiding the Family Dining Room on the first floor, the Eisenhowers dined on TV trays here, simultaneously watching two "porthole" television sets.

Adapted from America's First Families: Chapter 3, A Home Within a Symbol:

During the White House's first century, a large staircase was located in the west hall of the family quarters, right outside the presidential bedroom. It was an odd space: Fanny Hayes played with her dollhouse here; with Garfield's illness, it resembled a hospital waiting room; the McKinleys made it a dining area. The Benjamin Harrisons tried to create a homey feeling beneath the dramatic semicircular window at the end of the hall, incorporating items like a chair made of elk antlers here. Any sense of its being a private area, however, was broken by the protruding stairwell. Theodore Roosevelt's children took trays from the kitchen and slid down the stairs here.

By 1902 the stairs were gone and the hall became a gathering place for families at day's end. Nellie Taft worked with her secretary here during the day and played her piano in the evening. Her dark green burlap wallpaper was replaced with beige grass cloth by Ellen Wilson. Lou Hoover installed palm trees, ferns, wicker furniture, straw matting on the floor, and caged birds, giving it the feel of her California home. This is where she placed her desk, working in the center of this airy, dramatic space.

Under FDR, it was the center of frenetic activity. Beneath the window, on solid old furniture including red leather chairs and sofas from the presidential yacht, Eleanor Roosevelt held court, talking to political leaders and social reformers, along with visiting relatives or friends, scrambling eggs in her chafing dish on Sunday nights, or making café-au-lait while carrying on with debates and conversations.

The Eisenhowers put overstuffed chintz-covered chairs here, bowls of pink carnations scattered about. Silver-framed pictures of the Bouviers, Mrs. Kennedy's father's desk, a small bar and hi-fi set, and shelves bulging with family photo albums marked the Kennedy look. The Nixons had yellow walls with pieces of cobalt-colored furniture; the Reagans had peach walls with predominantly red furniture. All the entrances that open into the hall can be closed, giving it the feel of a squarish room.

More Images

The (Supreme Court Justice John) Roberts family visiting (and enjoying kaleidoscopes), circa 2005, looking east (White House)

President and Mrs. Bush with former President Valcav Havel of the Czech Republic
and his wife, Dagmar, circa 2005
(George W Bush Library)

The extended Bush family, including both Presidents Bush, on election night, 2004 (Corbis - Brooks Kraft)

The West Sitting Hall, circa 2001

The West Sitting Hall, circa 1999

Hillary Clinton with outgoing First Lady Barbara Bush (Bush Library)

The half-moon window in the emptied hall (HABS)

The West Sitting Hall in 1992, looking east (HABS)

The West Sitting Hall in 1992, looking west (HABS)

The West Sitting Hall around 1991 (White House Historical Association)

First Lady Barbara Bush entertains in the West Sitting Hall in 1989

The Reagans with former President Richard Nixon in 1988 (Reagan Library)

The Reagans entertain the Waleses in the West Sitting Hall in 1985 (NARA - Reagan Library)

Ronald Reagan catches a little TV before a state function in 1984 (Reagan Library)

The West Sitting Hall in 1981, looking east (Corbis)

The Reagan West Sitting Hall in 1981 (Architectural Digest)

Ronald Reagan eating lunch in the newly remodeled residence in 1981 (Reagan Library)

The Carters hold a dinner for the White House press corps in 1978 (NARA - Carter Library)

Caron Carter with Tip O'Neill (and President Carter) in 1977 (NARA - Carter Library)

The room in 1977 (White House Historical Association)

Betty Ford in the last days of her husband's administration in 1977 (Ford Library)

The Fords in the West Sitting Hall in 1976 with Barbara Walters (Ford Library)

Betty Ford looking at the West Wing in 1975 (NARA)

The Nixon family sitting for a portrait in 1971 (Ollie Atkins Collection - White House)

Pat Nixon in the southeast corner around 1971 (National Archives)

The Johnsons at Christmastime in 1965 (Johnson Library)

Him and Her in the West Sitting Hall in 1964 (Life)

Mrs. Johnson in 1964 (Life - Stan Wayman)

The Johnson West Sitting Hall, circa 1964 (White House Historical Association)

The Johnsons (in mourning black) moving into the White House in 1963; Mrs. Johnson carried the
portrait of Texas legislator and family friend Sam Rayburn personally so that it wouldn't be damaged (NARA - Johnson Library)

The Kennedy West Sitting Hall in 1963 (Kennedy Library)

The Kennedy West Sitting Hall in 1963 (Architectural Digest)

The Kennedy West Sitting Hall in 1962 (Kennedy Library - Robert Knudsen)

The Kennedy West Sitting Hall in 1961 (Kennedy Library - Robert Knudsen)

The Kennedy West Sitting Hall in 1961 (Kennedy Library - Robert Knudsen)

The Kennedy West Sitting Hall in 1961 (Kennedy Library - Robert Knudsen)

The West Sitting Hall around 1957; note the porthole television at right (Eisenhower Library)

The West Sitting Hall in 1952 (Truman Library)

The West Sitting Hall in 1952 (Truman Library)

The West Sitting Hall in 1948 (Truman Library - Misidentified as the East Sitting Hall)

The West Sitting Hall, circa 1937, looking west

The West Sitting Hall, circa 1934, looking southeast

The West Sitting Hall, circa 1930, looking west

Recreation of the room in the Hoover era, circa 1930 (Backstairs at the White House)

The West Sitting Hall, circa 1928

Recreation of the room in the Coolidge era, circa 1926 (Backstairs at the White House)

Recreation of the room in the Harding era, circa 1926 (Backstairs at the White House)

The wedding party, on the occasion of Jesse Wilson's wedding, 1913

Jesse Wilson as bride, 1913 (Wilson Library - Harris & Ewing)

The West Sitting Hall around 1911, looking east (Library of Congress - Harris & Ewing)

The West Sitting Hall around 1911, looking north (Library of Congress - Harris & Ewing)

The West Sitting Hall in 1902, probably just after the old grand stair was removed by the first Roosevelt renovation (Library of Congress - Barnett Clinedinst)

The West Sitting Hall in 1895, looking west (Library of Congress - Frances Benjamin Johnston)

The West Sitting Hall, circa 1893, looking east, with the old main stair on the right

The West Sitting Hall, circa 1890, with the original main stair on the left (Library of Congress)

Frances Cleveland, circa 1888, in front of the Tiffany window (Library of Congress)