|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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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.