Nancy Reagan's redecorated White House got the once-over last night as about 200 donors to the $822,640 tax-deductible fund that paid for it swarmed throughout the mansion to see what their money bought.
"I feel a little like the tenant welcoming the landlord today," Mrs. Reagan said later as she and the president joined guests in the East Room, "but I hope the tour reassured you that the house is in good hands."
The White House also revealed for the first time that $730,000 was spent on the project, leaving $92,640 for additional work on the Ground and State floors.
Donors came from all over the country and, in addition to the State Rooms, what they saw was a part of the White House the public never sees: the first family's living quarters on the second and third floors.
"It's just magnificent," said R.E. Thomas of Tulsa, looking around the newly painted East Room. "I was here in January and I remember this room looked terrible. The house obviously needed a lot of work."
Thomas said he gave $10,000 to the fund last winter because "I was asked to, and we thought it was a good thing to do." He said he didn't remember who headed the committee. California auto dealer Holmes Tuttle, a member of the Reagan "kitchen cabinet," confirmed in March that he sought donations in Oklahoma and Texas, many from oil company investors and executives.
Last night Thomas pronounced his $10,000 well spent.
"As well spent as you can spend money buying things today," he said.
Doris Pochynok of Atlanta, among dozens whose contributions were listed by the White House as "$10 and under," said she wasn't bothered by criticism of how Nancy Reagan spent the money at a time when the president was trying to slash the federal budget.
"I think she has a right to maintain the White House. It's going to be here as long as we have a country," said Pochynok, who told of standing in the Lincoln Bedroom and crying "because of what Lincoln stood for."
Michelle Booth, 12, of Alexandria, one of several children who sent contributions to Mrs. Reagan ("I don't have much, but thought it would be nice to help out," Michelle wrote, enclosing $1 of her allowance), got the day off from school and an unexpected close-up view of President and Mrs. Reagan.
"She said, 'Pinch me to see if I'm real,' " said her mother, Theresa Booth.
One guest remembered another White House refurbishing project, the one by Jacqueline Kennedy, who also came under criticism.
"She was criticized for everything. It's de'ja vu all over again," said Tish Baldrige, her social secretary at the time. "What did she do? She started the White House Historical Society, which ended up doing those wonderful books that involve all of America in contributing toward the White House . . . There isn't enough money to clean the house, so it's essential that these donations come in."
Melvin Payne, chairman of the White House Historical Association, presented Nancy Reagan with a citation commending "her outstanding leadership."
"I could truly rhapsodize about the metamorphosis which has occurred. My biologist friends would say the moth of the upper floors has become a lovely butterfly," Payne added.
Visibly touched by the recognition paid her, Mrs. Reagan presided over the brief ceremony while her husband, smiling and arms crossed, stood to one side. "It seems funny to me to be standing here," she said, glancing over at the president, who laughed and teased her with "Unaccustomed as I am . . ."
Describing how the White House public rooms had not been painted in 10 years, how some curtains had rotted from the sun, how "irreplaceable" antiques had decayed while in storage, the first lady said, "Together, you and I have made the improvements."
The public is unlikely to see many of the improvements -- at least for a while. "We're going to decide what's the best way to share this with the rest of the country, " said Mrs. Reagan, describing how some photographs will be in Architectural Digest's December issue and others, from a historical perspective, in Smithsonian magazine.
Remaining funds will be used to replace carpeting on the Ground Floor and to restore and refinish 43 mahogany doors and passageways on the State Floors.
"Floors need sanding and deep staining, too, because they haven't been done since Mrs. Kennedy," said Chief Usher Rex Scouten. "But it's a five-day project and tough to shut the house down."