Monday, March 26, 2012

Vice Presidential Entertaining

In honor of former VP Cheney's heart transplant, I thought I'd do a VP topic.

The Vice Presidents’ residence is a rather new thing, so before that the Vice President simply had quarters somewhere in DC. Garrett Hobart, McKinley’s first Vice President (the one before Teddy Roosevelt), and his wife, Jennie, helped with some of the McKinley’s entertaining at their residence:
Ida McKinley’s epileptic episodes left her confined to the home and unable to perform the typical socialite duties of the First Lady, so it was The Hobarts that generously picked up the slack. Jennie made frequent trips to visit Ida and check up on her in William’s absence. Garret and Jennie Hobart had their residence lavishly decorated to host many a sumptuous feast, afternoon smokers, and a business meeting.

The Federalist style home — located in Lafayette Square at 21 Madison Place NW, directly across from the Treasury and the White House — had originally been built by Benjamin Ogle Tayloe in 1828. In 1885, the home was valued at $60,000, and the furnishings another $5,000 — which was an enormous sum of money in those days. The Little Cream White House had a rare cream-colored brick exterior, not to mention an opulent interior with five entertaining parlors, silk mohair carpeting in the VP’s room, huge mahogany desks, chandeliers, a booming grandfather clock, Neopolitan silk curtains, Persian throw rugs, and velour sofa cushions. On any given night, was filled with wall-to-wall booze, gambling, cigars, and political powerhouses. Unlike many of his predecessors, Hobart found it a great honor to serve as Vice President.

These frequent garrulous social gatherings forged a solid bond between the President and Vice President and Hobart was often called “The President’s assistant.” The two had a reputation for getting things done during the wee hours of the morning and during informal meetings. During holidays, the Hobarts and the McKinleys vacationed together and at Bluff Point on Lake Champlain. Whenever McKinley ran into financial trouble, he turned to his shrewd “business advisor” Hobart, who — on more than one occasion — invested for the president.

So where is the house today, you ask? It was almost demolished in the sixties to make room for cookie cutter office buildings, but Jacqueline Kennedy made it her main mission to save the historic homes of Lafayette Square, urging developers to work in the existing frames with their contemporary design. Today, the Little Cream White House remains as part of the National Courts building complex.

Sidebar: I’d argue whether Ida actually had epilepsy, although she definitely was sickly, and given I'm no doctor, I'd rather leave the matter open than give a specific diagnosis.

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