IWalked Washington D.C.’s Blair House
The Blair House is the official guest house for visitors of the White House. When guests, such as foreign dignitaries come to visit, they stay within this 70,000 square foot, 119 room complex that is larger than the White House itself. The flag of the nation from which the dignitaries are visiting is always flown outside of the Blair House to signify that the residence is, at least for the given period of the visit, considered foreign soil. Residency within the Blair House can also be tough to come by. When President Obama and his family moved to Washington and were seeking a place to stay prior to his inauguration, they were rebuffed and informed that the home was currently being occupied by the former Prime Minister of Australia.
The Blair House began as a single home at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, but has since expanded to into four adjoining townhouses. The original building was constructed as a two-story structure in 1824 and was designed in the Federal style with a brick façade. The brick was later covered over with stucco and subsequently modernized to its current limestone exterior. Other later alterations to the building included the addition of a third and fourth story in the early 1850s.
The residence at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW was designed by an unknown architect for Joseph Lovell, the eight Surgeon General of the United States Army. Upon Lovell’s passing in 1836, the building was purchased by Francis Preston Blair for the sum of $6,500. Blair was an American journalist and politician who served as an advisor to President Andrew Jackson. Through his role as editor of the Congressional Globe newspaper, Blair was deemed a highly influential advisor to Jackson and considered a part of Jackson’s elite “Kitchen Cabinet.”
In 1859, Blair acquired the adjoining red brick Federal style home at 1653 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Blair had purchased the home as a gift to his daughter and her husband, Rear Admiral of the Navy, Samuel Phillips Lee. Samuel was related to the former Confederate General Robert E. Lee as the two were distant (third) cousins. In fact, it was at this residence that Robert had formerly turned down the opportunity to command the Union Army as offered by Francis Blair on April 18, 1861. The two other neighboring homes that would be integrated into the Blair-Lee home (700 Jackson Place and 704 Jackson Place) were each constructed in 1860.
The Blair Home was acquired by the U.S. government in 1942 for the purpose of needed guest space. A legend around the reason for this off-site hotel for White House guests has long been told surrounding Winston Churchill’s former overnight stays. Allegedly Mr. Churchill was noted for his love of staying up late and enjoying his brandy and cigars. After one especially long evening Eleanor Roosevelt decided she had had enough of Winston’s “bad influence” on her husband and demanded that a guest house be found as a solution for future guests.
One last tale regarding the Blair House revolves around an assassination plot on President Harry Truman that actually occurred here on November 1, 1950. Two Puerto Rican Nationalists named Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo literally walked up to Blair House and opened fire on security guards around the house. A White House Policeman, Leslie Coffelt, was mortally wounded in the shootout, but he managed to stagger out of his guard booth and take out Torresola before he perished himself. Collazo would be arrested and spend twenty-nine years in a federal prison before being released in September 1979.
Address: 1651-1653 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
Cost: Free to view from exterior. No tours are available.
IWalked Audio Tours To See This Site: Washington D.C’s White House and Foggy Bottom. (Download the MP3 tour here. iPhone application tour is available here. Please note, all Washington D.C. tours are now available as in-app purchases upon download of our FREE Washington D.C. Tours application, which includes a nearly 4-hour tour of the National Mall.)