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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

White House Retirees Get a Home in D.C.

WASHINGTON -- Opening soon in a 19th-century brick town house on Washington's Lafayette Square: an elegant guesthouse with six fireplaces, classic American furniture and decorative arts, a 14-member staff, and only one condition for staying there.

You have to be a former U.S. president.

With an expected $6 million in private funds now being raised by a bipartisan committee of Washington power brokers, Trowbridge House -- named for the mathematics professor who built it in 1859 -- will be transformed from dreary federal office space into an official guesthouse for former presidents visiting Washington. Prospective donors are being offered "naming opportunities": a marble fireplace mantelpiece for $250,000, a staircase for $500,000, or a major room for $1 million.

Renovation is expected to begin this year. When it is complete, the property will be linked with Blair House, where visiting heads of state often stay. A complex of four houses, two on Pennsylvania Avenue and two around the corner on Jackson Place, Blair House will be connected to the refurbished quarters through a private garden courtyard and the basement.

The four living former presidents have been enlisted in the effort to fix up Trowbridge House, which would replace the only official housing available to them: another Lafayette Square town house with a couple of beds and desks that is administered by the General Services Administration. That house, a few doors down from Trowbridge, was designated in 1969 by then-President Richard Nixon for use as lodging and work space for former presidents.

"Saying it is basic is being kind," said Donald Burnham Ensenat, the nation's chief of protocol. "It's some office space they have cleaned up and put some beds in." Ensenat once toured the town house with former First Lady Barbara Bush, whose husband uses it occasionally as temporary office space. "Barbara Bush agreed with me that it was modest. She was more blunt than that about it."

Former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter have both stayed in the house over the years. But a spokeswoman in Ford's Rancho Mirage, California, office said he preferred the Willard hotel. Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, like to stay at the nearby Hay-Adams hotel, according to his associates.

The two most recent former presidents, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, do not need hotel rooms, or a guest house for that matter. Bush can stay with his son at the White House, and Clinton and his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, own a $2.85 million brick Georgian home off Embassy Row.

Thomas Siebert, who with his wife, Debbie, is a member of the Trowbridge House national steering committee, predicted the new guesthouse would have a high occupancy rate. "Right now, Bush 41 has pretty good lodging in the same neighborhood. And Bill Clinton has a wife who is a senator and has an in-town residence," said Siebert, a former ambassador in the Clinton administration. But "presidents today will be around a lot longer than 50 or 100 years ago, and they will have a continuing presence in Washington."

The Trowbridge House committee features heavy hitters from several administrations, including James Baker, secretary of state and chief of staff under George H.W. Bush, and Alexander Haig, secretary of state under Ronald Reagan and chief of staff under Nixon.