This is an extract from the Reading Materials in English that are available in the English and Education section of the website of the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka,


The entire text of Historic Buildings by Goolbai Gunasekara, covering twelve famous constructions, is now available on that website

The White House, Washington DC


No two buildings can be less alike than the Kremlin of Russia and the White House of the United States of America. The Kremlin is an old and rather romantic building. The White House is comparatively new. The Kremlin is huge. The White House is small when compared to the massive Russian Presidential residence

The two buildings are the homes of two of the most powerful men in the modern world. Until the breakup of the USSR the Russian President was as greatly respected, or feared, as the American President. Today, however, there is no doubt that the President of America is the single most powerful man in the world and the White House is probably the building that is presented most often in the media

George Washington

Almost all American presidents have lived in the White House. Strangely enough the first president, George Washington, did not do so for the simple reason that it had not yet been built. But it was he who planned a Presidential Building with the city planner Pierre L’Enfant at what is now 1600, Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC. He visualized a planned city with a Presidential House in the center. 

Nine architects competed to design it. John Hoban won and construction began in 1792. John Adams was the first President to live in the brand new White House but it was not given this name in the beginning. At first it was simply called ‘The President’s House’. It is the private residence of the President but it is the only private residence of a Head of State that is open to the public free of charge. 

This has sometimes led to problems. In 1829 President Jackson welcomed visitors on the 4th of July, which is the date of American Independence. Over 20,000 callers went through the White House that day and the poor President had to flee to a nearby hotel to escape the mob. Bathtubs were filled outside on the lawn with orange juice and whisky to persuade the crowd to leave the White House. 

The White House has a unique history. It is not as exciting as that of the Kremlin, but it is interesting nonetheless. The British tried to burn it down in 1814 and it had to be rebuilt. Then there was another fire in 1929 when Hoover was President. After that there had to be more rebuilding. But the walls are the same as when they were first erected in 1792. 

The Oval Office

The most famous room in the White House is the Oval Office. It is here that the President works. It is from his desk in this office that he speaks to the nation on TV or radio. He meets with all foreign dignitaries in this room. 

The White House has hosted some of the most important people in the world. Kings and Queens, Heads of States, Military Dictators, great names in the world of entertainment, famous actors, singers and musicians, all have been guests of the Presidents and their wives. 

The White House has 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms. It has 5 fulltime chefs and can serve dinner to 140 guests. One thousand people can be served cocktails and short eats at one time. Nearly 570 gallons of paint are needed to paint the outside of the building. 

The White House and the President continue to be the center of interest to the world. Anything that the American President does affects the world today. 


Grammar and Vocabulary 

  1. Give in your own words the meaning, as used in the passage, of the words or phrases that are highlighted.
  2. To what do the pronouns or other words in italics refer?
  3. Divide the proper nouns in this passage into those that name people, those that name places, and those that describe a special type of place or person. Which proper nouns are used as adjectives?
  4. Identify the various clauses in the third paragraph.
  5. Find adjectives that correspond to the underlined nouns and use them in sentences to bring out their meaning.

Comprehension and Further Activities 

  1. Mark Washington DC on your map, and also three other important cities in the United States. What does DC stand for?
  2. Mark the countries that neighbour the United States and their capitals.
  3. Write down five statements from this passage concerning the President of the United States, and note which of these are fact and which opinion.
  4. Note down five historical facts concerning the White House.
  5. Write a brief comparison of the White House with other buildings you have studied in this book that were used as residences.
  6. Write down briefly in your own words the main point of each of the paragraphs in this passage. Which paragraphs deal with the White House and which with its history?
  7. Find out how the American President is selected, and for how long he can serve. Discuss in your groups the benefits or otherwise of this system.