A new book on Blair House, the official residence for guests of the president, highlights the historic home where, if tradition holds, president-elect Donald Trump and his family will stay just before the inauguration.
“Blair House: The President’s Guest House,” by historian William Seale, is the first major book to chronicle the life of the finely furnished house that sits conveniently across Pennsylvania Avenue NW from the White House. The 1824 house and many of its original decorative arts, silver and china were bought by the U.S. government in 1942. Later, several adjoining houses were added to the complex and additional furnishings and artworks were acquired for the permanent Blair House collection.
The residence, operated by the State Department’s Office of the Chief of Protocol, has entertained and housed many heads of state and government and their delegations. The house also serves as a venue for foreign-policy events and meetings. The 109 rooms, including 15 guest rooms, are full of British and American antique furniture, fine portraits, porcelains, and crystal chandeliers. The interior, collections and gardens are supported through private donations raised by the Blair House Restoration Fund. There is a fully equipped beauty salon, an exercise room and an in-house laundry facility. Guests have access to 24-hour room service.
Seale, a historian who has written numerous books including several on the history of the White House, worked on the Blair House book for more than a year. “Blair House has a fascinating history, and first families have enjoyed going there for years,” Seale says.
The book, published by the White House Historical Association ($59.95), shows photos of the newly refurbished Principal Suite, which is where heads of state and presidents-elect usually stay. It consists of two bedrooms, a sitting room, 21/2 baths and lots of closets.
Here are five interesting details from the new book:
●Chelsea Clinton liked to come over from the White House and do her homework in the elegant yet cozy second-floor library. While Chelsea was studying, her parents would read books and magazines in the library.
●Wives of John F. Kennedy’s Cabinet members made needlepoint seat covers for the dining room chairs in the Lee Dining Room.
●President Harry S. Truman lived at Blair House from 1948 to 1952 while the White House was remodeled.
●Pets are occasionally guests at Blair House if they are companions of world leaders, as was the case of Lulu, the chihuahua of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. Seale wrote, “Lulu was considered royalty herself thus could not be touched by anyone but the emperor.”
●It is tradition for the president-elect to sign a leather-bound guest book on the day of his inauguration. If tradition is upheld, President-elect Donald Trump will be asked to sign it in the Blair House Rear Drawing Room. These guest books contain hundreds of signatures of presidents and heads of state. They are kept in a safe.
An exhibition on Blair House by the White House Historical Association opened Wednesday and runs through March 3 at Decatur House, 748 Jackson Pl. NW. It includes photographs, original documents and artifacts that explore the history of Blair House and its role in diplomacy. whitehousehistory.org. Free.
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