Go Inside the President's Guest House Where Vice President Kamala Harris Will Be Staying Temporarily
Historic Blair House has hosted foreign dignitaries and several presidents in the days before their inaugurations. One even survived an assassination attempt within its walls
Blair House sounds like some kind of posh estate in the United Kingdom but it's right here in DC.
Better known as the "President's Guest House," it's where Madame Vice President Kamala Harris and her family will be staying while her new home at One Naval Observatory, the official residence of the Vice President, undergoes maintenance
Located just across Pennsylvania Avenue from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and steps from the White House, Blair House serves as the president's guest house. It’s right near the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum so chances are you’ve walked by without even knowing it. Joe Biden and his family stayed here before Inauguration Day and his swearing in as the 46th President of the United States.
The historic home has hosted foreign dignitaries and several presidents in the days before their inaugurations. Lincoln is known to have been a frequent visitor at Blair House, which was a fast walk across Pennsylvania Avenue. One even survived an assassination attempt within its walls.
Wrangling an invite to Blair House is even harder than getting one to the White House. Security is tight and access exclusive. Go inside — and learn the history behind — the place our new VP will temporarily be calling home.
Why is it called Blair House?
Built in 1824, the original Blair House belonged to Dr. Joseph Lovell, the first surgeon general of the U.S. Army. It didn't gain political prominence, however, until 1837, when Francis Preston Blair, his wife Eliza and their three kids moved in after purchasing it for just $6,500. Blair was a newspaper publisher and an influential advisor to President Jackson, and served prominently in a group of unofficial advisors and assistants known as the "Kitchen Cabinet". The house remained in his family for the following century.
There's more to it than meets the eye
The President’s Guest House actually consists of four connected townhouses, but it’s often called by the name of just one of the houses. The four dwellings are Blair House, Lee House, Peter Parker House, and 704 Jackson Place. In total, these buildings boast 119 rooms spanning over 200,000 square feet, making this residence even larger than the White House. The distinct 19th-century facades of each townhouse have been preserved, so they still appear as separate buildings from the outside.
According to the Blair House website, the home boasts 14 guestrooms (each with its own bathroom), three formal dining rooms, two conference rooms, a beauty salon, an exercise room, a laundry facility, manicured gardens and more, all serviced by 18 full-time staff members. Spaces such as the Lincoln Room are filled with portraits, letters and mementos of presidents and others.
How it became the President’s Guest House
For one thing, you can't beat the commute. The White House became overcrowded with guests as the United States was preparing for World War II, with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, advisors, politicians, foreign dignitaries, and visiting heads of state all lobbying to meet with President Roosevelt.
To accommodate them, the State Department began renting Blair House in 1942, and by the end of the year the government agreed to purchase the property for $150,000. Prior to the purchase, esteemed visitors would typically spend one night in the White House, and then would be sent to a hotel or embassy for the rest of their visit.
Funnily enough, UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s frequent trips to Washington also helped convince President Franklin Roosevelt of the need for official diplomatic housing.According to the Blair House website, Franklin Roosevelt, Jr., recalls the morning his mother found the prime minister wandering towards the family’s private quarters at 3 a.m., trademark cigar in hand, to rouse the sleeping president for more conversation. He met Eleanor first, however, who firmly persuaded him to wait until breakfast.
The President soon approved the purchase of Blair House—which included the Blair family’s furniture, china and silver—and the President’s Guest House was in business.
A "Who's Who" of US and International Politicians and Dignitaries have been guests
Many foreign dignitaries have stayed at Blair House since it became the President's guest house, each of whom have signed the home's guest book. Notable figures who have stayed at Blair House include Queen Elizabeth II, Justin Trudeau, Margaret Thatcher, Emmanuel Macron, and George W. Bush. Many guest book entries have been digitized; you can be read them all online.
There are a few presidents who have inhabited Blair House, including Harry S. Truman, who, along with his family and White House staff, lived there for four years of his two-term presidency from 1948 to 1952, while the People’s House underwent a massive reconstruction. It earned the nickname "The Truman White House" for this reason. During Truman’s time spent living here, he survived an assassination attempt led by two members of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party.
Staying at Blair House is a pre-Inauguration tradition
In addition to hosting foreign dignitaries, Blair House also serves as a home for the presidents-elect and their families prior to their inauguration — a tradition that started with President Jimmy Carter,
According to USA Today, Carter was the first president since Roosevelt to come from outside of Washington, so he used Blair House as a place to set up and prepare for his new administration. Most U.S. presidents have followed his lead since.
Blair House has another long-standing custom—following the death of a former president, members of their family typically stay at this home amid the funeral services. The most recent instance of this tradition occurred in 2018, when the Bush family stayed here after former President George H.W. Bush’s passing.
Go inside Blair House through photos and text in the award=winning book "Blair House, The President's Guest House". Published in 2017 by the White House Historical Association in partnership with the Blair House Restoration Fund, it details the history and mission of this storied residence,
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