Inside the presidential guest house — the ‘world’s most exclusive hotel’ that’s bigger than the White House

The White House may be the most famous building along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, but there’s a lesser-known government residence next door that has for decades played a role in US history and American diplomacy.

The Blair House, just steps from the north lawn of the White House, is the official presidential guest house.

Since World War II, it has acted as the “world’s most exclusive hotel,” hosting heads of state, royalty, and presidents-elect.

While the White House remains the main meeting location for US presidents and their foreign visitors, the guest house carries significance.

Take a look inside Blair House.


Blair House is the official presidential guesthouse.

source
Alex Wong/Getty

It’s just across the street from the White House, at 1651 Pennsylvania Ave.

source
Google Maps

Blair House was built in the 1820s as a home for Joseph Lovell, the eighth surgeon general of the US Army.

caption
Blair Mansion, sometime between 1918 and 1920.
source
Wikipedia Commons

In 1836, Francis Blair, a close friend and supporter of President Andrew Jackson, bought the home for $6,500.

source
Wikipedia Commons

The US government then purchased it in 1942, while Franklin D. Roosevelt was president.


It has since served as the official guesthouse for foreign dignitaries, heads of state, and visiting delegations to Washington.

caption
President John F. Kennedy hosted Panama’s president, Roberto F. Chiari, in June 1962.
source
Wikipedia Commons

President Harry S. Truman stayed in the house for about four years during his presidency while the White House was being renovated.

caption
UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill at Blair House.
source
Abbie Rowe/US National Archives and Records Administration

In 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists tried to assassinate Truman at the guesthouse. Police officers who stopped them from entering the home killed one and wounded the other at the scene.

caption
The would-be assassin Oscar Collazo lies at the foot of the steps leading up the Blair House in November 1950.
source
Hulton Archive/Getty

Today, Blair House makes up a complex of “four seamlessly connected townhomes,” with 110 rooms across roughly 70,000 square feet. It’s technically larger than the White House.

caption
The facade of 700 Jackson Place, an annex to Blair House, on an early morning in December 2015.
source
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Sources: US State Department, Blair House


Each of Blair House’s 14 guest rooms has “a full bathroom, three formal dining rooms, two large conference rooms, a hot and cold kitchen overseen by an executive chef and sous chef, a fully equipped beauty salon, an exercise room, and an in-house laundry facility.”

caption
President Barack Obama speaks with Cabinet Secretary Chris Lu before dinner at a retreat at Blair House in 2009.
source
Pete Souza/White House

Source: Blair House


There are also conference rooms, a library, and many seating areas for more intimate meetings. The finishings are traditional and luxurious.


“Since Blair House isn’t a hotel, the approach is to make guests feel like they’re staying in a personal residence,” says an article about the property in the November 2001 edition of the US Department of State’s magazine.

source
Reuters

Source: State Magazine


Only those who are officially invited by the president are allowed to stay there.

caption
President-elect Donald Trump departs Blair House to attend a church service at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Inauguration Day in 2017.
source
Chris Kleponis – Pool/Getty

But an exception is made for presidents waiting to be sworn into office during the transition period.


When a former president dies, family members are also allowed to stay at the residence before the funeral.

caption
A presidential limousine in Obama’s motorcade bearing the license plate 44 parked in front of Blair House in January 2009.
source
Jim Young/Reuters

The residence is officially managed by the State Department’s Office of the Chief of Protocol. Full-time staff members are responsible for cleaning and preparing the home for visitors.

caption
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton holds a bilateral meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in one of the conference rooms in 2012.
source
Alex Wong/Getty

Since major renovations in the 1980s, Blair House has been a frequent meeting place for bilateral negotiations and high-level talks.


A few notable guests include Queen Elizabeth II, King Juan Carlos of Spain, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

caption
King Juan Carlos of Spain with a member of the US-Spain Council at the Blair House on February 24, 2000.
source
Michael Smith/Getty

Visitors typically meet with a wide range of US officials at the home.

caption
From left: Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, and Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji at Blair House on April 9, 1999.
source
Alex Wong/Blair House

After a meeting at the White House in 2015, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping walked to Blair House for a private dinner.

caption
Obama chats with Xi en route to dinner across the street from the White House on September 24, 2015.
source
Rod Lamkey-Pool/Getty

A year later, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader of Myanmar who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

caption
Kerry greets Suu Kyi before their lunch meeting at Blair House on September 14, 2016.
source
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

When foreign dignitaries stay there, their countries’ flags are flown from the residence.

caption
Clinton meets with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at Blair House in 2009.
source
Alex Wong/Getty

Source: Blair House


US officials frequently hosts dinners, official receptions, and parties at the residence, too.

caption
Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, right, and his delegation meet with US business leaders at Blair House on May 2, 1999.
source
Reuters

Though few may know about the historical significance of Blair House, it has played a role in American diplomacy over the years.

source
Wikipedia Commons