Vice President Harris’s Temporary Home
Due to necessary renovations at Number One Observatory Circle — the official residence of the vice president in Washington, D.C. — Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will temporarily be living at another famous political property: Blair House, an aide for Harris tells PEOPLE.
Perhaps best known as the “President’s Guest House,” Blair House is a fully-staffed compound where guests of the President stay when invited to the U.S. for diplomatic visits.
The Design’s Hidden Secret
Composed of four interconnected townhouses — two on Pennsylvania Avenue (where the White House is located) and two on Jackson Place — Blair House is composed of 120 rooms spread across an astonishing 60,600 square feet.
The distinct 19th-century facades of each townhouse have been preserved, so they still appear as separate buildings from the outside.
Built in 1824, the original Blair House belonged to Dr. Joseph Lovell, the first surgeon general of the U.S. Army. In 1837, the home gained political significance when Francis Preston Blair, his wife Eliza and their three kids moved in.
Originally a circuit court clerk from Kentucky, Blair was invited to Washington by President Andrew Jackson. He became one of the president’s most powerful advisors and continued as a confidant for Presidents Martin Van Buren and Abraham Lincoln.
A New Addition
In 1859, Blair built one of the now-adjoining townhouses, called Lee House, for his daughter Elizabeth and her husband, Admiral Samuel Phillips Lee.
Blair’s eldest son, Montgomery, was later appointed to Lincoln’s cabinet as Postmaster General.
Becoming the Guest House
Blair House became the President’s official guest house in 1942 (in the middle of WWII), when it was purchased by the U.S. Government.
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.
President Franklin Roosevelt was one of the main supporters of the purchase of Blair House, believing that the U.S. needed a designated residence for foreign dignitaries, especially as WWII raged on and diplomacy was essential.
According to Blair House’s official website, U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill also played an interesting role in Roosevelt’s push for the acquisition of the home.
“Winston Churchill’s frequent trips to Washington helped convince President Franklin Roosevelt of the need for official diplomatic housing,” the site reads. “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 First Guest
The first foreign dignitary hosted in the Blair House was President Manuel Prado of Peru, pictured here (center) with Roosevelt (right) in May 1942.
By 1943, there were so many people visiting that the government purchased Lee House next door in order to to make room for more guests.
“The Truman White House”
President Harry S. Truman — pictured here with Churchill — actually lived at Blair House for four years of his two-term presidency, due to extensive renovations that took place at the White House. It earned the nickname “The Truman White House” for this reason.
On November 1, 1950, Puerto Rican nationalists Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola attempted to assassinate Truman while he was in Blair House in an effort to bring awareness to the Puerto Rican independence movement.
Police officers and Secret Service members stopped any gunfire from reaching Truman, and Torresola was killed and Collazo wounded.
The A-List Guest Book
Many foreign dignitaries have been hosted since Blair House became the President’s guest house, each of whom have signed the home’s guest book. Many guest book entries have been digitized, and can be read online.
Several entries from Queen Elizabeth II have been recorded. Here, she is seen leaving Blair House with Truman’s daughter, Margaret.
A Modern, Pre-Inauguration Tradition
In addition to hosting foreign dignitaries, the 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, seen here in the home’s Truman Study in January 1977.
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 also serves as a place for the family of a deceased former President to stay during a state funeral.
“It is at Blair House where the family receives condolence calls from former Presidents and First Ladies, foreign leaders, and friends,” reads the Blair House website.
Here, former First Lady Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton are seen greeting former First Lady Betty Ford at the home on January 1, 2006, after the state funeral for former President Gerald Ford.
Media interviews also oftentimes take place in Blair House, typically in the Jackson Place Conference Room. Here, Barack Obama is seen leaving the property after an interview discussing the Affordable Care Act in January 2017.
The Blair House often serves as a meeting space for events related to foreign affairs, as well.
For example, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted a summit of the G-8 Foreign Ministers in 2012.
Many of these distinguished guests are welcomed into the Blair Drawing Room, which was part of the original 1824 home and was designed to hold large gatherings.
(Fun fact: Francis Preston Blair’s aforementioned daughter, Elizabeth Blair, was married to Samuel Phillips Lee in the room in 1843!)
Here, Obama is seen hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping and colleagues in the space in September 2015.
Larger, more formal meals are often eaten in the Lee Dining Room — the most frequently used room in the home. According to the Blair House website, meals are prepared in “a hot and cold kitchen overseen by an executive chef and sous chef.”
What Vice President Harris Can Expect
Today, Blair House is a thoughtful mix of old and new — full of modern amenities yet imbued with memories of the many important figures who have passed through its doors.
According to the Blair House website, the home at present 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.
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