In the early years of Presidential Library architecture, the 37th president asked for a replica oval office, a feature he heard was popular inside Truman’s.

The Master of the Senate only needed seven minutes to get what he wanted out of Gordon Bunshaft.

With construction already underway on the presidential library he was designing in Austin, the architect took a phone call from his workaholic client after dinner on October 10, 1968.

Then-president Lyndon B. Johnson had just found out about the replica Oval Office inside Harry Truman’s presidential library, and he absolutely had to have one, too. “That is the most attractive thing [inside the Truman library], they tell me,” said the President. “I’d rather have that than anything else.”

The design had been approved two years before. Concrete was already being poured, Bunshaft noted, but the architect who brought the International Style to corporate America seemed receptive to the nearly last-second request.

The Presidential Libraries Act—which established the current system of privately built and federally maintained libraries—had only been passed in 1955, so replica Oval Offices were not yet the exhibit staple Americans now expect when they visit one.

But the 37th president had Bunshaft’s respect from the day the designer first presented a model of his library design in 1966. Bunshaft was blown away by Johnson’s ability to absorb so many details the idea in a 15-minute viewing before giving it the green light. Here’s Bunshaft recalling the encounter in an oral history in 1969:

Now, how the hell he could have understood it and remembered it from fifteen minutes is beyond me. In fact, the next meeting I had, I talked to one of the secretaries, Juanita Roberts, and I said, "Look, he must have come back and studied that model." The model was taken away the next morning, but he could have come back that evening. She’s very close, not his secretary, she’s an assistant; she’s not out there, but she’s in Washington–anyhow, swore up and down that the President never went back.

The library, with an Oval Office replica on the 10th floor, opened to the public on May 22, 1971.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Homes in Amsterdam are pictured.
    Equity

    Amsterdam's Plan: If You Buy a Newly Built House, You Can't Rent It Out

    In an effort to make housing more affordable, the Dutch capital is crafting a law that says anyone who buys a newly built home must live in it themselves.

  2. Equity

    How Poor Americans Get Exploited by Their Landlords

    American landlords derive more profit from renters in low-income neighborhoods, researchers Matthew Desmond and Nathan Wilmers find.

  3. In this image from "No Small Plans," a character makes his way to the intersection of State and Madison Streets in 1928 Chicago.
    Stuff

    Drawing Up an Urban Planning Manual for Chicago Teens

    The graphic novel No Small Plans aims to empower the city’s youth through stories about their neighborhoods.

  4. Transportation

    China's 50-Lane Traffic Jam Is Every Commuter's Worst Nightmare

    What happens when a checkpoint merges 50 lanes down to 20.

  5. Equity

    Why Can’t We Close the Racial Wealth Gap?

    A new study says that income inequality, not historic factors, feeds the present-day gulf in wealth between white and black households.