The Entrance Hall
The Cross Hall and large Entrance Hall are at the center of the original plan by James Hoban for the state floor of the White House. The basic floor plan has not been altered substantially, although modifications have been made to the design and placement of the principle staircases. The plan is arranged so that the Cross Hall connects all of the state rooms and opens into a wide reception area - the North Entrance. James Hoban planned two main stairs. One rose in a graceful flight from the western end of the Cross Hall. The president and first lady used this staircase on formal occasions. During the Grant administration the stair was remodeled to access the conservatories on the west terrace. The stairs were torn out completely when Charles McKim extended the State Dining Room for President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902. McKim converted the eastern stairs into a grand staircase, but the descent directly into the Cross Hall was awkward and did not present the official party to best advantage.
In the late nineteenth century, a spectacular stained-glass screen divided the Cross Hall from the North Entrance. Designed for President Chester Arthur by Louis Tiffany, the floor-to-ceiling Art Nouveau screen was installed between the hall's columns in 1882. It replaced an earlier iron and ground glass screen first used to increase the efficiency of a gravity heating system installed for President Martin Van Buren in 1837. Warming the area was never easy. Thomas Jefferson built niches in the south wall of the Cross Hall to hold iron stoves molded to look like classical urns. Fireplaces once faced each other on the east and west walls of the North Entrance. Until the 20th century the floors were so cold that it was common at large parties for divans to be robbed of cushions to make footstools for the ladies.
Until 1902, the public entered the house through the north door. Walkway bridges were rigged to convert flanking windows into additional entries for crowded events. In 1837, Andrew Jackson received a 1,400-pound cheese as a gift and placed the wheel in the north hall and invited the public to come eat it. People came in droves and trampled cheese crumbs into the carpet. It smelled for weeks. The public filed through again in 1841 to view the body of William Henry Harrison, who died after only a month in office. In 1867, a would-be assassin came through the door, threatening Andrew Johnson's life.
Public entrance into the White House was reoriented to the East Wing after the 1902 renovation. (Guests of state still use the North Entrance). Visitors saw an entirely changed entry space after 1902. McKim removed Tiffany's screen of colored glass, the colored floor tile, and frescoed walls and ceiling. It dramatically changed the character of this space. Paired Doric columns of plaster—snowy white—replaced the single marble columns and colored glass, opening up a view to the Cross Hall. Fireplaces east and west were replaced by huge built-in mirrors. Hard stone floors and white neoclassical details dominated what had been a multi-colored tile floor and an arabesque treatment of the walls.
During the Truman Renovation of 1948-52, project architect Lorenzo Winslow fought to keep the classic design that architect Charles McKim had created in 1902. The main change resulted in the foot of the Grand Staircase landing in the Entrance Hall. The stairs entrance, where one of McKim's full-length mirrors used to stand, became a stage far more suitable for "photo opportunities" at state events.
Paintings of presidents from the 20th century are displayed along the Grand Staircase, and portraits of the most recent presidents hang in the Cross Hall and North Entrance. The presidential seal, which had been embedded in the floor until Franklin Roosevelt's administration, is now featured in a central location over the Blue Room door. The pier table is one of the original pieces from the Bellange suite purchased by James Monroe in 1817.
Today, the North Entrance and Cross Hall create a welcoming atmosphere for many of the grand events held at the White House.