Brig. Gen. William Petit Trowbridge I
U.s. Army Corps of Engineers
American Civil War
WASHINGTON POST ABOUT THE WILLIAM PETIT TROWBRIDGE HOUSE IN WASHINGTON, D.C.
Washington Would Have Slept Here
Ex-Presidents Getting a B&B
By Jura Koncius
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 12, 2005; Page A01
Staff writer Annie Groer contributed to this report.
Opening soon in a 19th-century brick townhouse on Lafayette Square: An
elegant guesthouse with six fireplaces, classic American furniture and
decorative arts, a 14-member staff and one small condition for staying
there: You have to be a former president.
With an expected $6 million in private funds now being raised by a
bipartisan committee of Washington power brokers, Trowbridge House --
named for William Petit Trowbridge, the mathematics professor who built
it in 1859 -- will be transformed from dreary federal office space into
an official guesthouse for former presidents when they visit Washington.
Prospective donors are being offered "naming opportunities": a marble
fireplace mantelpiece for $250,000, a staircase for $500,000 or a major
room for $1 million.
The renovation is expected to begin this year. When it is complete, the
property at 708 Jackson Pl. NW will be linked with Blair House, where
visiting heads of state often stay. A complex of four houses, two on
Pennsylvania Avenue and two around the corner on Jackson Place, Blair
House will be connected to the refurbished quarters through a private
garden courtyard and the basement.
The four living former presidents have been enlisted in the effort to
fix up Trowbridge House, which would replace the only official housing
available to them -- another Lafayette Square townhouse with a couple of
beds and desks that is administered by the General Services
Administration. That house, at 716 Jackson Pl., a few doors down from
Trowbridge, was designated in 1969 by then-President Richard M. Nixon
for use as lodging and work space for former presidents.
"Saying it is basic is being kind," said Donald Burnham Ensenat, the
nation's chief of protocol. "It's some office space they have cleaned up
and put some beds in." Ensenat once toured the townhouse with former
first lady Barbara Bush, whose husband uses it occasionally as temporary
office space. "Barbara Bush agreed with me that it was modest. She was
more blunt than that about it."
Former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter have both stayed in the
house over the years. But a spokeswoman in Ford's Rancho Mirage, Calif.,
office said he now prefers the Willard hotel. And Carter and his wife,
Rosalynn, like to stay at the nearby Hay-Adams hotel, according to
associates of the Georgia Democrat.
The two most recent former presidents -- George H.W. Bush and Bill
Clinton -- don't need hotel rooms when they come to Washington, or a
guest house for that matter. Bush can stay with his son at the White
House, and Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.),
own a $2.85 million brick Georgian home off Embassy Row.
Thomas L. Siebert, who with his wife Debbie is a member of the
Trowbridge House national steering committee, predicted the new
guesthouse will have a high occupancy rate. "Right now, Bush 41 has
pretty good lodging in the same neighborhood. And Bill Clinton has a
wife who is a senator and has an in-town residence," said Siebert, a
former ambassador in the Clinton administration. But, he said,
"presidents today will be around a lot longer than 50 or 100 years ago,
and they will have a continuing presence in Washington."
The money to renovate, furnish and endow the property is being raised by
the nonprofit Trowbridge House Foundation. Almost half the money has
been pledged thus far, according to Ensenat. The Trowbridge House
committee features heavy hitters reaching back through several
administrations, including James A. Baker, secretary of state and chief
of staff under George H.W. Bush; Thomas F. McLarty, Clinton's chief of
staff; and Alexander M. Haig Jr., secretary of state under Ronald Reagan
and chief of staff under Nixon.
"It's a win-win situation," said Ensenat, whose office oversees the
running of Blair House and will be in charge of Trowbridge when it is
done. "We will get the security of Blair House and the use of their
other services as well."
Twenty years ago, Blair House underwent a high-profile, three-year $14.7
million renovation and redecoration (the total included $5 million in
private funds) with interior design by Mario Buatta and Mark Hampton,
turning it into what is essentially a five-star hotel. But former
presidents are not on the official guest list for Blair House's
chintz-laden 19th-century four-poster beds, Tiffany silver flatware or
elegant breakfast trays.
According to Randy Bumgardner, Blair House's general manager and
assistant chief of protocol, there are three kinds of visitors who
typically are invited by the president to stay at Blair House: visiting
chiefs of state or heads of government; the president-elect for several
days before the inauguration; and former first families during state
funerals. A president has the prerogative to invite other guests to stay there,
according to Ensenat, and Blair House is also used for various
diplomatic functions throughout the year. The Washington architectural firm of Leo A. Daly has drawn up the plans for renovating Trowbridge House, which is now partitioned into offices and lacks a functioning bathroom (anyone working there uses one in an adjoining townhouse). The interiors are being designed by New York decorator Alexa Hampton, daughter of Mark Hampton, who died in 1998.
Despite its proximity to the White House, Trowbridge House has a fairly
undistinguished history. After building it, William Trowbridge lived
there briefly before selling it in 1869. It was eventually leased by the
federal government for office space in the early 1900s and was purchased
by the government in 1950.