In February, people’s thoughts turn to Presidents’ Day, especially if they get the day off. At Buzz, we like to take a moment to contemplate the presidential fence. The White House is one of the world’s most famous and visited locations. As such, its fence rates among the hardest working. No matter what you think of any particular White House dweller or their affiliation – Federalist, Whig, Democrat, Republican, or Union – that fence has staying power.
President Thomas Jefferson is credited with erecting the White House’s first fence, a post and rail construction built in 1801. His aesthetic concerns included serpentine walks, fencing off a private garden, and a crafting a flower border to a lawn by Tiber Creek. His security concerns focused on keeping livestock out of his garden.
The addition of a new semicircular driveway in 1818 during James Monroe’s term in office meant it was time for a fence upgrade. Monroe went with wrought iron and eight stone gate pillars. Visitors can still see parts of these today along Pennsylvania Avenue. Andrew Jackson added a long, low wrought iron fence atop a stone wall in 1833.
By the 1860s, the US had become more security conscious. Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant took such measures as closing West and East Executive Avenues to the public. Grant added a large iron fence on the south side of the White House for crowd control.
Welcome to the 20th century, goodbye old fences. In 1902, while Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House, architect Charles Follen McKim axed Jackson’s iron railing in favor of a parapet wall. In 1937, under Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s command, more old fences were replaced by steel, topped by bronze spears.
World War Two
Once the US entered World War Two, White House security ramped up by adding gatehouses with guards and closing the grounds to the public. Remains of the historic iron fences that had been replaced in 1937 were donated to a scrap drive. When the war ended, on V-J Day, President Truman came outside and reached through the fence to shake hands with members of the jubilant crowd.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, reinforced steel gates replaced the old wrought iron gates on Pennsylvania Avenue, and low concrete walls were built around the White House. After the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, authorities banned vehicular traffic from the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. Later city designers made this area pedestrian and bike-friendly.
Unfortunately, we’ve come a long way since livestock was the biggest threat to White House grounds. After a couple of people recently managed to evade Secret Security long enough to jump over the White House fence, the fence designers are getting tough. Last we heard, a new fence is going up this year which should be ram-proof, with anti-climb and intrusion detection features. It will stand at least 11 feet tall. Lucky for the White House, it doesn’t have to contend with HOA regs! One cost estimate ran as high as 50 million dollars. Which reminds us. Dear White House, we’d be happy to make a competitive bid.
At Buzz, we know your home is just as important to you as the White House is to the president. Maybe even more important, since you’ll probably live there longer than four years. If you want to improve the security, privacy or aesthetic components of your fence, give your friends at Buzz a call today. And happy Presidents Day.