New center will highlight history of White House
WASHINGTON — A new national center for White House history and education will be open next year to schoolchildren, scholars and anyone else who wants to learn more about the history of the fabled house at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Officials with the White House Historical Association and the National Trust for Historic Preservation will announce today that they will establish the first-of-its-kind learning center in Washington’s Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House.
It will be housed in the historic Decatur House, which was designed by the nation’s first professional architect, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, and built in 1818. As part of the plans to transform the home from a museum into an educational center, the building’s slave quarters will be preserved.
The historical association calls the slave quarters, which now house a gift shop that sells Christmas ornaments and other White House memorabilia, the only surviving evidence that humans were held in bondage within sight of the White House.
Neil Horstman, president of the historical association, says he expects the new center, which was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1956, to open in early 2011.
Horstman says the center, which will be paid for with private funds, will offer programs on topics ranging from “decorative arts to workers at the White House.”
Its archives and materials, including 10,000 newly digitized photos, will be available to school groups, students and researchers.
“It will showcase White House history to the public,” Horstman says.
The National Trust hopes the center also will serve as a model for the 8,000-to-10,000 struggling museum houses across the country.
Some of those, including the Mount Vernon, Va., home of George Washington, have weathered the recession and changing times just fine, trust President Richard Moe says, but most “house museums need to rethink how they operate because the old model (of house tours and viewings from behind velvet ropes) isn’t working that well.”
“House museums need to reinvent themselves,” he says. “I really hope this can become a template.”