Saturday, January 17, 2009

Blair House Hosts The Obamas

Emily Post would have been hard pressed to render a Solomon-worthy answer to the Head of State etiquette issue that surrounded presidential sleep overs at Blair House.  Throw in a ghost, 5,000 more square feet than the 65,000 square foot white Georgian manor caddy corner across the street, a detested ex-Australian Prime Minister getting an honor from a detestable president, two little girls that will have moved 5 times in four weeks (Chicago to Hawaii back to Chicago to the Hay-Adams to Blair House to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue) to and a request to park the family at Blair House early.  One American head of state rules who stays at Blair House and the future US head of state wanted to use the presidential suite early. Hmmm.  The hopeful future head of state lost that battle and moved in to 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue on Martin Luther King's actual birthday January 15th. 
It's no secret that President-elect Obama and his family requested to move into Blair president, but were bumped by the former prime minister of Australia, John Howard. Double-booking! Incoming presidents and their families traditionally move into Blair House on January 15, five days before inauguration. The Obama family asked to move in several days earlier than the due date—before their daughters started school—but they were denied access by the Bush administration. They ended up moving into the historic Hay-Adams instead. Howard, by the way, was booked for only one night: January 12.
Lyndon Baines Johnson's administration started Blair House's acquisition of official provenance by adding it to National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Blair House is a honest to goodness National Historic Landmark (NHL) complete with signatures and ceremonies commemorating it as such during the Nixon presidency.  As Barack Obama echoes elements of Abraham Lincoln's ascendancy to the presidency, its a pertinent fact that Blair House was the residence for a Lincoln staffer.  None of Barack's staffers will be holed up in there as the State Department has control of the building.  Interestingly, competitor presidential aspirant Seward from the Empire State became Lincoln's Secretary of State as in modern times, Hillary Rodham Clinton is the Secretary of State designate from New York for a President-elect Obama.  (Photo courtesy BH website)

First, it was the home of a newspaper publisher, then a family compound as hebought the house next door to house his daughter and brand spanking new son-in-law who was related to Robert E. Lee.  A century later the US government turned it into a US owned asset in 1942.  Harry S Truman camped there for almost four years after gutting the inside of the White House to restore it to the level of powerful beauty George Washington and James Hoban envisioned more than two hundred years ago.  Blair House also saw the genesis of the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine.  There was No Blair House or official guest house in 1792, DC was swamp land with tobacco farms plantations sprinkled about with slave labor.  President Truman put Blair House into the public consciousness in the fifties for another reason.  Puerto Rican nationalists killed a Secret Service agent outside Blair House as they tried to rush the premises to assassinate the president.  Now Blair House is part of the security cordon covered by the White House's Secret Service protection.  

Bill Clinton practiced his speech, revised his speech in the suite's library, then stood next to his limo and bellowed for Hillary and Chelsea to hurry up the morning of his first inaugural.  Blair House has seen it all.  Sasha and Malia had a homework corner set up for them.  Blair House is a giant interconnected set of townhouses with a suite in the light colored one with the formal entrance with the green awning over the porch.  First, President -elect Obama and Michelle Obama will formally sign the guest book filled with the likes of Charles de Gaulle, jawaharal Nehru, Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth II.  The Obamas will reside on the second floor with access to a living room, library and sitting room and a bathroom recently upgraded to a marbleized five star plus venue.  CSPAN, my favorite channel, will broadcast a special showing many of these specialized rooms inside Blair House.  This is red-letter Special because cameras and film crews are allowed in that august space about as often as a lunar eclipse combines with a meteor shower.  (Photo courtesy State Department)

Someday Malia and Sasha's memoirs will include the short stay in the sumptuous Blair House post 1980's Regan Renovations.  This story from Laura Blair Marvel chronicals the adopted daughters sojourn in Blair House before 1942 in the book, A Child in Blair House: Memoir.

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