The White House’s French Wallpaper

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Wallpaper purchased for $50 became the wall adornment for the White House Diplomatic Reception Room in 1961.

The White House staff darted back and forth even busier than usual on September 20, 1961. A State dinner was to be held for Peruvian President Manuel Prado, but the Diplomatic Reception Room, the first room that President Prado and the other guests would see was filled with workmen, paint cans and drop cloths, according to a Frederick News article (September 21, 1961).

Preparing for a State Visit

The staff was used to preparing dinners and receptions for President John F. Kennedy and his wife, but they weren’t used to having to make the preparations while weaving in between workmen who were redecorating one of the rooms they needed to prepare.

Peter Guertler of New York was in charge of redecorating the Diplomatic Reception Room with antique wallpaper acquired from the Stoner House in Thurmont, a small Maryland town close to where Camp David is located, according to the Frederick News.

“We just sneaked out as the guests arrived,” Guertler told the Associated Press (September 21, 1961) at the time.

Restoring Antique Wallpaper

“Sitting on empty champagne cases, they were busy until the last minute carefully putting the scenic panels into place on the circular walls of the diplomatic reception room,” AP reported.

It was the completion of a three-week project by three artists. They had remounted the 1834 wallpaper and restored the frayed edges and holes.

Upon entering the White House through the Diplomatic Reception Room, the first thing the 90 guests at the State dinner saw was the antique wallpaper from Thurmont, Maryland showing them an America that never quite was.

“Scenic America” Wallpaper

The historic wallpaper had been saved from destruction only a few months earlier and quickly found its way into the most-prestigious home in the America.

The panoramic scenes showed a general view of New York City and its bay seen from atop Weehawken, the fortifications and parade ground at West Point, Niagara Falls covered in mist, Natural Bridge in Virginia and a view of Boston and its harbor. The set of wallpaper panels was called “Scenic America” and created in 1834, according to the Jean Zuber Company web site. It had hung in the Stoner House in Thurmont since nearly that time.

How the Wallpaper Came to the White House

Peter Hill, a Washington DC resident had spotted the wallpaper in a house about to be demolished. He purchased the wallpaper and spent the next three days carefully removing it from the wall, according to a Catoctin Enterprise article (August 18, 1961).

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy saw the wallpaper when Hill was showing it to an associate at the White House. She fell in love with it and purchased it for her White House renovation project.