- The Washington Times - Friday, January 2, 2009

BANKING ON OBAMA

Many first-time visitors to Washington who will be attending Barack Obama’s inauguration might be surprised to find their nation’s capital overflowing with street vendors.

Whether it’s a hot dog coated with chili, an FBI baseball cap or warm woolen (rayon, more likely) mittens, virtually everything one’s heart could ever desire is peddled on a daily basis from the sidewalks bordering monuments, memorials and museums.

Now, wouldn’t you know, the D.C. government is offering additional street vending “opportunities” for the 2009 inauguration. Bottom line: vendors not licensed can apply in person by Monday to receive a temporary “2009 Inaugural Vending Badge.” In other words, Washington’s already large army of vendors isn’t disappearing in honor of Mr. Obama, it’s growing.

Indeed, apart from allowing the city’s saloons to serve booze until 5 a.m. inaugural week, city fathers have just designated “more than 700 sites” near the inaugural parade route as “Special Inaugural Vending Zones.” The sites will be distributed through three lotteries, with winners to be announced Tuesday.

As for the non-winners who wanted to cash in on the unprecedented masses expected for Inauguration Day, the D.C. government will establish “more than 1,000 overflow vending locations” near the city’s major transportation hubs.

GETTING CLOSER

Before President-elect Barack Obama bunked at the Hay-Adams Hotel (opened in 1928 as the Hay-Adams House, offering steamed heat, circulating ice water, Washington’s first air-conditioned dining room and unparalleled views of the White House), overnight guests included Amelia Earhart, Sinclair Lewis and Charles Lindbergh.

The luxury hotel where Mr. Obama and his family will remain before moving a short distance across Lafayette Square, first to Blair House and then finally into the White House, is named after John Hay, close aide to President Abraham Lincoln, and author Henry Adams, a descendant of Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams.

Both lived in homes torn down to make space for the 145-room hotel, which these days is ranked by both Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler as Washington’s No. 1 hotel.

DUCKING IN BLAIR

Once his two-week stay at the Hay-Adams Hotel is complete, Barack Obama and his family will move Jan. 15 into Blair House, which took considerable heat in the media for honoring its earlier bookings (mostly receptions for the outgoing Bush administration).

Two years ago, this columnist was provided a rare tour of the newly-renovated Blair House, which is not open to the public. Inside, I found all the updated comforts of home - new carpeting, wallpaper and bed linens, and a replacement fountain for the garden. And that major crack that appeared in Bedroom 21 - Bess Truman’s former bedroom during the first family’s stay in Blair House from 1948 to 1952 - also got repaired.

Harry S. Truman, by the way, was just down the hallway in what has been renamed the Eisenhower Sitting Room, dedicated by Mamie Eisenhower in 1970 to honor her late husband, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In fact, two of Eisenhower’s own “Sunday” paintings are hanging in the second-floor sitting room - one of a brilliant sunset over a lake, the other of a country cottage.

At the time of my visit, all the living former U.S. presidents were asked to consider donating an original work of art from their personal collections to be enjoyed by visiting foreign heads of state and other VIP guests staying at Blair House. Among the first to arrive is “Early Morning Kennebunkport,” a watercolor gift from former President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush of their vacation home in Maine.

NO CIGAR

The headline reads: “Castle on Capitol Hill for Inauguration.”

That’s right, a flat fee of $15,000 (plus a security deposit of $8,000) gets one of their very own castle for five days just east of the U.S. Capitol dome, where President-elect Barack Obama will take the oath of office Jan. 20.

Not so fast. The only castle we know of in Washington is the Norman-style (12th-century late Romanesque and early Gothic motifs) Smithsonian Castle, designed by the prominent architect James Renwick Jr. This legitimate 1847 castle, like others around the world, features sweeping halls, lofty towers, even a crypt (of James Smithson, benefactor of the Smithsonian Institution).

Beyond the headline, the advertisement posted New Year’s Day reveals a three-bedroom, three-bath home, with the request “that you not bring pets. This is a no-smoking house.”

• John McCaslin can be reached at 202/636-3284 or e-mail John McCaslin.

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