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Homeland Security

White House Fence

The White House security zone was dramatically expanded in the aftermath of protests over the police killing of George Floyd. New fencing has walled off Lafayette Square, and the Ellipse was also fenced in. After another night of peaceful protests outside Lafayette Square, workers put up new fencing around the White House complex on 04 June 2020, adding to the 8-foot fence that was erected around Lafayette Square earlier in the week. Black fences were put up along the Eisenhower Executive Office Building entrance on 17th Street NW.

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In the tree days since the Trump administration used tear gas to clear Lafayette Square of peaceful protesters before Trump's walk to a photo opportunity at St. John's Church, The Washington Post reports "the White House has been transformed into a veritable fortress," with tall security fencing and concrete barriers erected to keep protesters from an expanded secure zone. "The White House is now so heavily fortified that it resembles the monarchical palaces or authoritarian compounds of regimes in faraway lands — strikingly incongruous with the historic role of the executive mansion," known as "the People's House," the Post added. The Secret Service said "the closures are in an effort to maintain the necessary security measures surrounding the White House complex, while also allowing for peaceful demonstration".

The White House is supposed to be one of America's most secure facilities and, in fact, one of the world's most secure facilities. The security of the White House and the protection of the president cannot be solved by a higher fence alone. The Washington Post on 17 January 2015 editorialized that “No change should or need impinge any further on the White House’s historic openness. Security concerns need not block the American public from its heritage.” The best solution is the one that intrudes the least, and offers in return for its fortifying function the reminder that the public is welcome—and safe—at the national seats of power."

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The design, materials and perimeter of the White House fence have evolved over the past two centuries. The first perimeter fence was a wood rail fence completed in 1803 during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency. The wooden fence was replaced by a stone wall and later an iron fence. Once an open estate, the President’s House was enclosed around 1820 with a simple iron fence, then later with a Victorian-era decorative iron fence lining the curved driveway. Paint analysis indicated that the earliest color of the north iron fencing may have been a deep forest green. The NPS plans to preserve sections of the current fence in its museum collection.

Over the year 2014, there had been repeated security breaches at the White House involving intruders jumping over the perimeter fence. Ortega-Hernandez successfully shot the White House on November 11, 2011 from a car on Constitution Avenue, breaking the outer pane of a window in the private quarters of the president and his family. On 19 September 2014, Omar Gonzalez jumped the North Fence, ran across the White House lawn, up the steps of the North Portico and into the front door of the White House. He was armed with a 3-inch serrated knife. He entered through an unlocked door, passed the staircase to the presidential residence and into the East Room of the White House. Clearly, corrective measures are needed to guarantee the safety of the First Family.

Over time, the White House property has evolved from a villa within open grounds to an increasingly fortified complex. When President John Adams and his wife Abigail moved into the President's House in November 1800, the mansion was largely unfinished and unfurnished. Because there was no fence around the house to protect a clothesline, Mrs. Adams hung her laundry in the secure but unfinished East Room.

Originally on a single lot between East and West Executive Avenues, the White House now is at the center of a larger controlled security zone that stretches from 15th to 17th Street and from H Street to Constitution Avenue, requiring the closing of Jackson and Madison Places, East and West Executive Avenues, Pennsylvania Avenue, and E Street within the last 30 years.

The White House complex with the residence at the center—now a multi-block secure area stretching from Lafayette Park (foreground) to the National Mall, and which includes the Treasury Department and Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB, right)—has required the closing of many formerly public streets. While the needs of security are understandable, the impact on the surrounding city has been drastic—particularly for Pennsylvania Avenue, now only a vestige of its former role as the city’s main street.

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The National Park Service and United States Secret Service had begun construction on a new White House fence in July 2019. The United States Secret Service (USSS) and the National Park Service (NPS) began construction on a new White House fence on July 8 that is expected to continue into 2021.

The two agencies have been working since 2014 to develop an appropriate barrier that will keep the White House and grounds as accessible as possible to the public while ensuring the security of the White House and its occupants. Both agencies are committed to respecting the historical significance and visitor experience at the White House and President’s Park.

Construction will take place in phases, beginning in the northwest corner of the White House grounds along Pennsylvania Avenue. The second phase will move to the northeast corner. The White House will remain visible from multiple views throughout the duration of this project. The NPS will continue to issue permits for demonstrations in Lafayette Park and the open areas of the White House sidewalk. Scheduled tours of the White House will continue as planned. Pedestrians and cyclists will generally have access to travel through Pennsylvania Avenue, but should expect occasional temporary closures to facilitate access for construction equipment and materials.

The project will encompass the 18-acre White House complex and involves over 3,500 feet of steel fencing. The current 6 feet 6 inch tall fence will be replaced by an approximately 13 feet tall fence with wider and stronger fence posts. The new fence incorporates anti-climb and intrusion detection technology and is designed to mitigate current and future security threats. The fence piers will be reconstructed to be similar to the existing historic piers; however, the scale of these elements will be adjusted to accommodate the new proposed fence height. The existing light fixtures will be retained and reincorporated into the fence design.

The existing White House fence was currently 6’-0” on a 2’-0” stone base, for an overall height of approximately 8’-0”. The USSS has evaluated the fence height and current security requirements. As a result, the proposed fence height is 10’-7” on an 18” stone base. Anti-climb features measuring 1’-0” in height would be installed at the top of the fence, and the entire assembly measures 13’-1” from the ground. The fence would generally follow the topography of the site, and the existing fence piers would be increased in scale to accommodate the new fence height. The proposed height reflects the USSS evaluation of the security needs at the White House, and all options reflect the same fence height.

The design of the fence was approved in 2017 by both the Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) and the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC). The contract for construction of a new fence and gates was awarded in June of 2018. Construction will take place in phases, beginning in the northwest corner of the White House grounds along Pennsylvania Avenue. Construction is expected to continue into 2021.

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Page last modified: 05-06-2020 22:42:24 ZULU