The White House

"The White House is the finest prison in the world."

~ Harry S. Truman (American 33rd President of the United States, 1884-1972)

In the summer of 1814, Admiral Cockburn landed a British army at Head of Elk, Maryland, and opened an offensive against Washington, D.C. The Americans were defeated at Bladensburg, Maryland, and British troops, under Gen. Robert Ross, occupied Washington. All of the federal buildings were put to the torch, including the White House. But, midway through the blaze, thunderclouds drifted in from the west, and a torrential downpour dumped two inches of rain on the White House. The fire was extinguished, and the mansion was saved.

Immediately Irish architect James Hoban began work on restoring the White House in every detail. In this he was assisted by his good friend and fellow Mason, Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Six years earlier, Latrobe had tried to persuade President Thomas Jefferson to make certain "improvements" to the White House.

In particular, Latrobe wanted to add two porticos to the White House. One on the north side, which resembled the entrance to a Greek temple. This is not at all surprising, given that Latrobe designed the original St. John's Church, which stands across from the White House on Lafayette Square and looks like the old temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis. But the south side portico was to be completely different, a semi-circular structure reminiscent of an ancient solar temple.

Hoban supervised the project, based on Latrobe's original 1808 design. The south portico was finished in 1824. Hoban completed the north portico in 1829, two years before his death on December 8, 1831.

It is the White House's south portico that faces the sun and, more importantly, the 555-foot obelisk we now call the Washington Monument. The obelisk stands at the exact center of the city, according to Ovason.

If you were to draw a straight line from the White House's south portico to the Washington Monument, and then continue that line in the same direction, it would take you across the Potomac River to Alexandria, Virginia…and the George Washington Masonic Memorial, which is an exact replica of the original lighthouse that guarded the harbor of Alexandria, Egypt.