Where Will the Visiting King Stay?

Have you ever wondered where foreign kings and queens, prime ministers, and presidents stay when they visit our president here in Washington, DC on official state business?

  • Maybe they stay in the White House?
  • Maybe we put them up in a high-end hotel near-by?
  • Could they stay with you?

Well, yes and no! Here’s the scoop ---

When Heads of State come to Washington, DC on official State business, they are invited by and guests of the President of the United States. Until the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt ( Our 32nd president.)  Heads of State who were guests of the president, customarily did stay at the White House. After they completed their official business with the president, they graciously said “good-bye” and moved to a hotel (at their own expense) or to their country’s embassy if they wanted to extend their visit.

However, as you can imagine, having strange guests in your house, even if it’s a house as large as the White House, could get tricky!

Enter Winston Churchill ---

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom’s frequent trips to Washington helped convince President Franklin Roosevelt of the need for separate, official diplomatic housing. It happened like this --- One morning while Mr. Churchill was visiting at the White House, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt found him wandering towards the family’s private quarters around 3:00am, his trademark cigar in hand. He was out to awaken the sleeping president for another round of conversation. Thankfully, he encountered Eleanor first and she firmly persuaded him to wait until breakfast!

Partly as a result of this incident and also because of the increased need for diplomacy arising from the United State’s military role in World War II, President Roosevelt convinced the United States government to purchase Blair House, a house located just across the street from the White House. It was soon dubbed the President’s Guesthouse.

Blair House, as it’s usually referred to now, is really a complex of four, formerly separate buildings—Blair House, Lee House, Peter Parker House, and 704 Jackson Place.  It consists of 119 rooms, including 14 bedrooms and 35 bathrooms. At nearly 70,000 square feet (6,500 m), the president's guesthouse is—by floor area—larger than the White House. And it’s away from sleeping presidents!  Thank goodness!

According to Blair House information, a typical schedule for Blair House in a calendar year could look something like  --- “up to thirty visits by foreign leaders, multiple foreign policy–related luncheons, dinners, receptions and teas, and countless official meetings, all of which underscore the unique diplomatic role of the President’s Guest House.” Whew!

Besides being the president’s guesthouse, Blair House is the residence of a president-elect in the days just prior to taking the Presidential Oath of Office and moving into the White House.  It also serves as a residence for the family of a deceased former president during a state funeral. It’s here, at Blair House, that the grieving family receives condolence calls from former Presidents and First Ladies, foreign leaders, and friends.

In case you were wondering why it’s called Blair House, it’s because the primary and first house of the 4-house complex to be purchased was the home of Francis Preston Blair and his family. Mr. Blair was a circuit court clerk, then later a newspaper publisher and influential advisor to President Andrew Jackson. The term "kitchen cabinet" was born in the house where Andrew Jackson's friends and advisors would gather in the Blair's kitchen.

If you have a chance to explore DC this spring, plan a stroll in the President’s Neighborhood and see if there is a Head of State in residence at Blair House.

Blair House

Blair House

Francis Preston Blair

Francis Preston Blair

Hint:

When a visiting foreign dignitary is in residence at the president's guest house, the dignitary's official standard is displayed on the building's flagpole. In cases where dignitaries have no official standards, the dignitary's national flag is displayed instead.

Official Presidential Guesthouses Around the World

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Farmleigh, official guesthouse of Ireland. It’s used when Heads of Government and Heads of State visit the country.

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Diaoyutai State Guesthouse is an historic hotel and guesthouse complex in Beijing, China. It includes a number of buildings, houses and gardens. The Guesthouse is used to house visiting foreign dignitaries and provincial government officials.

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7 Rideau Gate is the Canadian government's official guesthouse for distinguished visitors, such as heads of state and high-level government officials.

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