President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter may have the uncomfortable feeling that everybody's trying to take the White House away from them, piece by piece.
The New York State Historical Assn. has taken back the Abigail Adams portrait which has hung for 15 years in the Red Room of the White House. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has taken back a number of paitings lent for several years. And, worst of all, Congress wants the Treaty Room Chandelier back.
Rosalynn Carter this week sent back as polite a "no" as possible to Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd's request for the chandelier. Byrd, who went back to Boone County, W.Va., this weekend to make a graduation speech, says his office has received the letter but he hasn't read it nor decided what to do next in the face of the First Lady's resistance [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
It might take a posse to snatch it, because the chanelier, like the other furnishings of the ceremonial rooms of the White House, are under the demain of White House curator Clement Conger, a man well-known for getting, not giving, when it comes to historical antiquities.
On the other hand, Capitol Architect George M. White and his predecessors have a reputation of never giving up (as witness their renewed assault on extending the West Wing of the Capitol).
Byrd wants the chandelier for th Lyndon B. Johnson room, one of the suite of offices included in the perquisites of the Senate Majority Leader. When Johnson used the office, first as Majority Leader, later as Vice President, he hired a high-powered decorator to modernize it.
He wanted to take out the ornate marble mantelpiece and the Constantino Brumid painting, but the Senate balked at that. So he removed the great ornate chandelier to the Senate committee corridor.
In 1962, Jacqueline Kennedy was ambitiously redecorating the White House, and she thought the chandelier would be just right for the Treaty Room, along with President Ulysses Grant's cabinet table, several chairs and a clock. The Treaty Room, on the second floor of the White House, had been used by Grant for cabinet meetings.
Then-Majority Leader Mike Mansfield was not one to say no to the First Lady, so he sent it on over to the White House as a "loan." Newspaper accounts of the period emphasize that the rest of Congress wasn't consulted on the loan.
One of the points that galls the Congress is that the chandelier had to be shortened by 3 of its 11 feet to keep from knocking the President in the head, because the Treaty Room ceiling is considerably lower than the Capitol's. "I bet the White House doesn't know where the missing pieces are," said one Capitol official. "We do so know exactly where the parts are, said Conger.
In the first place, the chandelier, along with two just like it and 10 smaller ones, was bought by Grant in his 1873-remodeling of the White House in what was called "Steamboat Gambling Palace style." The chandeliers were gas, and later converted to electricity. The ornate chandeliers matched gilded columns, curlicue mirrors and opulent fabrics of the high Victorian period.
In 1902, tastes had changed. Theodore Roosevelt was President. He threw out Victorian excesses, including the Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass screen in the foyer. Under architects McKim, Mead and White, the White House was redecorated in "colonial style" with big game heads in the State Dining room.
According to Elliott Carroll of the Capitol Architect's office, then-Capitol Architect Elliott Wood came to the White House the night before everything was to be sold at auction and took the chandeliers, in a box marked "junked," off to the Capitol. "It cost us $500 to reassemble them. They were in a million pieces."
(There is an apocryphal story that Roosevelt sent the chandelier to Congress with the hope that its tinkling would keep the Vice President awake. The only problem with the story is that at that time Roosevelt had no Vice President.)
Carroll said the recall of the chandelier loan has come up now because of the change in Senate Majority Leaders. "Sen. Byrd's office is being freshened up as we always do for a new occupant. And of course he wants a thing or two different. The Johnson lighting fixture is awful."
The White House has already received a major loan of paintings from the Philadelphia Academy of Art and six American Impressionists' paintings, much favored by President Carter, from the Corcoran Gallery of Art and several private lenders. The Impressionists, including Childe Hasson, John Henry Twachtman and William Merritt Chase, are hung in Carter's study, just off the Oval office. The Philadelphia loan will go into the family rooms, when Rosalynn Carter returns from abroad.
"Mrs. Carter has told me she wants her contribution to the White House to be the acquisition of fine American paintings to the permanent collection," Conger said.
In the meantime, the Capitol has its troubles, too. The Supreme Court hasn't asked officially, but it's hinted strongly that it wants the John Marshall statue, which has stood since May 1884 on the lowest terrace level of the West Front of the Capitol.
The Supreme Court wants the William Wetmore Story sculpture of the former Chief Justice for its entrance terrace. But Mario E. Campioli, the assistant architect of the Capitol (who opposed the loan of the chandelier to the White House) is known to be "dying a thousand deaths" over the thought of losing Marshall.
But that's another story.