Donations, fees and sales: the funds that maintain the White House’s ‘museum quality’

Jackie Kennedy first visited the White House as a girl. “All I remember is shuffling through,” she told Life magazine. “There wasn’t even a booklet you could buy.” When she became first lady, she set about transforming it from bland and boring into a mansion worthy of a president – but someone would have to pay.

に 1961, Jackie Kennedy founded the White House Historical Association (WHHA) to protect, preserve and guarantee public access to America’s most famous address. Three years later, President Lyndon B Johnson created the committee for the preservation of the White House, a group of experts who work to maintain the “museum quality” of its public spaces.

The former first lady Barbara Bush helped revive the committee and set up the White House Endowment Trust, which is used for public rooms and conserving collections. The White House Acquisition Trust is used to acquire fine and decorative arts.

Both trusts receive funds from the WHHA, which in turn relies on private donations, membership fees and retail sales, including an annual Christmas ornament.

The White House system has this week been used as a point of comparison in Britain, where Boris Johnson is trying to set up a charity that could cover the costs of the refurbishment of the flat in Downing Street he shares with his fiancee.

Stewart McLaurin, president of the WHHA, said it raised about $7m from donors last year. “We do receive private philanthropy but it is totally nonpartisan,” he explained. “I would struggle to tell you the political affiliation with most of our donors. It’s a nonpartisan organisation.

“People give to us to support maintaining the White House itself, not because of any particular president or political party. Our donors are all across the country from all walks of life. Not just politically active people but people who are interested in historic preservation and American history.”

The most significant donor is David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group and a billionaire philanthropist so devoted to presidential history that he gave $7.5m to help the National Park Service repair the Washington monument after it was damaged by an earthquake in 2010.

Alterations to the White House’s first floor and ground floor, which contains the State Dining Room, Green Room, Blue Room and others, are made in consultation with the White House curator and the committee for the preservation of the White House. First ladies tend to play an active role.

McLaurin added: “Every first lady takes on two, 四, five projects that are legacy in nature for that particular presidency and it’s been our privilege to work with each of these first ladies and to collaborate with the White House staff in making these possible.

“Laura Bush did the Lincoln Bedroom and the library. Michelle Obama did the State Dining Room and the Old Family Dining Room, also on the state floor. The Red Room was the most significant of the projects we did with the Trump administration.」

Between 2012 そして 2015, the State Dining Room was given its first major upgrade since 1998, with the White House Endowment Trust picking up the $590,000 cost. Designers and materials were selected by Michelle Obama, the first lady, and the preservation committee.

The Associated Press reported: “Silk draperies with vertical stripes of peacock blue and ecru replace curtains made of ivory silk brocade and designed with flowers, baskets and ribbons. The blue in the draperies echoes the ‘Kailua’ blue that trims the modern-inspired china service the first lady unveiled in April and recalls the waters that surround President Barack Obama’s home state of Hawaii.”

The White House Endowment Trust only deals with renovations within the White House walls, while changes to the external grounds would typically fall under the General Services Administration or National Park Service. McLaurin said he was not aware of who picked up the tab for solar panels installed by Jimmy Carter or a tennis court adapted by Barack Obama so it could be used for both tennis and basketball.

昨年, Melania Trump opened a new tennis pavilion on the south grounds of the White House. It was constructed in partnership with the Trust for the National Mall and the National Park Service and funded by private donations. The endowment trusts were not involved.

The WHHA, その間, remains proud of its links to Jackie Kennedy. McLaurin said: “I’m constantly amazed. Here was a woman that was 31 when her husband was elected president of the United States and she served as first lady for less than three years but the process and the procedures that she put in place in the early 60s are still what governs historic preservation and maintains that museum standard for the White House today, 60 years later.”

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