We all can’t stop by the White House to see its 54 decked-out trees this season. We can admire the next best thing, though, just around the corner: the tree in the main lobby of the Willard InterContinental hotel. The 14-footer is outfitted with gold and red baubles, ribbons and lights, as well as two or three of each annual ornament created by the White House Historical Association. (While there, don’t miss pastry chef Gary O’Hanlon’s gigantic gingerbread replica of the historic hotel.)
The association has been selling its presidential history-inspired ornaments since 1981, and they’ve become collector’s items. Each year, the newest is displayed in the White House’s Blue Room. Association members select the theme and design of each year’s ornament, typically basing it on successive presidents’ terms, starting with George Washington’s. “We try to find something of historical significance during each administration,” says association president Neil W. Horstman.
Here are details about each of the ornaments pictured (in clockwise order, starting from the top):
1987: White House doorway
In 1987, the historical association honored sixth president John Quincy Adams with a design featuring the double doors of the White House’s front entrance, decked out in wreaths and poinsettias. In the brochure that comes with the ornament, the association notes that the doorway’s leaves-and-acorns motif likely pleased Adams, an avid gardener.
2003: Young boy on a rocking horse
The wreath-shaped ornament inspired by a Victorian illustration representing childhood joy honors 18th president Ulysses S. Grant. It’s fitting that Grant’s ornament is hanging at the Willard: The president was known to spend time in the hotel’s lobby, where he’d enjoy brandy and cigars. (Some believe the term “lobbyist” came into use there because it’s where visitors began to press the president for their own interests.)
2008: First White House Christmas tree
The evergreen-shaped ornament produced in 2008 represents the administration of president Benjamin Harrison (1889-1903), which saw the first recorded White House Christmas tree. Harrison liked to spoil his grandkids — some of whom lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. — and introduced a tree decorated with tinsel and popcorn in 1889 for them.
2012: The Tafts in a White steamer car
This year’s ornament depicts president William Howard Taft (1909-1913) and first lady Helen Taft on a drive to deliver Christmas presents. The couple is seated in a White Motor Company Model M (called a “White steamer” because it was powered by steam and manufactured by the White Sewing Company of Cleveland, Ohio). After his election, Taft lobbied Congress to win a $12,000 budget, with which he purchased the first White House limousine fleet, including the steamer.
Get the Ornaments!
To order this year’s ornament ($17.95) or any past year’s, call 800-555-2451 or visit Whitehousehistory.org or the White House Historical Association’s shops at 740 Jackson Place NW, 1610 H St. NW and the White House Visitor Center on the Ellipse.Willard InterContinental, 1401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; free, through early Jan.; 202-628-9100.