Washington State Governors have resided in the same home since it was built in 1908-09. Thanks to the hard work of Governor Dan Evan’s wife, Nancy Bell Evans, the wrecking ball was halted mid-air in the early 1970s. Since 1972, the Washington State Governor’s Mansion Foundation (GMF), under the initial leadership of Luarene Gandy, has carried on Nancy Evan’s legacy.
During Governor Evans’ tenure, the Legislature was only willing to fund the structural work that was desperately needed to maintain the mansion as a residence but would not appropriate money for the furnishings. Between 1972 and 1975, the GMF acquired period furniture and other household goods valued at $350,000 at that time. Diane Waiste, one of the Foundation’s 258 members, explains the continuing mission of the Governor’s Mansion Foundation: “We are a non-profit, non-political organization, which maintains the furnishings and art for the Mansion and offers guided tours to the public who can enjoy its history.”
When I toured the Mansion, I was extremely impressed by the docents’ extensive knowledge and welcoming manner. Since 1975, tours of the Mansion have allowed the public a chance to relive a part of our state’s history. Mary Elizabeth Karpel, a trustee of the Foundation and its Art Curator commented, “With all the interest in period homes, we have our own version of Downton Abbey. Taking a tour of the Mansion brings us back to the turn of the 20th century and allows us to see how our governors have lived through the many decades they have resided in this home.”
The tours are conducted free of charge throughout the year on Wednesdays, but reservations are required. According to Heather Lockman, Docent Trustee for the Foundation, “We updated our tour in 2015 using recent historical research.” The 60 docents who conduct the tours are busy all year, but especially during November and December when the Mansion is decorated for the holidays and in March for Women’s History Month. Student groups from all over the state also tour the Mansion.
The Foundation continues to own and maintain all the furnishings, repairing or replacing them when necessary. In addition, the Foundation has established a small Art Gallery in the Mansion. Their most prized acquisition is a portrait of George Washington (1732-1799) by Rembrandt Peale (1779-1860). In 1832, Peale sold a similar portrait to the United State’s Senate for $2,000. It is still owned by the Senate today. Peale was the last surviving artist to have painted Washington while he was alive.
When the painting came up for auction in New York in 1999, a New York Gallery owner outbid the GMF. However, when he realized the significance of having the painting in the Washington State Governor’s Mansion, he offered to sell the piece for the “hammer price” of $250,000. The funds were raised throughout the state, and in 2014, the piece was appraised for $375,000. “In addition to the Peale portrait,” Mary Elizabeth added, “we also have a beautiful Dale Chihuly glass sculpture and a piece by Northwest School artist Mark Tobey. We are continually raising funds for more art by local artists.”
In addition to Art Curator and Docent Chair, other positions some of the 55 Trustees of the Foundation hold are Jill Wolf, Furnishings Curator; Ann Olson, Historian; Liz Boling, Interior Design; Lorraine Hamilton, Retail Sales, and Patrick Farwell, Librarian. The state is divided into eight regions, and trustees from those regions meet four times annually to plan events for the members.
Members of the Governor’s Mansion Foundation are invited to events throughout the year. Chamber concerts, art shows, wine socials and holiday teas are among the planned events. In April, the Foundation will host a Roundtable discussion by former First Ladies of Washington State, and perhaps, even a First Gentleman will join them.
In the 1970s, the Evans and Hays bedrooms were among rooms added to the Mansion, but they are not considered a part of the historic building. However, these rooms, decorated in period style, are included in the public tour when they are not being occupied by visiting dignitaries.
Only one other contemporary room is open to tour guests, and that is the Governor’s family room. In December, when I visited, the large family Christmas tree was decorated with ornaments made by students from around the state. Family pictures and gifts from state visits are also displayed. Each first family chooses the décor for this room when they move into the Mansion.
We are fortunate to have The Governor’s Mansion Foundation maintaining the legacy of this wonderful building for all of us. For more information on joining the Foundation or taking a tour, check the Governor’s Mansion Foundation website. You can also call 360-902-8880 to schedule a tour. Stay in touch with all the great happenings inside the Governor’s Mansion by following the organization on Facebook.