President's Guest House

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President's Guest House
President's Guest House.jpg
The President's Guest House pictured in 2007.
President's Guest House is located in Washington, D.C.
President's Guest House
location of the President's Guest House in Washington, D.C.
Alternative names Blair House
General information
Type official residence
Architectural style

Federal (Blair House and Lee House) [1]

Victorian (Peter Parker House and 704 Jackson Place) [1]
Address 1651 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Town or city Washington, DC
Country United States
Coordinates 38°53′56″N 77°02′27″W / 38.899006°N 77.0407867°W / 38.899006; -77.0407867
Construction started 1824
Completed 1989
Owner United States
Landlord Chief of Protocol of the United States
Technical details
Material brick and stucco [1]
Floor count 4 [2]
Floor area 18,807 m2 [2]
Design and construction
Architecture firm Mendel, Mesick, Cohen, Waite, Hall Architects (1982 merger of four existing structures)[1]
Other information
Number of rooms 119[2]

The President's Guest House, commonly known as Blair House, is a complex of four, formerly separate, buildings—Blair House, Lee House, Peter Parker House, and 704 Jackson Place—located in Washington, DC. Between the 1950s and 1980s a major internal renovation of these 19th century residences resulted in their seamless joining and reconstitution as a single facility.

The President's Guest House is one of several residences owned by the United States government for use by the President and Vice-President of the United States, also including the White House, Camp David, One Observatory Circle, the Presidential Townhouse, Trowbridge House, and others. Used primarily to host visiting dignitaries and other guests of the president, it has been called "the world's most exclusive hotel". The President's Guest House is larger than the White House and, unlike that building, is closed to the public.


Strictly speaking, "Blair House" refers to one of four existing structures that were merged to form a single building. The U.S. State Department generally uses the name Blair House to refer to the entire facility while also explaining that "Blair House is the building officially known as The President's Guest House".[3][4] The General Services Administration refers to the complex in its entirety as the "President's Guest House", reserving the name Blair House to indicate just the historic Blair House portion of the facility.[1]



Blair House, as a separate building, pictured in about 1919

Blair House[edit]

The oldest of the four structures that comprise the President's Guest House, Blair House was constructed in 1824.[5] The original brick house was built as a private home for Joseph Lovell, eighth Surgeon General of the United States Army. In 1836, it was acquired by Francis Preston Blair, a newspaper publisher and influential advisor to President Andrew Jackson. It would remain in his family for the following century.[5]

Francis Blair's son, Montgomery Blair, succeeded his father as resident of Blair House. Montgomery Blair was Postmaster General in Lincoln's administration; at a conference at Blair House in 1861, it was decided that Admiral David Farragut would command the assault on New Orleans during the American Civil War.[6]

In 1939 Blair House was designated a National Historic Landmark, becoming the first building so honored with the designation (prior landmarks had been monuments and historic sites other than buildings).[7]

A marker on the exterior of Blair House memorializes police officer Leslie Coffelt, who was killed defending the building in 1950.

Beginning in 1942, the Blair family began leasing the property to the U.S. government for use by visiting dignitaries, with the property being purchased outright the following December.[2] The move was prompted, in part, by a request from Eleanor Roosevelt who found the casual familiarity Winston Churchill displayed during his visits to the White House off-putting.[8] On one occasion, Churchill attempted to enter Franklin Roosevelt's private apartments at 3:00 a.m. to wake the president for a conversation.[9]

During much of the presidency of Harry Truman, Blair House served as the temporary residence of the president of the United States, while the interior of the White House was being renovated.[10] On November 1, 1950, Puerto Rican nationalists Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo attempted to assassinate President Truman in Blair House.[10] The assassination was foiled, in part by White House policeman Leslie Coffelt, who killed Torresola, but was mortally wounded by him.[10]

Lee House[edit]

In 1859, Francis Preston Blair built a house for his daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth Blair Lee and Samuel Phillips Lee next door to Blair House. The home was subsequently known as Lee House.[11]

Peter Parker House and 704 Jackson Place[edit]

Peter Parker House, located at 700 Jackson Place, and an adjacent home at 704 Jackson Place, were both originally constructed in 1860, the Peter Parker House so named as it was originally the home of physician Peter Parker. The U.S. government acquired both properties between 1969 and 1970, after having previously rented them for office space. Peter Parker House previously served as the headquarters of the Civil War Centennial Commission and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.[12]


The German presidential standard is displayed outside the President's Guest House during the 1992 visit of Richard von Weizsäcker.

Unification of Blair House and Lee House[edit]

A renovation in the early 1950s resulted in the joining of Blair House and Lee House into a single facility, informally known as Blair-Lee House.[13]

Unification of Blair-Lee House with Jackson Place buildings[edit]

President Park Geun-hye of South Korea (left) hosts a meeting with World Bank leaders while occupying the President's Guest House in 2013.

In the early 1980s, Congress appropriated $9.7 million for the property's further renovation and improvement. Federally appropriated funds were augmented with $5 million in private donations. The Jackson Place properties were internally combined into a single building and then merged with the Blair-Lee House by way of a connecting structure occupying the alleyway that had formerly separated them. The renovation and merger of the four properties into a unified structure resulted in their closure from 1982 through 1988.[14]

Notable residents[edit]

Notable guests who have stayed at the President's Guest House, or the formerly separate Blair House, include Vyacheslav Molotov, Emperor Akihito, Queen Elizabeth II, Charles de Gaulle, François Mitterrand, Vladimir Putin, Boris Yeltsin, Hosni Mubarak, Margaret Thatcher, Javier Perez de Cuellar, Nambaryn Enkhbayar, Hamid Karzai, and others.[2][15]

In addition to foreign dignitaries, the President's Guest House has traditionally been made available by the outgoing President of the United States to the President-elect of the United States in the five days prior to his inauguration.[16] In 1992, Bill Clinton chose to stay at the Hay–Adams Hotel instead of the guest house and, in 2009, a request by then President-elect Barack Obama to take-up residence at the President's Guest House two weeks early was rejected due to its prior commitment to former Australian prime minister John Howard.[17][18]

During the state funeral of a former president of the United States, the former president's family customarily resides in the guest house for the duration of the observances.[19]


Exterior spaces[edit]

This aerial view of Pennsylvania Avenue shows the President's Guest House in relation to other presidential facilities in the vicinity of President's Park.
The Ross Garden is named after philanthropist Arthur Ross, who endowed a fund for its maintenance.

The President's Guest House sits on the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Jackson Place. On its southern side, it faces the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, while its eastern front faces Lafayette Square. To its western side, along Pennsylvania Avenue, it sits adjacent to the Renwick Gallery. Its northern side, along Jackson Place, abuts Trowbridge House, a separate presidential residence. Immediately behind the gardens of the President's Guest House is the New Executive Office Building.[14]

The Ross Garden is an enclosed garden in the rear of the property named after Arthur Ross who established an endowment to maintain the grounds in perpetuity.[20]

Rumors allege the existence of an underground tunnel connecting the President's Guest House to the White House.[21]

Interior spaces[edit]

The residence consists of 119 rooms, including 14 bedrooms and 35 bathrooms. At nearly 70,000 square feet, the President's Guest House is, by floor area, larger than the White House.[1][14]

Coffelt Memorial Room[edit]

The Coffelt Memorial Room, located in the basement of the property, is named after police officer Leslie Coffelt who was killed while defending Blair House against an attack by Puerto Rican separatists in 1950. The room is used as a day room by the United States Secret Service Uniformed Division detachment assigned to the property. Dedicated in 1990, it includes a portrait of Coffelt and his framed medals, which were donated by his step-daughter.[22][23]

The wallpaper in the Dillon Room dates to 1770.

Dillon Drawing Room[edit]

Originally known as the Lee Drawing Room, the Dillon Drawing Room was renamed in honor of former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury C. Douglas Dillon who donated its unique wallpaper, a Chinese print from 1770. Dillon's wife, Phyllis, purchased the wallpaper on the recommendation of interior designer Eleanor Brown in 1964.[24] Between 1982 and 1988 the wallpaper was removed and refurbished. The room is furnished with 18th century English pieces, along with vases from the Ming and Kang Xi dynasties.[24] The Dillon Drawing Room is used by resident heads of state and chiefs of government to formally receive visitors.[14]

Head of State suite[edit]

The head-of-state suite is the apartments designated for use by the principal resident. It consists of a sitting room, two bedrooms with adjoining dressing rooms, two bathrooms, and a powder room.[25] It is furnished with 18th century English antiques which were valued, in 1987, at more than $1 million.[26]

The library at the President's Guest House hosts a collection of books deposited by the home's former guests.

Lee Dining Room[edit]

The Lee Dining Room is used for formal banquets. It is lit by an 1825 Irish crystal chandelier. One-hundred place settings of fine china and 150 place settings of sterling silver flatware were acquired from Tiffany & Co. in 1988 for use in the dining room.[27]


The small library, located in the home's Blair House wing, is stocked with approximately 1500 books. Guests staying at the house traditionally present a book for deposit in the library. A portrait of Francis Blair hangs over the library's fireplace mantle.[2]

The Lincoln Room at the President's Guest House features a Marchant portrait of Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln Room[edit]

The centerpiece of the Lincoln Room is a portrait of Abraham Lincoln by 19th century American portraitist Edward Dalton Marchant, one among a number of drawings, paintings, and photographs of Lincoln used to decorate this room. The sitting room, located in the Blair House wing of the complex, was originally used by the Blair family to receive U.S. presidents. In 1861 Montgomery Blair, acting on Lincoln's orders, offered the command of the Union Army to Robert E. Lee in this room, an offer which Lee declined.[2]

French president Francois Hollande hosts U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for an informal working lunch in the Treaty Room in 2012.

Treaty Room[edit]

Located in the Peter Parker House wing of the President's Guest House, the centerpiece of the Treaty Room is a 22-seat mahogany table which sits on an 1890 Sarouk rug. A photo portrait of Empress Dowager Cixi, presented as a diplomatic gift to the United States by the Great Qing in 1905, hangs in the room.[28]

Truman Study[edit]

The centerpiece of the Truman Study is a fireplace mantel originally installed in the White House. It was removed to Blair House during Truman's occupancy, when he used this room as his personal office. In 1987 the mantel was refinished in white enamel with gold leaf accents. In 2004, before the state funeral of Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan used the Truman Study to receive visitors.[29]

Facade of the original Blair House during the state visit of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom in 2007. The Royal Standard of the United Kingdom is displayed on the flag pole.


Administration and staff[edit]

The President's Guest House is owned by the U.S. government and managed by the office of the Chief of Protocol of the United States in cooperation with the Diplomatic Security Service, the Department of State's Bureau of Administration, and the Department of State's Office of Fine Arts.[2] While maintenance and operation of the facility is paid for by the U.S. government, a private foundation, known as the Blair House Restoration Fund, finances the preservation of historic furnishings and art. The board of trustees of the Blair House Restoration Fund is chaired by Selwa Roosevelt.[30]

Two special agents of the Diplomatic Security Service guard a motorcade vehicle outside the President's Guest House in 2005.

The house is operated by a full-time staff who, though non-residential, customarily live-in during periods of occupancy by a visiting dignitary. In 2001 the staff included a general manager, an assistant general manager, two butlers, a doorman, four housekeepers, two chefs, a launderer, a curator, and several maintenance and other workers.[19][31] Security for the facility is provided by the United States Secret Service during periods of occupancy by foreign heads of state and chiefs of government. During visits by other guests, such as foreign ministers, the Diplomatic Security Service assumes the leading role.[32]


When a visiting foreign dignitary is in residence at the President's Guest House, the dignitary's official standard is displayed on the building's flagpole. In cases of dignitaries who do not have official standards, the respective nation's flag is displayed instead.[2]

On occasions where two or more foreign visitors of equal rank are visiting Washington, DC, neither are invited to stay at the President's Guest House. The policy is in place to avoid the perception of favoritism.[33]

Other guest facilities[edit]

Hotel executive suites[edit]

The Presidential Suite at the Willard Hotel is also often used as a residence by dignitaries visiting Washington, DC.

Due to the large number of international organizations headquartered in Washington, such as the World Bank and Organization of American States, it is not uncommon for more than one dignitary to visit the city simultaneously. When the President's Guest House is occupied by a dignitary of high rank (such as a head of state), a visiting dignitary from a different nation holding inferior rank (for example, a chief of government or foreign minister) may stay at the chancery of his nation's embassy, or at the Washington-area residence of his nation's ambassador to the United States. In cases of nations whose embassies do not have residential quarters, the visiting dignitary typically makes use of private hotels with facilities available for hosting high-ranking officials. These include the Thomas Jefferson Suite at the Willard InterContinental Washington, the Presidential Suite at the Mandarin Oriental Washington, the Presidential Suite at the St. Regis Hotel, and the Presidential Suite and Federal Suite at the Hay-Adams Hotel.[2][34][35][36][37]

White House guest quarters[edit]

Some visiting dignitaries with whom the sitting president has a personal relationship have been invited to stay in the guest quarters at the White House, a suite of rooms in the southeast corner of the second floor of that building that includes the Lincoln Bedroom and Queens' Bedroom, plus their adjoining sitting rooms, dressing rooms and bathrooms. These are separated from the president's apartments by a staircase landing.[38] During the presidency of Bill Clinton, Queen Sonja and John Major both stayed in the White House guest quarters, instead of the President's Guest House.[39] Clinton also invited Tony Blair to stay at the White House in lieu of the President's Guest House, an invitation that was conditioned on Blair not "parading around naked" (a reference to Winston Churchill's alleged behavior as a White House guest that was part of the impetus for the acquisition of the original Blair House).[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "President's Guest House". General Services Administration. Retrieved 28 October 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j French, Mary Mel (2010). United States Protocol. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 297–300. ISBN 1-4422-0319-6. 
  3. ^ "Protocol Frequently Asked Questions". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 23 January 2016. 
  4. ^ "Blair House". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 23 January 2016. 
  5. ^ a b Ferris, Gary (1999). Presidential Places. John F Blair Publishers. ISBN 0-89587-176-9. 
  6. ^ "Blair House". National Park Service. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 
  7. ^ Moeller, G. Martin (2006). AIA Guide to the Architecture of Washington. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 168. 
  8. ^ Stephey, M.J. (15 January 2009). "Blair House: World's Most Exclusive Hotel". TIME Magazine. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  9. ^ "Becoming the President's Guest House". Blair House Preservation Fund. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  10. ^ a b c "An assassination attempt threatens President Harry S. Truman". History Channel. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  11. ^ Brinker, Nancy (1 October 2008). "Blair House: A Witness to History". Washington Life Magazine. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  12. ^ Cook, Robert (2007). Troubled Commemoration: The American Civil War Centennial, 1961–1965. Louisiana State University Press. p. 36. ISBN 0-8071-3227-6. 
  13. ^ Eads, Jane (4 February 1958). "President's Guest House Receives Face Lifting". Tuscaloosa News. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 
  14. ^ a b c d "Blair House: The President's Guest House". C-SPAN. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  15. ^ "Blair House Guest Book". Blair House Restoration Fund. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 
  16. ^ Cooper, Helene (12 December 2008). "Sorry, We're Booked, White House Tells Obamas". New York Times. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  17. ^ Quinn, Sally (16 January 2009). "The Obstacle to the Obamas' Stay at Blair House: Former Aussie Leader John Howard". Washington Post. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  18. ^ "The Accommodations; Blair House It Isn't, but It Isn't Inexpensive, Either". New York Times. 18 November 1992. Retrieved 23 January 2016. 
  19. ^ a b Armstrong, Monique (November 2001). "Blair House" (PDF). State Magazine. Retrieved 23 January 2016. 
  20. ^ "Major Gifts". Blair House Restoration Fund. Retrieved 28 October 2015. 
  21. ^ Bates, Daniel (19 October 2011). "Mystery of the West Wing hole". Daily Mail. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 
  22. ^ Conrey, Sarah (4 November 1990). "Room honors officer who helped save president". The Bulletin. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  23. ^ Oliver, Willard (2010). Killing the President: Assassinations, Attempts, and Rumored Attempts on U.S. Commanders-in-Chief. Praeger. p. 110. ISBN 0-313-36474-5. 
  24. ^ a b Feeser, Andrea (2012). The Materiality of Color. Ashgate. p. 259. ISBN 1-4094-2915-6. 
  25. ^ Slesin, Susan (16 June 1988). "Fit for Dignitaries, Blair House Reopens Its Stately Doors". New York Times. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 
  26. ^ Conroy, Sarah (27 September 1987). "BLAIR-LEE'S RENEW DEAL". Washington Post. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 
  27. ^ "Tiffany & Co. China and Silver". Blair House Restoration Fund. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  28. ^ "Jackson Place Conference Room". Blair House Restoration Fund. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  29. ^ "Truman Study". Blair House Restoration Fund. Retrieved 26 October 2015. 
  30. ^ "Blair House Restoration Fund". Blair House Restoration Fund. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  31. ^ Koncius, Jura (15 January 2009). "Blair House, Now Home to the Obamas, Has Hosted Decades' Worth of VIP Guests". Washington Post. Retrieved 25 October 2015. 
  32. ^ "Ask the White House". National Archives and Records Administration. Retrieved 23 January 2006. 
  33. ^ "Inside Foggy Bottom". The Washington Center. Retrieved 23 January 2016. 
  34. ^ "Thomas Jefferson Suite". InterContinental Hotels Group. Retrieved 23 January 2016. 
  35. ^ Robbins, McLean (20 February 2012). "Pimped out presidential suites in Washington, DC". Gadling. Retrieved 23 January 2016. 
  36. ^ "Suites". The Leading Hotels of the World. Retrieved 23 January 2016. 
  37. ^ "The Motorcades of D.C.". Weekly Standard. 17 March 2014. Retrieved 23 January 2016. 
  38. ^ Cannon, Angie (6 March 1994). "Who Hasn't Slept In The Lincoln Bedroom?". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 23 January 2016. 
  39. ^ "The Lincoln Bedroom Guest List". CNN. 25 February 1997. Retrieved 23 January 2016. 
  40. ^ Collinson, Stephen (8 January 2016). "Clinton and Blair's secret conversations revealed". CNN. Retrieved 23 January 2016. 

External links[edit]