Secretary of State George Shultz, who has a newly remodeled $2 million antique-filled office, might soon have an equally magnificent house, also donated. Clement Conger, who raised the money for the office, as well as for the Diplomatic Reception Rooms at State, is out looking for both a house and a donor.
"It's getting too expensive to put in all the security equipment needed every time secretaries change," said Conger, curator of the White House, the State Department and Blair House. "After all, we had Muskie, Vance, Haig and Shultz in rapid succession, faster than one anticipates.
"I was asked to look unofficially, because I know those who have such homes and the real estate agents dealing in them. It's really been a low-, low-, low-key thing, really exploratory. I'm going to pass the word that if you have a nice house, not too close to the street, with some grounds, please give it to the nation and take the tax deduction. Not necessarily a big house, though that would be pleasant, but comfortable. It doesn't have to have such grand entertaining rooms now that the Diplomatic Reception Rooms are finished."
The State Department would prefer that the house be in the District of Columbia, though if a fine house were to be offered in Virginia or Maryland, "we'd cross that bridge, if we came to it," Conger said and laughed.
Conger hopes that some public-spirited person will donate a house, with at least a secluded garden. "At the moment, with this budget-cutting, we have no plans to ask for a congressional appropriation, though if necessary, we would consider part gift, part payment.
"We should have done it long ago," Conger said. "In the past, several grand houses have been offered -- and turned down -- for the secretary's official residence, most recently the house of the late Virginia Bacon, the Washington grande dame and the widow of former Congressman Robert Low Bacon." The house at 1801 F St. was at various times lived in by Chief Justice John Marshall and Presidents James Madison and Martin Van Buren. The house is now owned by a foundation.
The late Mary Morris, the antique collector, once offered The Lindens as a home for the secretary. She and her husband, international lawyer George Maurice Morris, moved the 1754 Georgian house to Washington in 1934 from Danvers, Mass.
The other house offered was on S Street, the home of diplomat William Castle.
Earlier in the century, Mary Henderson, queen of 16th Street, offered various houses to Congress but all were turned down.
Conger for a time was looking for a temporary replacement for Blair House while the president's guest house was rehabilitated, and some of the criteria are the same. State guests are currently housed in hotels.
"The Ogden Codman house in Kalorama , once the Louise Home, is a grand house, one of my favorites," Conger said. "But it wouldn't be easily secured because it sits on a terrace, with other houses overlooking it."
Prospect House, overlooking the Potomac in Georgetown, once the home of former Secretary of War James Forrestal, was once a temporary president's guest house, but Conger said "it's right on the street." Another favorite, Tudor House in Georgetown, enlarged in 1815 by William Thornton, is soon to be opened as a historic house museum.
Conger knows of a house that's just right -- with 15 acres of land, "so secluded you don't know it's there. In perfect condition, doesn't need a thing done to it. But Jay Rockefeller just bought it for its name -- the Rocks in Crestwood."