The Obama family on the move

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The Obama family is on the move to new and even more elegant temporary quarters.

After spending almost two weeks at the luxurious Hay Adams Hotel one block from the White House, President-elect Barack Obama, wife Michelle, and daughters Sasha and Malia, are moving into Blair House, the historic presidential guest residence on Thursday.

The world's most exclusive hotel

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While not as well known as the White House, Blair House (www.blairhouse.org) is actually bigger than its neighbor just across Pennsylvania Avenue with 119 rooms covering 70,000 square feet. The White House has 65,000 square feet. Time Magazine has called it “the world’s most exclusive hotel.”

The suite the Obamas are expected to occupy has two bedrooms, 2 ½ baths, a library and a sitting room. According to press reports, the staff has set up a homework area for the Obama daughters. There is certainly enough space to do so -- the complex includes a total of 14 guest bedrooms, nine staff bedrooms, four dining rooms, 35 bathrooms, laundry facilities and a flower shop.

Sorry, we're booked

Since the Carter administration, every incoming president has stayed at Blair House prior to his inauguration. The Obamas asked to move in before their daughters started at Washington's Sidwell Friends School on January 5, but Blair House had already been promised to former Australian Prime Minister John Howard. This week, President Bush gave Howard and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Blair House is actually four historic homes joined into one. The original Blair House, at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue, was built in 1824 by the first surgeon general of the US Army, Dr. Joseph Lovell. It was purchased by Francis Preston Blair, a friend of Andrew Jackson's and part of his kitchen cabinet. The US government bought Blair House in 1942, acquired the Blair-Lee House next door in 1943, and added two additional adjoining homes in the 1960s.

A house filled with history

The antique-filled home has played a continuing role in US history. President Abraham Lincoln offered Robert E. Lee the command of the Union Army in Blair House. Lee declined. Harry Truman stayed in Blair House from 1948 until 1952 while the White House was being rebuilt. In 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire and tried to shoot their way inside, killing a guard during the assassination attempt on Truman.

It was President Truman who suggested taking down interior walls to connect the two homes that then constituted Blair House. He wanted to avoid having to go outside to travel between his home and office.

The current President Bush has been both guest and host. He stayed in Blair House on January 19, 1989 when 22 members of George H.W. Bush’s family gathered there for their father’s inauguration. Both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush practiced their inaugural addresses in the Blair House library.

The Obamas will leave Blair House on Tuesday morning. While Barack Obama is being sworn in as president, White House staffers will move the Obama family’s possessions across the street and into the second floor family quarters at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

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