Blair House guest quarters a temporary home for VP Harris

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In this Jan. 25, 2021 photo, Secret Service vehicles parked outside of Blair House in Washington. Blair House, the official government guest house, is serving as a temporary home for Vice President Kamala Harris. Vice presidents have an official residence on the grounds of Washington's Naval Observatory. Harris (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON – Vice President Kamala Harris can’t beat the work commute.

She's living temporarily at Blair House, the president's official guest residence on Pennsylvania Avenue across from the White House, while some repair work is done at the official vice presidential home a few miles away on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory.

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Asked what her first job would be, as she strolled the Inauguration Day parade route with her husband, Doug Emhoff, Harris told a reporter, “Walking to work.”

Harris moved into Blair House the day after the Jan. 20 inauguration, said spokesperson Symone Sanders.

Vice presidents have lived in a white, 19th century Victorian house on the grounds of the Naval Observatory since the late 1970s, starting with Walter Mondale. But the home needs a touch-up, and officials said it's best for the work to be done while the house is unoccupied. Mike Pence, Harris' predecessor, cleared out at the end of the Trump administration earlier this month.

So Harris moved into Blair House, where President Harry Truman lived from 1948-1952 during major renovations to the White House.

Blair House is on a part of Pennsylvania Avenue that is under constant surveillance by the U.S. Secret Service, which provides security for the president and vice president wherever they are. The agency declined to comment on Harris' living arrangements.

Matthew Costello, the White House Historical Association's senior historian, took note of the house's secure location — along with a notable bonus for Harris, who is the first woman, first Black person and first Indian American to be elected vice president.

“You can’t beat that commute,” Costello quipped.

It takes Harris mere minutes to get to her offices across the street in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and in the White House, compared with the roughly 2-mile (3.2 kilometer) trip from the Naval Observatory by motorcade.

It was unclear how long Harris will stay at Blair House. Chimney liners in the Naval Observatory residence are being replaced and other unspecified maintenance is underway. No timetable for completing the work was given.

In the meantime, Harris, her husband and any guests can explore Blair House, which has been expanded through the addition of three adjoining properties.

The complex has approximately 109 rooms, including 15 guest rooms — each with a full bathroom — three formal dining rooms, two large conference rooms, two kitchens, a beauty salon, an exercise room and a laundry facility. It has a staff of 18 full-time employees.

The original Blair House was built in 1824 by Joseph Lovell, the Army surgeon general, and later sold to journalist Francis Preston Blair. The Blair family sold the house to the U.S. government in the early 1940s, and it was turned into the president's official guest house.

By that time, the White House had become overcrowded with guests, including members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, advisers, politicians, foreign dignitaries and others as the country prepared for World War II. All of those guests were lobbying to meet with President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill even wandered White House halls in the wee hours in search of Roosevelt, according to Costello, making first lady Eleanor Roosevelt unhappy.

The State Department began renting Blair House in 1942, and by the end of the year had purchased the house and its contents for a total of $183,000.

Foreign dignitaries and soon-to-be U.S. presidents have enjoyed the accommodations.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden slept at Blair House on the eve of his Jan. 20 inauguration. Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, stayed there in 2018 when they returned to the nation's capital for funeral services for Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush.

A couple miles north on Massachusetts Avenue, the official vice presidential residence on the gated grounds of the Naval Observatory was built in 1893, originally for the superintendent. But the house turned out to be so appealing that the chief of naval operations booted the superintendent and moved in himself, according to the White House website.

Vice presidents and their families traditionally had lived in their own homes. But after the cost of securing their private residences ballooned, Congress agreed in 1974 to spruce up the house on the Naval Observatory grounds for the vice president.

Three years passed before a vice president actually moved in.

Vice President Gerald Ford became president after Richard Nixon resigned during Watergate before Ford could use the home. Nelson Rockefeller used it only for entertaining.

Mondale was the first vice president to settle into the home, which has also been used by the families of George H.W. Bush, Dan Quayle, Al Gore, Dick Cheney, Biden and Pence.


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