For decades, presidents-elect have spent the night before their swearing-in at Blair House. Even Trump, who has not abided by many conventions of the office, kept to the tradition and stayed at the home rather than at his nearby hotel.
Inauguration Day typically begins with a breakfast for family members and friends at the home before a church service and a meeting at the White House with the outgoing president. It is unlikely that Trump, who isn’t planning to attend the inauguration, will meet with Biden; his inauguration planners have declined to provide further details on Biden’s plans that morning.
Blair House is managed by the State Department’s Office of the Chief of Protocol, but the invitation to stay at the home typically comes from the president.
“As is customary, the White House offered use of the Blair House for Jan. 19th and it was accepted,” a State Department spokesperson said.
The Secret Service and federal law enforcement agencies have been preparing for a possible violent assault on the inauguration, raising concern about safety in the aftermath of a pro-Trump insurrection on the U.S. Capitol last week.
Biden’s inauguration is still expected to take place on the steps of the Capitol — the same location where the violence began last week — and he has said several times that he is not concerned about his safety.
Jimmy Carter started the pre-inaugural tradition of staying at Blair House in 1977. Since then, every incoming president has spent his last night as president-elect in the home at 1651 Pennsylvania Ave. The president-elect signs an official guest book the morning he takes office. In the afternoon, the space is used to hold a reception for ambassadors and other diplomats, a practice that is also unlikely this year because of coronavirus protocols.
The home was built in 1824 and has a rich history. It was owned for more than a century by the Blair family, and presidents often used it to slip away from the White House.
But in the 1940s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was persuaded to buy the house to use as a guesthouse for visiting dignitaries. Previously, heads of state would spend the night at the White House, but Eleanor Roosevelt persuaded her husband to change that custom after Winston Churchill reportedly headed to the couple’s bedroom, cigar in hand, for a 3 a.m. chat.
President Harry Truman lived at Blair House during a four-year White House renovation from 1948 to 1952.
Not every first family has enjoyed the experience. “Blair House really needs fixing up,” Nancy Reagan wrote in her diary after a six-night stay in 1981.
The Bush family usually brought a large family entourage.
“Blair House was fairly formal,” George W. Bush told The Washington Post. “Until we moved in.”
The Obamas wanted to stay longer than customary, requesting to move in by Jan. 5, when their daughters were starting school at Sidwell Friends. But because President Bush had already had it reserved for diplomatic visits, the Obamas instead stayed at the Hay-Adams Hotel and moved over to Blair House on Jan. 15.
Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.