The White House and Leinster House
Sir, – CDC Armstrong is correct in identifying the differences between the White House as it looks today and Leinster House (Letters, May 8th). But the modern White House is the third substantial rebuilding of Hoban’s original executive residence, planned, like Leinster House, as a three-storey building without porticoes (today’s recessed third storey was created in 1902 as additional storage space and subsequently modified to provide living space for the first family).
Recent research by Andrew McCarthy has suggested that Hoban was already experimenting with variations on the Palladian style in his rebuilding of the President’s House after its burning by the British in the War of 1812, by which time Leinster House was almost 70 years old and coming into the possession of the Dublin Society.
The Leinster House connection was first investigated by Desmond Guinness and his US associate William Ryan in their 1980 work on the White House. During the Hoban anniversary celebrations in 2008, all the leading contemporary US historians of the White House (the three Williams – Seale, Bushong, Allman) visited or viewed Leinster House and confirmed the influence, not just in terms of external features and internal layout, but also in its exemplification of President Washington’s primary brief: to have in the new federal capital a modest gentleman’s residence that would blend into the country landscape he hoped to preserve in a city being built essentially on farmland.
The offending porticoes at the White House were in fact commissioned during the Monroe presidency and built in 1824 and 1829 respectively by Hoban, who had survived the tenure of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the son of a Dublin-born Moravian missionary, as Thomas Jefferson’s favoured architect (Latrobe died in 1820).
The celebratory “Hoban issue” of the publication White House History edited by William Seale in 2008 features Castle Coole prominently among contemporary Irish buildings from the time of Hoban’s early development as an architect. Had they been around a little earlier and had Jefferson had his way in its design, as he had hoped, the original White House might in fact have been built by Northern Ireland craftsmen: John Neilson, James Dinsmore and Hugh Chisholm, all refugees from post-1798 Ireland, were members of his impressive design and construction team at Monticello and the University of Virginia. – Yours, etc,
The James Hoban Society,
Callan, Co Kilkenny.