Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

The Truman Balcony

Background Information

In the summer of 1947, President Truman decided that adding a second-floor balcony behind the pillars of the South Portico of the White House would both improve the appearance of the south front and make the family quarters more livable.

Truman had made a speech in Charlottesville, Virginia, on the Fourth of July and was intrigued by the upstairs galleries or porticoes on the columned pavilions that Thomas Jefferson had designed for the University of Virginia. Truman imagined that Jefferson might have had such a design in mind for the White House and that by building the balcony he would fulfill the former President's dream.

The project was approved by William Delano, one of the most well-known architects in America, but many Americans did not like the idea and thought President Truman would not be elected because of it. Members of the Commission of Fine Arts opposed the plan, saying they could not approve of any plan that would destroy the original design of the White House.

Gilmore Clarke, Chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts wrote a letter to Truman explaining the commission's position. Truman immediately fired back his response.

The balcony was defensible, Truman said to those who opposed him, on the best grounds of architectural tradition. Scoffing at the idea that the balcony was being added to provide an outdoor sitting area or, indeed, that he had time for rocking on a porch, he gave two reasons for adding it. First, to break what Truman considered the outlandish, disproportionate height of the portico column, designed in Jefferson's day. And second, to aid in shading the windows of the Blue Room. Dirt-collecting awnings could be done away with and neat wooden shades rolled up under the balcony, to be let down when needed.

Next: Facing The Outcry