The White House Historical Association is opening a technology-driven educational center in 2024
Nov 3, 2023, 5:00 AM
WASHINGTON (AP) — A White House tour is practically a must-do when visiting Washington, but the experience can leave some guests wondering about spaces they didn’t get to see, like the Oval Office.
The White House Historical Association hopes to provide answers to some of those questions when it opens The People’s House: A White House Experience, in the fall of 2024.
Situated on three floors of a building a block from the White House at Pennsylvania Avenue and 17th Street, the $30 million educational center will use cutting-edge technology to teach the public about the storied executive mansion and its history.
“This will be a technology-rich, immersive experience where you will actually go into spaces and, due to the miracles of modern technology, those spaces will become White House rooms around you,” Stewart McLaurin, the association’s president, told The Associated Press before a public announcement planned for Friday.
The center will feature a large cutaway model of the White House with rooms that, with the help of technology, can morph into the Green Room, the Blue Room or the Red Room. A full-scale replica of the Oval Office will reflect the incumbent president’s décor. A recreation of the Rose Garden will offer the experience of strolling through its blooms.
Upstairs galleries will allow visitors to experience the Cabinet Room, the State Dining Room and the movie theater. Another gallery will teach about the many unseen people — ushers, chefs, florists, butlers, housekeepers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters — who care for the White House and keep it functioning in its multiple roles as a home for the president and his family, an office for the president and his staff, a ceremonial stage and a museum.
People will also learn about the slave labor that went into building the White House.
McLaurin said The People’s House is meant to be a free enhancement for people who tour the White House, but it also will be an option for those who are unable to land a tour ticket.
“When you have a tour of the White House, as wonderful as that is, because it is a working home and office, those are rather limited and you go through and you see the spaces and you have the experience of being there,” he said. “But you’re not able to linger there to really understand what happened in this space.”
Plans for the The People’s House were revealed to donors attending the association’s premiere fundraising gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on Thursday. First lady Jill Biden praised the project before the crowd at the private event., which was also attended by actors Michael Douglas and Martin Sheen. Both have played presidents on TV and film.
“At its core, this project is about education,” she said. “Teaching our students about our country’s origins, bringing to life the countless people who shaped it and who made the White House into the beating heart of our democracy.”
“As an educator, I believe that our present and our future are inextricably linked to our past,” she continued. “And when we learn from the past, we come away changed, not just better informed, but with a deeper understanding of the responsibility we hold as citizens of this country, a responsibility to each other, to our democracy and to upholding our freedoms.”
“I think that’s needed now more than ever, at a time when our institutions are increasingly under attack, and some of our leaders seem intent on burying our history,” Biden added.
The center will be open seven days a week, McLaurin said.
The association is privately funded so “people can come to our experience even if the government has to close for whatever situation arises,” he said.
About 500,000 people visit the White House yearly, McLaurin said. He said he hopes the new center will attract even more visitors than that.
Besides the $30 million construction cost, the association is raising an additional $50 million for an endowment to fund operations, he said.
The center will also incorporate a feature that the association has long wanted: an educational wing with classroom space for up to 200 students.
The White House Historical Association was created in 1961 by first lady Jacqueline Kennedy to help preserve the museum quality of the interior of the White House and educate the public. It is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that receives no government funding. It raises money mostly through private donations and sales of retail merchandise.