Now including an excerpt from THE DEVIL'S MERCEDES: The Bizarre and Disturbing Adventures of Hitler's Limousine in America by Robert Klara. Coming March 2017.
Critically acclaimed author Robert Klara leads readers through an unmatched tale of political ambition and technical skill: the Truman administration's controversial rebuilding of the White House.
In 1948, President Harry Truman, enjoying a bath on the White House's second floor, almost plunged through the ceiling of the Blue Room into a tea party for the Daughters of the American Revolution. A handpicked team of the country's top architects conducted a secret inspection of the troubled mansion and, after discovering it was in imminent danger of collapse, insisted that the First Family be evicted immediately. What followed would be the most historically significant and politically complex home-improvement job in American history. While the Trumans camped across the street at Blair House, Congress debated whether to bulldoze the White House completely, and the Soviets exploded their first atomic bomb, starting the Cold War.
Indefatigable researcher Robert Klara reveals what has, until now, been little understood about this episode: America's most famous historic home was basically demolished, giving birth to today's White House. Leaving only the mansion's facade untouched, workmen gutted everything within, replacing it with a steel frame and a complex labyrinth deep below ground that soon came to include a top-secret nuclear fallout shelter,
The story of Truman's rebuilding of the White House is a snapshot of postwar America and its first Cold War leader, undertaking a job that changed the centerpiece of the country's national heritage. The job was by no means perfect, but it was remarkable—and, until now, all but forgotten.
In 1949, under the direction of President Truman, an extensive reconstruction of the White House began. Home improvements might not seem like much to base a story on, but Klara (FDR's Funeral Train) turns the tale of this controversial project into a delightful and informative narrative. Truman already had plenty to worry about during his presidency (e.g., the Cold War, low approval ratings), and swinging refrigerator-sized chandeliers, ghostly creaks and groans, and a piano falling through the floor weren't helping to ease his mind. When the White House was finally examined, inspectors discovered dangerously compromised beams, scorched timbers leftover from the fire set by the British during the War of 1812, and distressing evidence that the entire building was sinking. Over the course of three years, all but the exterior walls were demolished and rebuilt, and both Margaret Truman and former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt remarked that the new White House felt like a cheap hotel. Klara brings the reconstruction's major players including Truman and his family, architect Lorenzo Winslow, and contractor John McShain to life in sharp prose, infusing this cracks-and-crevices expos with plenty of entertaining drama. B&w photos throughout.