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The President's House in Philadelphia

Issues Concerning the Physical Design of the President's House Commemoration Project

"Is it meant to tell a story or is it meant to be an exact reflection of history? Why can't they be the same thing?" – Jim Gardner, Action News

The Independence Hall Association (IHA, owners of was founded in 1942 to spearhead the creation of Independence National Historical Park (INHP). We are written into the enabling legislation of the Park and stand as an independent group of private concerned citizens overseeing and being consulted on matters concerning the Park. The IHA sits on the President's House project's Oversight Committee.

The National Park Service's mission is to reflect the highest standards of excellence in design and scholarship.

On September 6, 2005, the Park Service issued a public document (President's House Site Meeting) focused primarily on the physical design, in anticipation of a design competition for the site. The 2007 archaeological dig greatly increased our knowledge of the physical building.

The IHA is generally satisfied that current plans sufficiently meet the Park Service's physical design commitment with the exception of issues at three locations. They are:

The IHA sent a letter to INHP Superintendent detailing our concerns. There has been a flurry of interest by the press. We are hopeful that the plans can be quickly modified to reflect the best documentary evidence and the findings from the 2007 archaeology without causing any meaningful delay in the construction schedule. We have offered to work constructively with all commemoration stakeholders.

On this page: Bow Window | Slave Quarters | Market Street Facade | Timeline

Bow Window

The black shows the current design's bay window, with a semi-octagonal interior and exterior. The red shows the correct size and shape of the Bow Window, based on 2007 archaeology.

Curved foundation fragment from the 2007 archaeological excavation

Jeffrey A. Haines, Samantha Templeton, Philadelphia Inquirer
Dr. Cheryl Janifer LaRoche

The Philadelphia bow is echoed in the Oval Office at the White House.

In May 2007, archaeologists unexpectedly uncovered foundation fragments of the Bow Window (see picture right). These fragments form a curve, which now strongly suggest that both the interior and exterior walls of the Bow Window were semi-circular. Further, the arc of the foundation fragments suggests that the Bow Window was not an alcove attached to the State Dining Room, but, in fact, the full width of the room.

In 2005-06, before archaeology was done, the materials provided to participating firms in the President's House design competition assumed the exterior of the Bow Window was canted — a semi-octagon, rather than a semi-circle. The 2007 archaeology extended our knowledge and the current design needs to change to reflect the best archaeological evidence.

The current design shows a bay window that is only 17' 6", with canted interior and exterior. The best evidence now is that the Bow Window was semi-circular and about 21' 3", the full width of the State Dining Room. This Bow Window was the precursor of the oval rooms at the center of the White House, and of the Oval Office now used by our Presidents. The glorious fullness that Washington intended needs to be respected.

The Bow Window that George Washington added to the President's House (and may have personally designed) was intended to be a grand ceremonial space in which public would meet the President, and project the stability and permanence of the fledgling federal government in the eyes of foreign nations, and of its own people.

The Park Service has offered to curve the inside of the current plan's bay window, leaving the exterior canted. This is certainly an improvement, but doesn't address the current plan's reduction of the Bow Window's size nor the exterior, which will not match the visible arced ruins below. It is about 3' 9" too narrow, and, importantly, not the full width of the State Dining Room. Future visitors should be able to experience the full-sized Bow Window as Washington built it, and grasp its architectural ties to the White House. Whenever you see a photograph of the Oval Office with the three windows behind the President's desk, you are seeing a cultural echo of this Bow Window.

Market Street Facade

The documented location for the Market Street facade is shown in red. The facade from the current plan is shown in blue. Moving the facade means that the Main House's interior rooms cannot be shown in their documented dimensions.

The 2007 archaeology uncovered a foundation fragment of the Main House's rear wall, from which exact measurements can now be made using the dimensions shown in the two 1785 maps (Burnt House Plan and Burt Map).


  • January 2002, Ed Lawler's "The President's House in Philadelphia: The Rediscovery of a Lost Landmark" published establishing location of the President's House and making public the presence of enslaved Africans at the President's House [See controversy timeline]
  • September 6, 2005, the National Park Service issues a public document committing to accuracy in the physical design
  • March-July 2007, Archaeological dig
  • February 2, 2009: IHA informed that the Oversight Committee will be given summary of current plans. Never received.
  • May 8, 2009: Final designs completed
  • May-June: Plans distributed to subcontractors, but not shown to the Oversight Committee
  • July 7, 2009 (Oversight Committee meeting): IHA learns that plans have been distributed to subcontractors; following the meeting, obtains a copy at a distribution point for subcontractors
  • July 10, 2009: IHA notifies INHP Superintendent of problems with the physical design
  • July 13, 2009: INHP Superintendent meets with IHA historian, commits to changes
  • July 22, 2009: INHP Superintendent sends email reporting that INHP will not abide by the commitments made July 13, 2009
  • July 26, 2009: Ad-Hoc Historians communicate their disappointment in July 22 decision
  • August 11, 2009: IHA board sends letter to INHP Superintendent detailing its concerns
  • August 20, 2009: Philadelphia Inquirer front-page article, "President's House design criticized"
  • August 21, 2009: This page published (periodically updated)
  • August 25, 2009: Emergency Oversight Committee meeting
  • September 21, 2009 (Released October 10, 2009): Press Release which "reaffirmed the importance of dimensions that were as accurate as possible, even if not exact."

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Copyright ©1999- by the Independence Hall Association, a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded in 1942. Publishing electronically as On the Internet since July 4, 1995.