A History of the Governor's Mansion Foundation

The Washington State Governor's Mansion is located on the crest of Capitol Point, with a panoramic view of the city of Olympia, the Capitol grounds, the southern most waters of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.  The red brick Georgian-style building with white pillars is surrounded by sloping lawns, evergreen trees and flowering shrubs.

Visitors to the gracious residence view handsomely coordinated public rooms furnished principally with antiques from the English Regency and American Federal periods.

The mansion is truly a legacy for all Washingtonians.  However, it was not always this way.

Designed in 1908 by the architectural firm of Russell and Babcock of Tacoma, the nineteen room residence was built under that firm's supervision at a cost of $35,000. The cornerstone ceremony was attended by Governor Albert E. Mead, numerous dignitaries, state officials, and several hundred spectators.

Governor Mead was defeated in the primary election of 1908 by another Republican, Samuel G. Cosgrove, who subsequently was taken ill.  He missed the official housewarming and ball the day after his inauguration and was taken to a spa in Paso Robles, California, where he died on March 28.  Lieutenant Governor Marion E. Hay, who succeeded him, thus became the first governor to live in the official residence.

Lizzie Hay, the first "First Lady" of Washington to occupy the building, purchased many of the original furnishings from Frederick & Nelson, a Seattle department store, at a cost of $15,000 for all nineteen rooms!  Some of the selections remain, notably the massive mahogany buffet, table, consoles, and eighteen chairs in the State Dining Room, and the grandfather clock on the staircase landing.

The mansion, though elegant, was not always a comfortable place in which to live.  Governor Ernest J. Lister moved his family out in 1915, saying that there wasn't enough money to keep the house warm in winter.  Weather stripping was ordered in the late 1950's, when some renovations was undertaken, but the state's First Families continued to be plagued by leaks in the roof, clanking radiators, faulty plumbing, and sagging floors.  Electricity replaced gaslight several years after the building was finished.

In 1928, complaints arose about the mansion taking up such a valuable site. The Legislature, always reluctant to appropriate maintenance funds, talked of tearing it down to make a way for a new Legislative Office Building.  Planners marked the structure for demolition on one comprehensive plan for future development of the State Government Complex.

Again, in 1963, a concerted attempt was made to get rid of the mansion when three legislators introduced a bill which would have financed that long-discussed new office building.

When the Daniel J. Evans family moved into the Executive Mansion in 1964, its future was still undecided.  Mrs. Evans coped with the same old defects which had faced her predecessors.  However she decided to do something about the situation, that something did not entail tearing down the mansion.

The last attack on the mansion came in the early 1970s when architects called the home "not architecturally wonderful, and not historically ancient."  Governor Evans responded, "It's a lot more ancient than a new one would be."

The decision was made to save the structure when the costs for a new mansion were estimated at two million dollars.

In 1973, the Legislature appropriated $600,000 for remodeling and renovation of the Executive Mansion.  Nancy Evans, who anticipated the decision, had established the Foundation for the Preservation of the Governor's Mansion the previous year. (the organization's name was changed to Governor's Mansion Foundation in 1988.)

Inviting a number of influential people from around the state to work for the Foundation. Mrs. Evans wrote, "It has been my feeling for some time that a committee should be established to stimulate interest in donating furniture, paintings and "objects d'art" as well as  financial support of the mansion's public rooms, maintaining a consistency in design and style.  I am endeavoring to form a state-wide committee of importance which will actively seek donations, both tangible and monetary, and whose interest in history and art will help perpetuate public interest in the mansion."

Forty-seven women and five men answered the invitation to "preserve the mansion".  At the first meeting of the Foundation in the Governor's Mansion on May 30, 1972, Mrs. Evans announced that Mrs. Joseph E Gandy of Seattle had accepted the chairmanship.  Mrs. Gandy reported that a master plan for refurbishing the mansion already existed.  That plan had been prepared by Jean Jongeward, A.S.I.D., of Seattle, who donated her services to assist Mrs. Evans with the project.  Mrs. Jongewards's master plan called for the use of furnishings of the period from 1780 to 1830.  This meant the Foundation would need to purchase or obtain gifts of a great many historically important English and American antiques and accessories.

The Foundation began with no cash. However, noted in the minutes of the first meeting were two gifts: a custom designed front door from the Nord Door Company of Everett, and an antique Irish Waterford crystal chandelier given by the Washington Federation of Republican Women for use in the State Dining Room.  The volunteers that day were the Foundation's most important asset.

Governor Evans, dropping in on the second annual meeting of the Foundation, explained that the $600,000 appropriated by the Legislature for the mansion was designated for structural changes: wiring, plumbing, heating, new kitchen facilities, another bathroom on the main floor and two guest rooms on the second floor.  Everything was to be completed by summer, 1974. Ibsen Nelsen and Associates, Seattle, were the architects.

When the work began in May 1974, the contractors found some expensive surprises.  The whole interior had to be done over, a job reminiscent of the gutting of the White House during the Truman restoration.  Though the final cost of the reconstruction was close to 2 million dollars, the state of Washington now has an impressive and livable eighteen thousand square foot official residence.

From the viewpoint of the governors who occupy it, the mansion now serves as a private home as well as an ideal location for official functions. Over four thousand square feet were added to the south side of the original structure.  New family living areas were constructed on the first floor, including a living room, private dining room, staff sitting room, solarium and gallery.  Two guest bedrooms with baths reached through a private hall separate from the family quarters, were added to the second floor.  A new commercial-sized kitchen replaced the small family kitchen which had made serving food at large state functions a nightmare.  New public restrooms were provided.

The work of the Foundation moved on a parallel with the renovation, to assure that furnishings appropriate for the house, especially in the public rooms, would be in place when the mansion re-opened.

One of the most successful fundraisers was "Mansion Month", in October, 1974, when parties and events in thirty-five communities of the state raised more that $45,000.  By the time the renovation was completed, the Foundation had purchased or been given furnishings worth about $350,000. Recent appraisals value the collection at close to three-fourths of a million dollars.  Friends and Trustees of the Foundation continue to hold annual fundraising events in communities throughout the state.

A unique gift to the Foundation is centered in the floor of the mansion's vestibule.  It is a replica of the Washington State Seal in marble mosaic tiles, dominated by a likeness of George Washington.  The work, created by Washington artist James Wegner, was commissioned by and donated by the Noyes Talcott family of Olympia, descendants of one of the three brothers who designed and produced the state's first official seal.

Among other gifts and purchases were a number of exceptionally fine items.  Mrs. Gandy, the Foundation's chairman for its first five years said, "We hoped to obtain some Regency pieces, and maybe some from George III's era, but never dreamed any American antiques would be donated, such as some of the rare things we have from the fine cabinetmakers of the Federal period."

On either side of the entrance to the Great Hall are a pair of Empire pier tables, circa 1810, one with its original marble top.  They are attributed to Charles Lannuier of New York.  Mirrors above the tables were the gift of the people of Clallam County, Washington.

A set of eight chairs from the same era, given by the Washington State America Revolution Bicentennial, are divided between the Great Hall and the Drawing Room.  Upholstered in gold silk, they are notable for the extraordinary type of claw feet and reeded legs favored by Joseph Barry of Philadelphia, to whom they are attributed.

The mahogany and bird's-eye maple demilune server, circa 1800, in the Great Hall is an outstanding piece.  It was presented to the Foundations by descendants of Audrey P. Holden, Connecticut.  Attributed to John Seymour, considered the greatest designer and craftsman of Boston after the Revolution, it displays the details of turning and patterned veneers for which Seymour is noted.

The Drawing Room contains four pieces bearing the prestigious name of Duncan Phyfe: two Pembroke tables, a Federal sofa with deeply incised rail and eagle feet from Phyfe's New York workroom, and a Federal piano and mahogany and bird's-eye maple.  Its case is especially fine, with strong carving on the base.  Over the piano is a Constitution mirror, circa 1800, topped with the American eagle, a motif typical of the Federal period.

Another unusual piece is the Drawing Room is the fine two-drawer mahogany sewing stand, circa 1810, with carving attributed to Samuel McIntire of Salem, Massachusetts, who was a designer, cabinetmaker, carver and architect for fine New England homes from 1757 to 1811.

A  black lacquer Sheraton sofa, circa 1795, black lacquer English Sheraton chair and pedestal candle stand are grouped on one side of the Drawing Room's handsome fireplace.  On the walk behind them is an American Sheraton mahogany secretary.

The adjoining Library features books by Washington authors and works pertinent to the state.  Its furnishings include a round rosewood table with brass inlay and a sofa, both of the English Regency period.  The table was given to the Foundation in memory of Samuel Cosgrove, Governor-elect when the mansion was built in 1908.

Draperies in the Drawing and Dining Rooms and rugs in the Great Hall, Drawing Room, Library, State Dining Room and Ballroom were designed by Mrs. Jongeward.  The rugs were woven by Edward Fields Incorporated.

Wall panels in the State Dining Room suggest scenes of early Washington.  The panels were hand painted on canvas by Edwin Chapman of San Francisco, a former Washingtonian.  Done in the style of the early 19th century French artist Jean Zuber, they are similar in feeling to murals selected for the White House by Mrs. John F. Kennedy.

A close look at the needlepoint covers on the eighteen dining room chairs reveals the initials of the expert needle pointers who made them in 1975.  Volunteers chosen in the statewide competition executed the leaf design in Persian yarn.  The design was created by Sally Kelly of Seattle.  A special canvas was made for the Governor's larger chair.

Through a gift from the women of Grays Harbor County, the Foundation purchased forty-eight place settings of Shenango bone china.  This ware has a cream body with gold borders and the state seal depicted in gold.  In 1977 forty-eight place settings of flat silver in Reed and Barton's "Hammered" pattern were purchased through gifts from the Legislative Wives Club and several individual donations.

Subsequent gifts from the Foundation and the public made possible the purchase of eighty-five place settings of the Lenox "Tuxedo" china pattern, also with the state seal.  The Boeing Company later gave funds for the purchase of eighty-five settings of flat silver in Lunt's "St. Charles" pattern, a gift facilitated by Paul Friedlander of Seattle.

A spectacular twenty-seven piece sterling silver service, displayed in the State Dining Room and Ballroom, belongs to the state.  It was originally presented in 1899 by the State of Washington and the City of Olympia to the Naval Cruiser USS Olympia in commemoration of the victory of the United States over Spain in the Battle of Manila Bay May 1, 1898.  Designed in George II style, the service was made especially for the vessel by Shreve & Company, San Francisco.  The silver and gold bullion was mined in Washington.  Decorations on the pieces feature a border of oak leaves and acorns, an established naval design with the oak leaf as a symbol of strength and the acorn an insignia of rank.  Combined with these are medallions representing the Navy Department, the American Jack, and the seal of the State of Washington reproducing the Stuart portrait of George Washington.  A winged statuette of Victory executed by California sculptor Douglas Tilden and formed of solid silver may be used as a separate ornament resting on an ebony base, placed on top of the punch bowl cover, or on a pedestal in the centerpiece.

After the decommissioning of the Olympia, which had served as the flagship of Commodore George Dewey during the Spanish-American War, the silver service came back to Olympia and the city presented it to the state for use in the Executive Mansion.

The Foundation owns all furnishings in the original public rooms - the Great Hall, Drawing Room, Library, State Dining Room and Ballroom.  It also owns antiques and accessories in other public and private areas throughout the mansion.

Along with its responsibility for maintaining this significant collection in prime condition, the Governor's Mansion Foundation continues to seek the finest possible additional antique furnishings, and to replace or restore items as needed, in keeping with the master plan.  In addition, it anticipates acquiring a representative collection of 19th century American paintings, drawings, photographs and prints relevant to the history and development of the Pacific Northwest.

An oil painting by Thomas Hill, entitled "The Salmon Festival - Columbia River", and a number of antique prints depicting various scenes throughout the state have been purchased.  When available loaned exhibitions representative of artistic achievements in the Pacific Northwest are displayed in the Mansion's public rooms.

Washington is one of the few states to have a contractual relationship with a private, non-partisan organization which furnishes and maintains the public rooms of the Governor's Mansion at no cost to taxpayers.  Dues from members of Friends of the Mansion and proceeds from fundraising events arranged by Trustees and Friends statewide cover the Foundation's annual operating expenses and such extras as insurance, small-scale furniture repair, and the mounting of art exhibits.


  The Governor's Mansion Foundation
P.O. Box 11207
Olympia, WA 98508-1207
info@wagovmansion.org
The Governor's Mansion Foundation is a non-profit, non-political organization founded in 1972. The Foundation would like to thank Hood Canal Communications for donating resources to make this site possible.