Detour Ahead: The Paving of the White House Driveway

Today’s post is written by Cody White, Archivist at the National Archives in Denver.

The scourge of road trip vacations. The bane of work commutes. Chances are every person who drives has a recent complaint or two about road construction hindering their plans and it’s possible that 79 years ago President Franklin Roosevelt too had similar complaints when four months were spent paving the White House south driveway.

The National Park Service Denver Service Center is the main planning, design, and construction management office for the hundreds of National Park Service sites nationwide and the planning and project files from the office can be found in the National Archives at Denver’s Record Group 79, Records of the National Park Service holdings. It is here where one finds the report for the south White House grounds paving project as the White House and surrounding area are within the National Park Service’s purview as the President’s Park.

Map showing project location.


The contract called for grading, draining, and installation of a water bound macadam surface with bituminous overlay. Bids were opened on June 17, 1937, and the contract was awarded to Corson & Gruman Company of Washington DC on June 29th with a bid of $26,876.70. The project was allowed 100 days to complete, with an additional 37 authorized in case of extra work required, and ground was broken July 7, 1937.


Care was taken when excavating not to damage any of the tree roots so some excavating work was required to be done by hand, meaning the road bed wasn’t fully prepared until September 17th. The stabilization of the road bed was also called into question in places, so a concrete base was laid down prior to the macadam.


The primary feature of water bound macadam surfaces is a layer of rock that is crushed, interlocking the pieces, which is then covered with a dry screening to fill in the crevices, in this case, gravel.


With the rock layer down, water is then applied to the surface as a binding agent and the surface is rolled and broomed to remove any loose debris.


Finally, a layer of liquid asphalt is laid down to firmly bond the materials.


With the road surface finished, the curbs leading out to the east and west Executive Avenues were installed, as were the entrance gate and posts which were noted at being wired for “future lighting.” Sidewalks near the avenues and the south portico were rebuilt and with the topsoil along the driveway replaced, the job was completed on October 30, 1937. Sixteen extra days were required, owing to additional water main and electrical work needing to be completed, and the grand total came to $28,497.60 for the 0.389 miles of roadwork.


South White House Grounds, Project 10-A-1, Progress Chart detailing anticipated time and cost, as compared to actual time and cost.


All images and documents are from the series Planning, Design, and Construction Files, 1921-1969, (NAID 650878), Box 30, Department of the Interior. National Park Service. Washington Office. Office of Design and Construction. 6/30/1962-1971. Record Group 79: Records of the National Park Service, 1785 – 2006.