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White House Office Building Catches Fire
Blaze May Have Started in Utility Closet
By Allison Klein, Debbi Wilgoren and Michael Schmuhl
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 19, 2007; 3:11 PM
The historic Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House caught fire this morning, and D.C. firefighters broke windows and doused the second and third floors with water to extinguish the two-alarm blaze.
At an afternoon news conference, D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin said security concerns prevented them from saying exactly where or how the fire started.
But a source with knowledge of the fire said the flames began in a utility closet off Vice President Cheney’s ceremonial office on the second floor. The flames were confined to the closet, but a significant amount of smoke raced through the building, the source said.
Rubin said there was a "significant amount of damage" to a ceremonial office on the second floor.
Rubin and Fenty (D) said the building, which was evacuated about 9:40 a.m., may be reoccupied this afternoon. They called the firefighting a success because the flames were brought under control quickly and just one person was slightly injured.
Rubin said about 100 firefighters responded to the scene with about 60 pieces of equipment.
"In the District of Columbia, there are a lot of important buildings to protect and a lot of important people to protect," Fenty said. "The White House buildings are not immune from fire."
Fenty said he spoke to President Bush, who commended the fire department. "The president said firefighters did a great job," the mayor said.
Rubin said the building presented "additional challenges" when firefighters arrived because of its size, age and security concerns. He also said the fire alarm worked efficiently and alerted employees to the danger.
Rubin added that federal authorities will be taking over the fire investigation, which will be coordinated through the Secret Service.
The extent of water, fire and smoke damage to the ornate, late-19th-century building just west of the White House was not clear. Rubin said damage to archival material and other important documents or works is "being evaluated."
Fire department spokesman Alan Etter said there was "significant smoke, quite a bit," when the fire was reported.
The smoke rose from the second floor to fill the building, billowing so heavily at one point that gray gusts could be seen coming from both the east and west sides of the structure.
The Eisenhower Building, formerly known as the Old Executive Office Building, was built between 1871 and 1888 in the French Second Empire style. It is one of the best examples of that architectural style in the United States, according to the White House Web site. Supervising Architect of the Treasury Alfred Mullett designed the five-story structure, which has an exterior of granite, slate and cast iron.
The building originally included the State, War and Navy departments. Today it houses the majority of the White House staff, including aides to the vice president, the Office of Management and Budget and the National Security Council.
The building was evacuated when the blaze was reported. A White House spokesman said the White House itself was not evacuated, and business there continued as usual.
Police closed several blocks of 17th Street NW on the west side of the complex to accommodate fire trucks, ambulances and other emergency vehicles. Scores of administration employees who had rushed from the building — some without stopping to grab their coats –huddled on street corners to watch the action.
Katie Jackson, 26, said she was walking on the second floor of the building when she saw a slight haze of smoke, which quickly thickened. Jackson said the smoke appeared to be concentrated in or near Cheney’s ceremonial office.
An evacuation notice came over the loudspeaker, employees said, and the Secret Service used its e-mail alert system to tell people to get out as well.
Firefighters quickly brought the blaze under control, Etter said. Crews could then be seen carrying construction-like equipment into the Eisenhower Building — apparently to check walls, ceilings and floors for hot spots or remnants of the blaze.
The building is awash in history, according to the White House Web site. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and George Washington’s sword used to be on public display there, and it was the site of the first televised press conference. President Richard M. Nixon used part of the building for his day-to-day working office.
Staff writer John Solomon and washingtonpost.com politics producer Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.
THE FOLLOWING ENTRY IS A JOKE, BUT A FUNNY ONE WHICH QUICKLY MADE ITS WAY AROUND THE INTERNET WITH REGARD TO THE TRAGIC FIRE AT THE EISENHOWER OEB, FEBRUARY 19, 2008
Attempting to Destroy CIA Tapes, Cheney Burns Down White House
Veep Apologizes for Accidental Inferno
The White House, one of the most historic structures in the nation’s capital, burnt to the ground today after Vice President Dick Cheney attempted to incinerate a cache of CIA interrogation tapes in his office.
According to White House aides, the blaze started shortly after twelve noon, minutes after Mr. Cheney slipped out of a cabinet meeting, saying that he had to “hit the head.”
But rather than using the bathroom as he had stated, the vice president instead went to his office and put a blowtorch to a pile of CIA interrogation tapes which the White House had feared might be subpoenaed in the near future.
“I started burning those things and boom, they went up like a rocket,” an apologetic Mr. Cheney later told reporters.
The accidental blaze quickly spread from the videotapes to a nearby stack of transcripts of phone conversations involving Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and singer Barbra Streisand that Mr. Cheney had obtained via a warantless wiretap.
“Once those transcripts caught on fire, I knew the building was a goner,” Mr. Cheney said. “There were literally thousands and thousands of pages of that stuff.”
Speaking in front of the charred remains of the historic building, administration spokesperson Dana Perino said that the White House might have been saved had it not been for an unfortunate bureaucratic mix-up: “Instead of calling the fire department, President Bush called FEMA.”
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Looking N down hall of N wing – FDR National Historic Site – Springwood Estate – Hyde Park NY – 2013-02-17
Image by Tim Evanson
Looking north down the north hall (servants hall) from the lobby at the Springwood estate of Franklin D. Roosevelt. All furnishings are original (except for the carpet), and the house remains unchanged since the day Eleanor Roosevelt vacated it in 1946.
A person has to make a little zig-zag to get to the north hall. Two closets and a bathroom (probably for FDR’s use) are immediately behind the stairs to the north (photo’s right). Just to the north of that — where the lighted doorway is — is a sort of U-shaped corridor with the bottom toward the east. It created space for shelving and storage, provided access to that bathroom, and provided access to FDR’s study as well (so he could use the bathroom without having to wheel himself out into the narrow servants hall). The closed door actually conceals a tiny elevator for FDR’s use. Behind the telephone wall is one of the servants’ staircases to the second floor.
This is at the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site in Hyde Park, New York. The claim of Native Americans to the area was ignored by King William III and given to nine New York City businessmen in 1697, and called the "Great Nine Partners Patent". A two-story wood frame house facing east was built on the property sometime between 1790 and 1805. It was 46 feet by 39 feet with a heavy timber frame. Crude bricks were mortared in place between the framing timbers. The house was covered in wide clapboards, with minimal decoration in the Federal style. The windows were two rows, each three panes wide. There were two sashes (one window above, one below), and both could be moved. (In jargon, this a "six-over-six double-hung sash".) These were symmetrically placed in the façade. (The house still features some of these in the central part of the building.) It also had a full basement.
Josiah Wheeler purchase a one-square-mile portion of the property in 1845. Wheeler added a three-story tower to the south end and a two-story servants’ wing to the north. The Wheelers also added a garden to the north and east of the house and planted a hemlock hedge around it. (This hedge survives to this day.) Wheeler also added acreage to the estate, enlarging it to 110 acres. He also added a large stable (1850), laundry house (1850), small ice house (1847-1865), and gardener’s cottage (1845-1865).
Franklin Roosevelt’s father, James Roosevelt, bought Springwood in 1866 for ,000 (at a time when a factory worker’s earnings were 5 a year ). Roosevelt added two elements to the dining room: One was a deep bay (now the breakfast nook) to enlarge the dining space. The other was a two-story, modified hexagonal tower to the north of this nook. On the first floor, this tower was accessed via a door in the breakfast nook, and contained a smoking room. On the second floor, there was a small bedroom accessible from the "Chamber #6" bedroom. When the drawing room was refinished and new furniture added, the old furniture went into the south parlor. A delicately carved mantelpiece was installed there in 1887 to add class. In 1892, the main staircase leading from the lobby to the second floor was installed, and a year later the verandah was extended around the southwest and south parts of the house. James Roosevelt also added another 490 acres of land to the property, and not only farmed the property but used it for forestland. He also added a very large kitchen garden (1880), coach house (1886), duplex house (for staff housing; 1895), and large ice house (1898).
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882. The Roosevelts had no other children, and James Roosevelt died in 1900. (Franklin had an older half-brother, "Rosey", who lived in a mansion just south of Springwood.) Franklin married his first cousin, Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1905. Sara had a "life estate" in the house. This meant that she could live there until she died, although the mansion belonged to Franklin. FDR’s first child came in 1906, and he and Eleanor had five more over the next 10 years. With a rapidly expanding family, and Sara living in the house, major changes were needed. Springwood was electrified in 1908. In 1915, a massive upgrade was made to the structure, designed by Hoppin and Koen of New York City. The clapboards were removed and the exterior of the house finished in stucco. A new tower was constructed around the south parlor to match the north tower, and stone north and south wings added to the building. The south wing had a library on the first floor and three bedrooms on the second. The north wing had a large new kitchen in the rear (complete with "cold room"), and a servants’ hall and small classroom (that later became FDR’s study) for the children in the front. A loggia was added to the front of this wing, and a porch to the north side. On the second floor of the north wing were eight small servants’ bedrooms, two new baths, a trunk room, a tiny valet’s room, and a new servants’ stairs. An entirely new third floor was added over the main building that contained a large playroom, nursery, three bedrooms, two baths, and two tiny "visiting servants" bedrooms. The third floor also featured elliptical and half-round windows capped with swags. The main entrance was also gussied up, with a four-columned portico. Window panes in bo0th new wings were eight-over-eight double-hung sash windows, and a roof balustrade placed atop the entire structure. Over time, Franklin also added a greenhouse (1906), garage (1911), rose garden (1912), and pump house (1916), and added another 900 acres to the property. During his lifetime, Franklin Roosevelt planted more than 200,000 trees (some in tree farms, others in orchards, some as reforestation projects) on the estate.
Until 1941, the two ice houses were filled with ice from the two large artificial ponds on the property. FDR claimed the ice had a special taste that made cocktails better. The night before each election day, Roosevelt’s neighbors came in a torchlight parade to the front of the house to wish him good luck. He spent every election night in the dining room with his advisors. From the study in the north wing, Roosevelt delivered some of his famous "fireside chats".
James Roosevelt, his first wife Rebecca Rowland, and his second wife Sara Delano were art collectors. Franklin, too, was a collector – albeit of naval prints and taxidermied animals. Springwood contains family heirlooms going back more than 200 years; numerous pieces of porcelain, jade, wood, and painting from China; an extensive collection of family portraits (some by famous painters, like Gilbert Stuart); and statuary (bronze and marble).
The only building at the Springwood estate which is not original is the large Stables. The original structure burned to the ground in 1971, and was replaced by a steel-beam reproduction in 1974.
Interestingly, the Greenhouse (which cost a staggering ,700), has three sections. The south and largest section is a hothouse for roses. The middle section is sealed to create moisture for ferns, and the northern section is cooler for plants like carnations. It remains in use today, providing plants for Springwood.
The Gardener’s Cottage and Duplex House are both used as employee residences today.
In 1935, Franklin Roosevelt donated the Springwood mansion and 33.23 acres of land around it to the United States. He also donated 12 acres of land for a library, and designed and constructed on that land a presidential library. Congress accepted the donation by passing the Historic Sites Act of 1935 and legislation accepting the library building in 1939.
About 600 feet to the northwest of the Springwood mansion is Bellefield, the mansion of the Newbold/Morgan family. Originally constructed about 1795, the 16-room house was greatly enlarged between 1840 and 1860. Thomas Newbold, a wealthy local investor and state legislator, purchased the residence about 15 acres of land in 1885. The Newbolds, and their descendants the Morgans, were good friends of the Roosevelts. It is used for employee housing and office space today.