Blair House, a National Historic Landmark, is part of the President’s Guest House Complex. The house itself was built for Dr. Joseph Lovell, the first Surgeon General on the United States, in 1824. In 1836 it was bought by Francis Preston Blair, Sr., a member of President Jackson’s “Kitchen Cabinet.” The Blair’s built a house next door for their daughter in 1852, which became known as the Lee House. The two houses were and still are practically used as one. The United States Government purchased Blair House in 1942 and it has been housing guests of the presidents since that time.
Backstory and Context
Blair House was an important home even its early years. The Blairs were an influential family and their son Montgomery Blair was an advisor to President Lincoln. The house experienced a resurgence in popularity in 1942 when became a place of residence for visiting dignitaries. It was frequent visits by Winston Churchill that sparked President Franklin Roosevelt’s desire to use the house for diplomatic purposes. It was purchased by the government in 1942.
Prior to Blair House, most guests of the president stayed in the White House and then a hotel or embassy for the rest of the visit. During the Truman administration the Blair House became the Truman White House. Renovation and remodeling in the White House left a need for Truman to relocate to Blair House. At this time as well, on November 1, 1950, Puerto Rican nationalists, Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo, made an assassination attempt on President Truman, in broad daylight. Collazo was mortally wounded and White House Policeman Leslie Coeffeit was killed in the failed attempt after he killed Torresola.
It now consists of four connected townhomes featuring more than 120 rooms. It has 14 guestrooms, 3 formal dining rooms, two conference rooms, a beauty salon, an exercise room and in-house laundry facility. It has a full-time staff of 18 people including an executive chef and a sous chef. It is not open to the public. If it is not occupied, Blair House often hosts special events.
The house has played a key role in U.S. history as many notable guests, important conversations and key decisions have been made within its walls. Famous guests at the Blair House include Winston Churchill, Vyacheslav Molotov, Emperor Akihito of Japan, Queen Elizabeth II, Charles de Gaulle, François Mitterrand, Vladimir Putin, Boris Yeltsin, Hosni Mubarak (Egypt), Margaret Thatcher, Javier Perez de Cuellar (5th Secretary General to the UN), Nambaryn Enkhbayar, Narendra Modi, Hamid Karzai (Afghanistan), and Justin Trudeau.
Smith, Elbert B. Francis Preston Blair. New York: Free Press, 1980.
Smith, William E. Francis P. Blair: Pen-executive of Andrew Jackson. Cedar Rapids: The Torch Press, 1931.