Construction set to begin to make White House fence taller
WASHINGTON — The White House is getting a taller fence for the first time in about a century as part of improvements beginning this summer for the perimeter of the grounds.
Crews will replace the existing fence with a structure that will be about 13 feet tall, an increase of about five feet. The changes are intended to keep out intruders after the arrests of several people who have tried to scale the fence in recent years.
The Secret Service and the National Park Service, which maintains the White House grounds, received final approval in 2017 from the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and National Capital Planning Commission to move forward with building what officials called a “tougher, taller and stronger” fence.
Thomas Luebke, secretary of the fine arts commission, said the new fence is “not that different from what’s there now, but it’s a great increase in scale.”
The White House, a National Historic Landmark, sits on about 18 acres in downtown Washington, while the history of its fence dates to the 1800s.
When president Thomas Jefferson occupied the executive mansion, a low stone wall surrounded the area. In the mid-1800s, a rail-style wooden fence was installed. It was altered in the early 1900s to be about six feet tall.
For much of the past century, the metal fence has stayed about six feet in height — on top of a two-foot stone wall — although after the 9/11 terrorist attacks it received security enhancements, including spikes at the top.
The fence is about 3,500 feet long and is constructed along Pennsylvania Avenue NW to the north, East Executive and West Executive avenues NW to the east and west, and E Street NW to the south.
The current stone wall and metal fence — at a height of about eight feet — will be replaced by a new fence that will be about 13 feet high. It will include an 18-inch, aboveground stone base at the bottom, a 10-foot, 7-inch metal fence and a one-foot tall “anti-climb feature” at the top.
The new fence, according to the planning commission, will meet “contemporary security standards while recognizing the historic and symbolic importance of the White House and the surrounding grounds.”
Other changes will include wider and stronger fence pickets and “pencil-point anti-climb measures” that are “intended to deter climbers from grasping the top bar,” according to a National Capital Planning Commission report. In its report, the planning commission said “a review of the mock-up and renderings generally affirmed that the wider picket spacing was appropriate in preserving views to the White House grounds.”
The new fence is one component of a larger plan to enhance security near the Ellipse south of the White House and areas around the Treasury and Eisenhower Executive Office buildings.
Officials said the six vehicular and nine pedestrian gates also will be replaced.
In a statement, Secret Service spokeswoman Catherine Milhoan said her agency and the Park Service developed “an appropriate barrier that will keep the White House and grounds as accessible as possible to the public while ensuring the highest level of security of the White House and its occupants.”
The agencies began working on plans for a new fence in 2014 and a contract was awarded last summer. Construction is expected to start this summer and continue into 2021, although officials didn’t know the date when the construction would begin.
The changes, which will cost about $64 million, come after incidents in which people have tried to scale the fence and other security barriers.
In January, a 55-year-old woman from Southeast Washington tried to jump a barrier, and a Virginia man in February tried to get into the White House, saying he wanted to help President Trump “bring peace to the world.”
Last July, a California man was arrested after he got past a security barrier near the East Wing. The man, Dirk Renard Estes, told the Secret Service he wanted to meet President Donald Trump, according to court records.
In 2014, a man carrying a knife jumped a fence and ran more than 70 yards across the North Lawn, entering the front door of the White House.
Luebke said the White House isn’t alone in having increased security measures, citing the Escorial near Madrid and the fence around Buckingham Palace.
“It’s part of the physical impact to the city that’s inevitable with increased security,” he said. “We’ve seen this over the last 18 years in public buildings and public space. This is just one more part.”