U.s. Army Corps of Engineers
American Civil War
Brig. Gen. William Petit Trowbridge I
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE 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.