WASHINGTON – The White House is a mess.
With President Bush away for a month, a noisy horde of sweaty construction workers and heavy machinery has descended to give the executive mansion a facelift -- about 270 projects ranging from replacing the odd door knob to ripping up and repaving an entire driveway.
The result is a far cry from the ship-shape home that only a few weeks before staged one of the most formal and pomp-laden of presidential events -- a black-tie state dinner.
The flurry of activity is in part an effort to spruce up the West Wing ahead of events this fall celebrating its construction 100 years ago to house Teddy Roosevelt's growing staff in the "Temporary Executive Offices." Among those projects are re-sanding the wood floors in the Oval Office, new upholstery for couches in the main lobby and refinishing some exterior doors.
But daily life also places extraordinary wear and tear on the nation's most famous house as it is pressed into nearly constant quadruple duty as a residence, office building, entertaining venue and tourist attraction. With Bush hardly ever gone for more than a day or two, the to-do list of needed repairs piles up.
"The White House is a historical home -- it's the people's home -- and it requires a tremendous amount of upkeep to keep it in tiptop condition," said White House spokeswoman Anne Womack.
On a recent day, aides allowed to give West Wing tours to friends and family had little to show off with the president's office entirely bare of its peaches-and-creme-hued contents. All that could be seen was a lone worker sliding a buffing machine across the blond-and-dark wood parquet floors.
"Please pardon our appearance," apologized a sign in the hallway, "while we prepare for the commemoration of the West Wing's 100th Anniversary."
Outside, huge trucks filled the driveway leading to the West Wing, lifting materials to workers putting a new roof and drainage system over the area that houses the White House press corps, the briefing room and the Colonnade Bush traverses each day from his home to the Oval Office.
Parts of the main residence and the West Wing were dotted with scaffolding as a lengthy project to repair and paint various crumbling patches continues.
Next door, the racket was deafening as machinery ripped up the drive that runs between the West Wing and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building -- mostly used as a coveted parking space for the highest-level aides -- and cement trucks rattled through to replace it.
Amid all the clamor, workers could be seen trying to escape the stifling heat in the shade of the North Lawn -- normally such a no-no that a fence was built years ago to discourage reporters from lounging on the grass even in an area invisible from the street.
Other major projects include replacing the $30,000 jogging track on the South Lawn that was custom-built in 1993 for former President Clinton, like his successor an avid runner. Bush, who normally takes to a treadmill or the Army's nearby Fort McNair for his four-times-a-week runs, is using the spongy, nearly quarter-mile-long track more often now that E Street, which runs on the south side of the executive grounds, has been closed, Womack said.
West Executive Drive, meanwhile, has not been repaved since the 1950s, she said.
The newly polished West Wing will be especially on display in November, when a special tour will be given during events planned by the White House Historical Association to commemorate the centennial, Womack said.
As for those Oval Office floors, they were just redone during Bush's vacation last August. Even though a rug mostly fills the room, one White House regular recalled that the president noticed with his first step inside last year that the job wasn't up to snuff -- the wood had been incorrectly stained against the grain.
The redo he promptly ordered, along with the rest of the makeover, will be ready for Bush's inspection when he returns from his Texas ranch around Labor Day.