- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2000

Last night's 200th anniversary gala for the White House saw a trio of ex-presidents visiting their former home while the soon-to-be-departing President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton offered them the best the White House has to offer.
But the evening had an unwelcome guest the specter of a legally challenged wrap-up to the closest presidential election in decades. The electoral cliffhanger preyed on almost everyone's minds, on the night when the White House itself, not its future occupant, was to be the guest of honor.
Donna E. Shalala, secretary of Health and Human Services, expressed hope that Vice President Al Gore would emerge victorious.
"I'm optimistic," she said. "After all, he's winning the popular vote. Meanwhile, I have insomnia."
She expected that the presidents gathered would put aside the election at least temporarily. "There's a lot of camaraderie around the presidents."
Roger Mudd, veteran newsman now working with the History Channel, recoiled at the thought of covering this particular election.
"I was glad I was home," Mr. Mudd said.
Last night's black-tie birthday gala included former White House residents George and Barbara Bush, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and Gerald and Betty Ford, along with Lady Bird Johnson, widow of Lyndon B. Johnson, plus the White House's current occupants, the Clintons.
Among the guests were Benjamin Adams, a direct descendant of the White House's first occupant, John Adams; John Eisenhower, son of President Dwight D. Eisenhower; Ethel Kennedy, sister-in-law of President John F. Kennedy; and Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter of former President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Politics aside, the evening debuted the newest White House china, a 300-place service set two years in the making.
Its dinner plates feature images of the White House, a first for a presidential china set.
The presidential members of the head table dined on this so-called millennium china while the other guests enjoyed a sampling of china from four previous administrations Franklin Delano Roosevelt's, Harry Truman's, Mr. Johnson's and Ronald Reagan's.
When possible, each aspect of the dinner harked back to 1800, the first year the White House was occupied. Centerpieces featured cream-colored roses, the sort once fancied by Abigail Adams, John Adams' wife.
The main course, loin of lamb, was smoked in a style reminiscent of centuries-old curing methods. The mid-Atlantic menu also offered duck consomme and seared striped bass.
The historic figures visiting the White House echoed the building's storied past. Two hundred years ago, the lands surrounding 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. featured more tree stumps than buildings, more verdant expanses than roadways.
The White House, which opens its doors to about 6,000 visitors each day, was commissioned by George Washington in 1790. The building suffered fire damage when British forces torched its walls during the War of 1812. The venerable home also withstood extensive renovation work during President Truman's reign. The exterior stone walls, erected 200 years ago, remain chiefly unchanged.
The country's second president, John Adams, was the first to call the White House home. Subsequent administrations may have tinkered with the china or redesigned a balcony or guest room, but the building remains an enduring symbol of a nation able to survive political upheavals.
That was apparent during last night's festivities. As if to accentuate the enduring importance of the building itself, among the events was the unveiling of artist Jamie Wyeth's 200th-birthday portrait of the White House.

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