PM Lee stays at Blair House during US visit: 8 things to know about the historic President's Guest House

The exterior of Blair House.
The exterior of Blair House. PHOTO: CAROL M. HIGHSMITH VIA LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Blair House, otherwise known as the President's Guest House, will host Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his delegation during their official visit to the United States this week.

Acting Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung and Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran, who are part of the delegation, have already provided glimpses of the historic complex - located opposite the White House - through their Facebook posts.

Photos posted by Mr Iswaran showed the Singapore flag hanging proudly outside Blair House, while Mr Ong said that Pennsylvania Avenue has been lined with Singapore and US flags.

Here are 8 things to know about Blair House, which has been dubbed the "world's most exclusive hotel".

1. It was built in 1824


The Blair House, pictured here as a standalone building, in 1919. PHOTO: LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

The former home of Dr Joseph Lovell, the US Army's first surgeon general, the residence became politically significant when circuit court clerk Francis Preston Blair moved in with his family in 1837.

Mr Blair - at the behest of then president Andrew Jackson - became editor of the Globe, a failing Washington newspaper that he turned into a pro-administration publication.

The Blairs' residence subsequently became known as Blair House.

2. Becoming the President's Guest House


The library at Blair House has a collection of books left behind by its illustrious guests. PHOTO: CAROL M. HIGHSMITH VIA LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

At the urging of then president Franklin Roosevelt, the US government purchased the residence in 1942.

Since then, guests of the US President have been put up at Blair House. They previously spent a customary night in the White House before staying at a hotel or an embassy for the remainder of their visit.

3. It also serves as a site for American diplomacy


Then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosts a working lunch for French President Francois Hollande at Blair House on May 18, 2012. PHOTO: ELITRE/FLICKR

According to the Blair House website, the residence is a staging ground for "internationally focused events that help to advance America's relationship with foreign nations".

 
 

Important events such as a 2012 summit of the G-8 Foreign Ministers and initiatives for the Washington Diplomatic Corps have been held there.

A typical schedule for Blair House in a calendar year consists of up to 30 visits by foreign leaders, multiple foreign policy-related luncheons, dinners and receptions, as well as countless official meetings.

4. Britain's Queen Elizabeth II is a frequent guest

Other notable figures who have stayed at Blair House include former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former French president Charles de Gaulle, Japan's Emperor Akihito, Russian President Vladimir Putin and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Besides foreign dignitaries, the outgoing US President traditionally makes the residence available to the President-elect in the days before his inauguration.

The family of a deceased former president also use it as a residence, where they receive condolence calls.

5. Blair House today is made up of four different houses


A guestroom in Blair House. PHOTO: ONG YE KUNG/FACEBOOK

On the outside, Blair House retains the unique appearance of the original home and three other town houses: Peter Parker House, 704 Jackson Place (both built in 1960 and acquired by the US government about a decade later) and Lee House (which Mr Blair built in 1859 next to the original for his daughter).

But internally, the four houses have been carefully integrated to form a single complex. Renovation works in the early 1950s had initially joined the Blair and Lee Houses into a single facility known as the Blair-Lee House, before further renovation in the early 1980s united all four houses.

A connecting structure merges the Blair-Lee House with the other two properties.

6. It is larger than the White House


An aerial view of Pennsylvania Avenue which shows the White House and Blair House. PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS 

Blair House has over 120 rooms spanning a total area of 60,600 sq ft - compared to the US President's official residence, which has a floor space of about 55,000 sq ft.

There are 14 guestrooms each with their own bathrooms, three formal dining rooms, two conference rooms, a hot and cold kitchen, a beauty salon, an exercise room and an in-house laundry facility.

It also houses 18 full-time employees.

7. PM Lee last stayed at Blair House in April 2013



PM Lee shaking hands with Secretary of State John Kerry during their meeting at Blair House on April 4, 2013. PHOTO: ST FILE

PM Lee met Secretary of State John Kerry at Blair House, where both men paid tribute to the strong links between Singapore and the US.

Former Singapore prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong have also stayed at Blair House.

8. Scene of an assassination attempt


A sign outside Blair House memorialising policeman Leslie Coffelt, who died defending president Harry Truman. PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Two Puerto Rican nationalists made a brazen attempt on then president Harry Truman's life at Blair House on Nov 1, 1950. Mr Truman had been using it as a temporary residence while the White House was undergoing extensive reconstruction.

Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, seeking to bring attention to the Puerto Rican independence movement tried to shoot their way into the house from the front door.

Torresola was killed and Collazo, along with three policemen, were injured after a gun battle on the front steps. The policeman who killed Torresola died later that day from his wounds.