Jackie Kennedy first visited the White House as a child. “All I remember is shuffling,” he told Life magazine. “There wasn’t even a brochure you could buy.” When she became first lady, she set about transforming it from dull and boring into a mansion fit for a president, but someone would have to pay.
In 1961, Jackie Kennedy founded the White House Historical Association (WHHA) to protect, preserve, and ensure public access to America’s most famous address. Three years later, President Lyndon B Johnson created the White House Preservation Committee, a group of experts who work to maintain the “museum quality” of its public spaces.
Former first lady Barbara Bush helped revive the committee and establish the White House Endowment Fund, which is used for public rooms and collections preservation. The White House Acquisition Trust is used to acquire fine and decorative arts.
Both trusts receive funding from WHHA, which in turn relies on private donations, membership dues, and retail sales, including an annual Christmas ornament.
The White House system has been used this week as a point of comparison in Britain, where Boris Johnson is trying to set up a charity that could cover the costs of remodeling the Downing Street flat he shares with his fiancée.
WHHA president Stewart McLaurin said it raised about $ 7 million from donors last year. “We get private philanthropy but it’s totally nonpartisan,” he explained. “It would be hard for me to tell you the political affiliation with most of our donors. It is a non-partisan organization.
“People give us to support the maintenance of the White House itself, not for a particular president or political party. Our donors are all over the country from all walks of life. Not just politically active people, but people interested in historic preservation and American history. “
The largest donor is David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group and a billionaire philanthropist so dedicated to presidential history that he donated $ 7.5 million to help the National Park Service repair the Washington Monument after it was damaged by a earthquake in 2010.
Modifications to the first floor and ground floor of the White House, 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: “Each first lady takes on two, four, five projects that are a natural legacy for that particular presidency and it has been a privilege to work with each of these first ladies and collaborate with the White House staff to make them 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 and 2015, the State Dining Room received its first major update since 1998, and the White House Endowment Trust assumed the cost of $ 590,000. The designers and materials were selected by Michelle Obama, the first lady, and the preservation committee.
The Associated Press reported: “Peacock blue and ecru vertically striped silk curtains replace curtains made of ivory silk brocade and designed with flowers, baskets and ribbons. The blue of the curtains echoes the ‘Kailua’ blue that adorns the modern-inspired porcelain service the first lady unveiled in April and is reminiscent of the waters surrounding President Barack Obama’s home state of Hawaii. “
The White House Endowment Fund only deals with renovations within the walls of the White House, while changes to external grounds generally fall to the General Services Administration or the National Park Service. McLaurin said he didn’t know who paid the bill for the solar panels installed by Jimmy Carter or a tennis court adapted by Barack Obama so it could be used for both tennis and basketball.
Last year, Melania Trump opened a new tennis pavilion on the south grounds of the White House. It was built in partnership with the Trust for the National Mall and the National Park Service and funded by private donations. Estate trusts were not involved.
The WHHA, meanwhile, remains proud of its ties to Jackie Kennedy. McLaurin said: “I am constantly in awe. Here was a woman who was 31 when her husband was elected president of the United States and served as first lady for less than three years, but the process and procedures that she put in place in the early 1960s are still what they govern historic preservation and maintain that museum standard for the White House today, 60 years later. “