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White House - Maintenance Of Buildings And Grounds

( Originally Published 1908 )

THE commanding officer, as it were, of the White House and the park that surrounds it and of all the buildings on the premises, is known as the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds. Under the charge of this officer of the United States Army, (for the appointment has for many years been given to some military officer of distinction) are, as already inferred, the main building, the Executive Offices, the Conservatories, the stables, and the grounds generally. He is, in effect, the officer of maintenance, and it is his duty to see that all necessary repairs are made and the Mansion and park kept in perfect order.

The present incumbent is Colonel Bromwell, who has held the post for several years. His efficiency in keeping the house and grounds in perfect condition and his tact on social occasions have won him no end of friends in Washington and among visitors from every State in the Union.

Among Colonel Bromwell's predecessors was Colonel Theodore Bingham, now Chief Police Commissioner of New York City, on the Board on which Theodore Roosevelt once served. In Lincoln's time the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds was called the Commissioner of Public Buildings, and the office was filled by John B. Blake. Under Cleveland, the post was held by Colonel John M. Wilson.

Congressional Appropriation for Maintenance

As the salary of the President of the United States is only $50,000 a year, and as the expenses of the maintenance of the White House sometimes far exceed that sum, not to speak of the large amount of money necessary to proper entertaining, it is obviously impossible for the President to pay for the "keep" of the mansion in which he has his being for four years. Therefor Congress comes to the rescue with appropriations for the maintenance of the White House. There are several such appropriations, one of which is for the maintenance of the stables, as explained in the chapter on "Horse, Carriages and Stables."

Another appropriation of annual creation, is for the proper repair, repainting and refurnishing of the mansion. Another appropriation is for fuel, and another for the conservatories.

In a recent year the sum of $50,000 was appropriated for the repairing and repainting and other matters relating to the proper maintenance of the White House.

Another appropriation which amounts to about $60,000, is for salaries of White House employes, as set forth in the chapter under that head.

It has become indeed, according to chroniclers of the Roosevelt Administration, an unwritten law among Congressmen to give the President whatever he asks for in the way of money for the maintenance of the White House.

Once submitting his estimate to the Secretary of the Treasury, Colonel Bromwell, the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, remarked that the annual appropriation of $35,000, was barely large enough to keep the house from "going to rack and ruin."

To keep the White House and Grounds in proper order at the present time requires an outlay of about $1,000 a week.

Light, Heat and Water

Light in the White House today, under President Roosevelt, is furnished, of course, by electricity. By means of electric bulbs, all the beautiful chandeliers are made to blaze as they never could have blazed in the days of candles. Nevertheless, at many entertainments, Mrs. Roosevelt sees that candles are burned in certain places in the rooms, especially in candlesticks on the mantlepieces, as in the old days. The mammoth chandeliers in the East Room contain some 6,300 pieces of crystal; and, as there are three of these chandeliers, the total number of pieces of crystal is 18,900.

Before the introduction of electricity, the mansion was lighted, of course, by gas, this form of illumination being introduced to the home of the Presidents in Polk's time.

Heat in the present White House under President Roosevelt is supplied by means of the most modern steam apparatus, though open fireplaces are to be found in most of the rooms, in which wood fires are lighted when extra heat is needed, or when the cheeriness of the blaze of crackling log is desired.

For further information as to light and heat, see the architect's report in Chapter Two, on the Restoration.

As to water and fire protection, all that need be said here is that the water supply in the White House of today is precisely that which one would expect to find in the home of any man of wealth. It may be added, as a matter of special interest, however, that even as late as President Pierce's term, the White House had no such ideal water supply. At that time a special fire company was formed in Washington, known as the Franklin Fire Organization, having for its particular object the protection of the Executive Mansion and other buildings in the "President's Park."

"President's Park" Terraces and Conservatories

The grounds around the White House were originally called "The President's Park." They comprise twenty acres, and are kept in every way the same as would be the country estate of a nature loving American citizen with an income of $50,000 a year.

As for the Terraces, the official report says that from the State Dining Room, as also from the East Room, windows now open on the restored terraces, which are ornamented with suitable trees and fountains, and made comfortable with garden chairs and tables. These two garden like spaces, 160 by 35 each, not only restore the area formerly occupied by the conservatory, but double it in extent.

The maintenance of the conservatories is in accord with the annual appropriations of Congress, the appropriations for this purpose in a recent year amounting to $9,000. The conservatories were, in 1902, removed to the nearby grounds surrounding the Washington Monument, but Congress still makes appropriation for the greenhouses in the annual White House budget.

Under "Mrs. Roosevelt at the White House" in Chapter Three, will be found interesting details relating to flowers used in the White House at the present time.

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