By Les Kretman, NBC News White House producer
The labyrinth of heavy steel barriers on Pennsylvania Avenue is impossible to maneuver -- all for security and there's a big white tent now that blocks the entrance of Blair House. Today, the Obama family makes the two block journey from the Hay Adams to their new temporary home...the Blair House. Then, on Inauguration Day their bags are packed once again and they venture across the street ---- and move in to the White House.
The Blair House was built in 1824. It was originally the home of Joseph Lovell who was the first Surgeon General of the United States. Twelve years later it was bought by newspaper publisher Francis Preston Blair.
In 1942 it was purchased by the U.S. government. Today, it's the official residence for guests of the President. The list of VIPS is long. Queen Elizabeth stayed there during her visit to Washington....so did former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. President Harry Truman stayed there for most of his presidency while the White House was undergoing renovations. And while he was there there was some drama...two Puerto Rican nationalists made an assassination attempt. One assailant was killed by a uniformed officer who was shot too --- and he, too, died. A plaque in front of the building honors his deed.
As for Blair House initial looks would deceive you. From the outside it resembles a moderate sized row house in a Georgetown neighborhood, but it's much more than that. With 119 rooms and a total area of 70,000 square feet it's actually bigger than the White House...complete with a flower shop...an exercise facility, a dry cleaning shop and a hair salon. Oh, and 35 bathrooms for heads of state and their families....and plenty of room for the Obama daughters to explore before the big move across the street.