In keeping with time-honored tradition, President Donald J. Trump invited President-elect Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden to stay at the historic Blair House on the eve of the upcoming presidential inauguration. The Bidens accepted the January request and will purportedly stay at the official guest house of the acting president. The distinguished property, located across from the White House, is managed by the State Department Office of the Chief of Protocol. However, extension of the invitation is at the discretion of President Trump and First Lady Melania, who made the offer amidst preparing to move from the White House to their Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.
Blair House, the landmark building which sits at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue, has a strong political history. It built around 1824 for Dr. Joseph Lovell, eighth Surgeon General of the United States Army, as a family home. The treasured brick dwelling was constructed on land purchased from Commodore Stephen Decatur. The home was later acquired by Francis Preston Blair, a circuit court clerk from Frankfort, Kentucky, and his family, in 1837. Blair, for whom the home is named, had been summoned to DC at the request of President Andrew Jackson, to turn a declining newspaper, the Globe, into a pro-administration publication.
Throughout history, many important politicians, including President Jackson’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” and others, frequented Blair House. Francis Preston Blair took on the role of confidant to other presidents, including Van Buren and Lincoln. In 1859, Blair built a home next to his residence for his daughter and her Admiral husband. Today, Lee House is part of a complex of four separate buildings that are collectively known as “The President’s Guest House” and include Blair House, Lee House, Peter Parker House, and 704 Jackson Place.
Grandson Gist Blair resided in the Blair house until his death in 1940. The property was thereafter purchased by the federal government in 1942 and became the official guest home of the then acting president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Previously, heads of state were invited at stay at the White House. However, Eleanor Roosevelt put a stop to that practice after Winston Churchill, while smoking a cigar, paid an unsolicited visit to the couple’s bedroom for a late-night chat.
The President’s Guest House played a dramatic role in history, when from 1948 to 1952, President Harry S Truman and his family moved into Blair House while the White House was undergoing renovations. The building became the site of an assassination attempt on Truman; the second of two for that president. In November of 1950, two militant Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to enter the home to kill the President. During the event, a White House Police officer was mortally wounded but returned fire to kill one of the assassins. The second was wounded by Secret Service. Fortunately, Harry S Truman was upstairs in the house and remained unharmed.
In 1977, Former President Jimmy Carter initiated the time-honored tradition of lodging at Blair House on the eve of his inauguration. Since then, each incoming president has followed suit, per invitation of the outgoing President, gaining comfort and convenience ahead of the events. Furnished with the finest of antique furniture, art, and objects, the National historic landmark is regarded as the “world’s most exclusive hotel.” Though the Bidens have accepted the invitation to stay at Blair House, it remains unclear whether they intend to be overnight guests or have simply accepted the invite for the sake of tradition. Regardless, it’s nice to see an olive branch extended from one administration to the next, and for thoughtful customs to remain intact.