The centerpiece of L’Enfant’s President’s Park, the White House is the official residence and workplace of the President of the United States. The mansion, designed by James Hoban in 1792, was meant to have a vista of the Potomac River, now hidden by nineteenth century infill projects. The grounds have changed repeatedly over time, altered by virtually every U.S. President. Their current general configuration is derived from Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.’s plan of 1934-35, which advocated preserving the existing landscape with some elements removed and provided a landscape management plan still in use today.
The park-like setting, with carefully orchestrated groups of shade trees, underplantings and open spaces, enhances the residential character of the site. Facing Pennsylvania Avenue, the symbolic North Lawn serves as the ceremonial entry to the mansion. The more secluded Upper South Lawn includes the East or First Lady’s Garden designed by Rachel Lambert Mellon and the West or Rose Garden designed by Mellon with Perry Wheeler and renewed in 2021 by Oehme, van Sweden and Perry Guillot, Inc., the President’s Patio, and a private swimming pool and putting green. In 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama added a 2,800-square-foot kitchen garden to the South Lawn, which was later expanded by a team of students from the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture under the direction of Professor Elizabeth Meyer. The Lower South Lawn is a buffer from the public Ellipse grounds and is used for occasional activities such as the annual Easter Egg Roll. Due to security concerns, the grounds, surrounded by tall metal fencing, are closed to the public except for special events.