Blair House: Summit is Latest Chapter in Building’s Colorful History

Feb 25, 2010 2:03pm

ABC News’ Devin Dwyer reports:

The “political theater” playing out today at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue across from the White House is not the first time the four-story townhouse has been thrust into the national spotlight.

Blair House, the president’s official guest house, has been the site of landmark policy negotiations, an embarrassing international gaffe, and a dramatic assassination attempt, since its purchase by the government in 1942.

It was inside Blair House that President Truman huddled with his advisors to design the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II — and later crafted the Truman Doctrine for how the U.S. would deal with the Soviet Union.

After the Cold War had ended, it was also from Blair House that the first Russian president, Boris Yeltsin, infamously stumbled out drunk for late-night pizza run, reportedly being caught by Secret Service agents as he tried to hail a cab in his underwear.

In 1950, Blair House was the scene of a bold and violent assassination attempt on President Harry Truman when two Puerto Rican nationalists stormed the entrance and fired on Secret Service agents and White House police.

The attack failed to get past the front door, but it alarmed the First Family inside, leaving one of the attackers and an officer dead and others injured, according to the Blair House website

In recent years, Blair House — whose nineteenth-century namesake was a Washington newspaper editor and informal advisor of President Andrew Jackson — has hosted numerous visiting dignitaries from around the world and offered a space for presidents to hold meetings and retreats.

In 1997, President Clinton held cabinet meetings there culminating in publication of the “Blair House Papers” that outlined a vision for improving the performance of the federal bureaucracy.

President Obama held a closed-door cabinet retreat at Blair House in July to discuss the administration’s policy goals after six months in office.

Prior to taking the presidential oath, Obama and several predecessors used Blair House as a temporary residence to facilitate a smooth transition to the White House on inauguration day.

Perhaps the most colorful tidbit in Blair House history is its origin as part of the presidential complex – largely thanks to a frequent White House visitor in the 1940s, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

According to former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala’s welcome to guests of Blair House in 2000: “Early one morning, Eleanor Roosevelt found the prime minister wandering around the White House, puffing his ever-present cigar-and still in his night shirt.  Churchill demanded to see the President. Shortly after, Eleanor demanded a guest house.”

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