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Pierre Charles L'Enfant selected the site for the President's House and proposed a grand palace four times larger than the house that was built. L'Enfant planned for the President's House and the Capitol to be the cardinal points of his 1791 plan for Washington city in the District of Columbia.

L'Enfant did not cooperate with the president's commissioners; and was dismissed. Subsequently, a national competition was held to pick the designer of both the President's House and the Capitol. President Washington sought out Hoban, conferred with him, and quickly selected the architects proposed design for the President's House in July 1792.

The building site of the President's House in the 1790s included a great house of brick and stone rising in the middle of a hive of free and enslaved workmen. Quarrymen, sawyers, brick makers, and carpenters fashioned raw materials into the elements of the vast structure. The exterior of the residence looked finished by 1800, but it would take two more years to complete the interiors monumental architectural details.

Pediments over the doors, wainscoting, and ornamental mantelpieces were installed, and a distinctive row of Ionic columns separated by arches crossed the Entrance Hall. In time, the parlors of the State Floor were named for the colors of their decor: the Green Room (1818), the Blue Room (1837), and the Red Room (1845). The great salon known as the East Room was left unfurnished until 1829.