First Lady Michelle Obama helps reopen White House Visitor Center
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The desk where President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his "fireside chats." An eagle ornamental feature from the top of the flagpole on the White House roof. A desk with an intercom system that allowed the chief White House usher to contact staff in other parts of the building.
These artifacts and others never before seen by the public will go on display Saturday when the White House Visitor Center reopens following a two-year, $12.6 million renovation paid for with government and private money.
First lady Michelle Obama peered at all three exhibits Wednesday before cutting a red ribbon to symbolically reopen the center, which is located on Pennsylvania Avenue just a few blocks away from the White House itself.
"Mrs. Obama, you are not only our first lady, you are our first visitor," said Frederick Ryan, chairman of the White House Historical Association, which contributed $7.5 million toward the renovation.
"This day has been many years in the making," added Ryan, who also takes over next month as publisher of The Washington Post.
Ryan also thanked businessman and philanthropist David Rubenstein for donating $5 million to help pay for the center's upkeep and future improvements.
New exhibits tell the story of the White House as a home, an office, a stage and ceremonial space, a museum and a park. Many of the more than 90 artifacts taken from collections held by the White House and the National Park Service have never been displayed publicly before, the association said.
The Park Service cares for the White House and its grounds.
Besides the rare artifacts, the center's other improvements include interactive displays, videos and a large-scale model of the White House.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called the White House Visitor Center renovation a "perfect example" of what government is doing more of, seeking private donations for public projects. She noted that the Park Service will celebrate its 100th year in 2016 and said "we will be leaning to the private sector to help us do that, and we already are."
The White House Visitor Center will be open daily, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission is free.