The fireplaces don't work and the refigerator is in the dinning room, but the paint on the front stoop has been patched and the drain in the master bathtub unclogged because this week, at least, it's going to be home to Nancy and Ronald Reagan.
Known simply as 716 Jackson Place, it is a 113-year-old brick town house on Lafayette Square owned by the the federal government and operated by it since 1969 as a home away from home for former presidents of the United States. In a pinch, the 11-room dwelling can also be home to presidents-elect.
This week is an example of pinch. Normally the Reagans, who arrive today and will leave Friday, might stay around the corner in the considerably grander Georgian mansion of Blair House. That, however, would have meant uprooting them on Thursday when West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt comes to town, and nobody in bureaucracy relished the idea of having to give the next president of the United States the heave-ho. Instead, the Reagans were invited to use Jackson Place.
The General Services Administration, which oversees maintenance and repairs on both residences as well as the White House, did not know where Reagan had decided to stay until Friday. A factor in Reagan's indecision was Schmidt's invitation to get together when he was in Washington. Reagan had turned down a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on grounds of not wanting to suggest a parallel government during the transition. And though they did not officially inform the German Embassy of it as late as Friday, Reagan advisers had indicated to reporters throughout the week that Reagan would decline a similar meeting with Schmidt.
So the dilemma of where to stay, according to one official, revolved around the question of neighborliness. How could the president-elect live around the corner from Helmut Schmidt for two days and avoid bumping into him? Worse still, perhaps, how could Reagan and Schmidt keep from seeing each other if both decided to look across the rear courtyard from their respective second floors?
Gerald Ford, the only former president who has actually slept in Jackson Place, never had that problem. Neither did Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon, for whom the dwelling was little more than temporary office space after they left the presidency. Johnson himself used it as an office, for a brief time. Nixon left it to Rose Mary Woods to wind up his affairs there after he resigned.
Barely 22 feet wide, the four-story brick building is an undistinguished if historic structure that has only two bedrooms and a kitchen so small there is no room for a refrigerator. It stands in the dining room, partly camouflaged by a screen. Crystal chandeliers in the high-ceilinged first floor reception and conference rooms provide solitary touches of elegance. Otherwise furnishings are reproductions of 18th-century pieces similar to what GSA buys for the White House East and West Wing offices. Carpets are nondecript beige, walls white and stairways steep and narrow, which may be why a small elevator provides transportation between floors.
Most of the art work consists of photographs of former presidents. One shows Nixon and Johnson leaving the White House on their way to the Capitol on Inauguration Day 1969. Another is of Nixon playing the piano for Truman. The only oil painting in the house is a large protrait of Andrew Jackson by E. F. Andrews that hangs over the marble mantel in the second-floor study.
There are televisions throughout the house, and for bedtime reading; there are books written by every former president since Harry Truman, with the exception of Richard Nixon's "Memoirs," which is not included among the titles.
The kitchen and dining room are on the second floor, where a GSA cook, a retired U.S. Navy chief petty officer, will prepare and serve the Reagans' breakfast, and any other meals they might care to take there.
In the third-floor master bedroom is a king-size bed with a pink quilted spread featuring a pattern of bamboo and bluebirds. Looking down on it, from between bullet-proof glass, windows is a color photo of Ford wearing a cowboy hat and sporting a 1976 presidential campaign button in his lapel. Off the bedroom is a small bath with tub but no separate stall shower. Next door in the study is another photo of Ford, this one with former ambassador John Sherman Cooper. Behind a door, almost hidden from view, are the mounted and framed signatures of Washintgon and Jefferson said to be authentic.
The other bedroom and bathroom are on the fourth floor, with a small sitting room. This floor and the basement are usually where the Secret Service sets up shop. On the bedroom wall is a photo of Nixon, with a bust of Abraham Lincoln visible over his shoulder.
Built around 1867-68 by Mary Jesup Blair, member of the same family that owned the Pennsylvania Avenue mansion now used as the president's guest house for distinquished visitors, the house sports a mansard roof and -- as one historian, Donald J. Lehman, put it -- is tinged by "a faint air of the French Empire style." A 1937 renovation "may have been calculated to endow the house with an Early American flavor. This encouraged observers to mistake it for an example of Federal architecture," Lehman wrote in a chronology and evaluation completed in 1970.
The building's occupants through the years have included Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., when he first came to Washington to take his seat on the Supreme Court. In 1937, the A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust acquired the property and from it supervised construction of the National Gallery of Art, where the Mellon and other collections were to be housed. The federal government acquired it in 1957.
Among more recent occupants or users have been Spiro Agnew, who used it as an office after his resignation as vice president (and is believed to have written part of his novel, "The Canfield Decision," there) and Chip Carter, who lived there briefly during the transition between the Ford and Carter administrations.
Vice President Nelson Rockefeller used it as headquarters for the presidentially appointed Commission to Investigate the Central Intelligence Agency.