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A porte cochere is a short portion of covered driveway, usually located at the front or side of a house, under which cars can stop while the passengers get out and go into the home. Such entryways were common in large private homes and in public buildings in the late 1800s and most of the 1900s. They can still be seen on private homes and on certain types of public buildings. Well-known examples include the porte cochere on the front of the White House in Washington, DC, in the US and the one on the side of Buckingham Palace in London, England.
Taken from the French, the term "porte cochere" literally means coach gate. They were originally developed so that wealthy coach and carriage passengers could alight from their vehicles without being subjected to the weather and to provide a certain amount of privacy for high-profile guests. The carriage driver would then drive the vehicle into a parking area or leave and return at a prearranged time. In time, limousines and private cars replaced carriages, but the intent remained the same.
Public buildings, particularly high-status buildings such as country clubs and well-financed churches, would often feature a porte cochere to protect their wealthy patrons. In time, certain public buildings began using these structures as a matter of course. One such example is funeral homes, which often featured porte cocheres so that grieving families could enter their vehicles with some amount of privacy and without having to battle umbrellas in the rain. This custom is common even today.
The porte cochere remains an architectural feature used primarily in high-end executive homes and mansions. Attached to the actual home, these porch-like structures are permanent fixtures and usually match the architectural design of the home. They can be located at either the primary or a secondary entryway to the home and usually cover paved drives. They often include a series of stones, called guard stones, laid along the foundations of homes to protect them from being accidentally hit by a vehicle.
While the structure resembles a permanent carport, it differs in terms of intended use. A carport is intended to provide covered parking, usually for the residents of the house. A porte cochere, on the other hand, is made for temporary use while passengers enter or exit their cars; the car is intended to be moved once the passengers have gotten out of the vehicle.