Preserving history inside the White House

White House tours are still on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, but efforts to preserve historical items and the public rooms inside the two-century old building have continued from one administration to the next.

The effort started in 1961 when former first lady Jackie Kennedy founded the White House Historical Association to transform parts of the Executive Manion into a living museum of antique furniture and fine arts that represents the best of American life.

As the collection grew, Mrs. Kennedy recognized the need for a White House curator to help study and conserve the objects on hand.

The position was formalized in 1964, along with the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, through a pair of executive orders signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

“The curator leads an office that is charged with assembling, conserving, installing and interpreting the collections,” said Bill Allman, a Former White House Curator who served under Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

Allman said another focus is refurbishing the public rooms on the main level of the residence, which over time have seen a lot of wear and tear from large gatherings and tourist traffic.

“In the East Room at one point they discovered that the path along the west side of the room where the tourists walked the floorboard had wore down to just fractions of an inch in thickness,” Allman said. “You know, occasionally floors have to be replaced as well. It’s not impervious.”

The most recent floor renovation was completed during the Trump administration. Prior to that, Allman said some White House floors were replaced under President Jimmy Carter and believes it’s needed it more frequently as time goes on.

“I think every first lady and president have taken it very seriously that, you know, these public rooms have a certain character,” Allman said. “And so I think the success is that the museum concept has flourished just as [Mrs. Kennedy] hoped, and that the rooms have grown and changed and but continue in the same spirit.”