Friday, February 17, 2012

White House Restoration Redux

I've wondered for some time what happened to the White House interior after Jacqueline Kennedy so meticulously restored it with period-appropriate antiques, colors and grandeur.  Did the Johnsons keep it as an untouchable mausoleum? Did Nancy Reagan paint it red?

I've got some answers.

On the 50th anniversary of Jackie's televised tour of her work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, current White House Curator William Allman explained this week that the place continues to evolve and has, in fact, changed quite a bit since the Kennedy era.

Here's how:

The East Room, where the Kennedys held that famous dinner for Nobel Prize winners, now has a rug, thanks to Barbara Bush, as well as restored red marble mantels, which Jackie had painted white. Here it is in her time.

This is it with the Bush rug...with the photo taken in the Clinton era.

The Blue Room has also seen many iterations. Here it was in 1963.

And here it is in 1972, with different paper and draperies.

The Nixons significantly changed the Green Room, moving out Jackie's Federal Period furniture and replacing it with Duncan Phyfe pieces.

The room went from this:

To this:

Laura Bush later added a jarring modernist painting by Jacob Lawrence to the room called "The Builders."

You can see it in context in this portrait of the Obama family. To the left of the President, out of sight, hangs a John Singer Sargent painting called "Mosquito Net."

There is one room, however, that I think has been improved since Jackie last touched it: the Lincoln Bedroom. Jackie's version felt simple (as simple as a Victorian-furnished room could feel). But after seeing what Laura Bush did to it, the Camelot version seems unfinished. Fitting, perhaps.

Monday, February 13, 2012

How Jackie's personal papers humanize an icon

I spent my morning at the JFK Library poring over newly released personal papers that belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy during her White House years. Much of the documentation relates to her restoration of the White House. See my blog post below.

But I always enjoy finding the little gems that humanize an icon: her memos about choosing what would become her trademark blue stationery from Tiffany; how she was concerned about the White House nursery school's car pool schedule (what if a child didn't have a ride!); the typed up plan for John Jr.'s play dates (Tuesdays at Jonathan's in Chevy Chase); and even her Christmas shopping list, which included Van Cleef & Arpels, where her engagement ring was from, Maximillian Fur Co., Givenchy, Bergdorf Goodman, Chanel, Norman Norell, and Design Research, the little shop in Harvard Square owned by Ben and Jane Thompson.

Readers of this blog might recall that last summer we stayed at the Thompson summer house in Barnstable, just across Route 6 from the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. Later, we heard that Jackie used to go to the house -- apparently she was a fan of Marrimekko, which the Thompsons sold at DR. Today, I stumbled on the proof in her Christmas list, which listed the house's address.

I can picture Jackie pulling into the gravel driveway wearing her Renauld of France sunglasses and a scarf on her head. Makes me nostalgic for the Cape in the summer.

JFK Library Releases Jacqueline Kennedy's personal papers

Today, the JFK Library released papers not yet seen publicly that show how seriously Jacqueline Kennedy approached her White House restoration project. 

Yes, she sketched the draperies (above) and chose the colors -- but went far beyond that. The papers, released 50 years after she gave a televised tour of the nearly completed work, show that she was studious and intense about the project, scouring old receipts and photographs to find objects, their origins, and where they belonged in the White House, including four C├ęzanne paintings hanging in the National Gallery of Art that were moved to the family quarters. 

She consulted historians and made basement spelunking expeditions with Lorraine Pearce, whom she hired to be the White House’s first curator. They found Teddy Roosevelt’s rugs, Monroe’s gold and silver French flatware and a heavy oak desk, piled with electronics in the broadcast room, that Queen Victoria had given to President Hayes. Jackie had it set up in the Oval office. John Jr. would later crawl beneath it. 

The restoration took about two years, but on Feb. 14, 1962, she wore a red Rodier boucle suit and took America on a one-hour televised tour of the mansion, a Valentine for 80 million viewers, few of whom knew she was also strategizing to save Lafayette Square -- a grassy quadrangle surrounded by 18th century town homes in front of the White House -- at risk of being replaced by modernist office space for the government (a plan Eisenhower had set in motion).

Later, in 1975, she catalyzed New York City to save Grand Central Terminal from being obliterated for a bland skyscraper, a case that went to the US Supreme Court and made historic preservation mainstream in the process.

Half a century later, on the golden anniversary of her televised White House tour, newly released memos confirmed that she was the politically and historically astute ring leader of the restoration. In the midst of other “news” last week about JFK’s affair with a White House intern, we’re still watching Jackie, hopefully more enthralled with her accomplishments – then and later in her life -- than her husband’s conquests.