By Rhonda Apple, Pentagram Staff Writer March 15, 2013
Marines from Headquarters & Service Battalion, Headquarters Marine Corps Henderson Hall and civilian employees from Marine Corps Community Services and the Marine Corps Exchange had the opportunity to tour the Marine Corps commandant's home March 8.
Officially known as Home of the Commandants, the grand house is co-located with the Marine Barracks, 8th and I, in Washington, D.C. It is the current residence of the 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos and his wife, Bonnie.
The group was greeted at the front entrance by Mrs. Amos before gathering in the first floor drawing room.
"It is our honor and our privilege to be where we are and do what we're doing right now in this time in history," Mrs. Amos said, regarding her husband's role as commandant of the Marine Corps. She explained the extensive renovation to the home before she and her husband moved there in early June, 2011.
"Every bit of furniture, every mirror, portrait, chandelier, rod, and drapery -- everything in this house came out, and the house went under complete renovation … for structural, foundation, electrical, mechanical and HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning]. They also took off all the exterior paint, which was 30 layers of paint and 10 coats of primer on the red brick," she said.
"What was interesting about that was we got to see where the changes in the house occurred. This house started out as 1,500 square feet, and you are in an original part of the house," said Mrs. Amos. She told the group "the house is now about 15,000 square feet, excluding the active basement, which is completely finished below us, so we're at about 20,000 square feet."
She said all the wallpaper was completely stripped from the home's walls and below ground structural support was done. "We also discovered an original fireplace in the basement below the ladies' sitting room fireplace … it was probably used to cook in because bones were found in there."
Mrs. Amos pointed out the house has maintained its architectural integrity since it was originally constructed in 1806. "It does not look like we've had any add-ons since it was built."
She also pointed out the house was haunted. "Archibald Henderson [fifth commandant of the Marine Corps] is our resident ghost. He does a lot of foolishness and sometimes he does serious, costly damage to the house. Sometimes things happen that there's absolutely no explanation [for]." She described one incident where a shower had been turned on in the middle of the night, causing extensive damage.
Marines, volunteering as docents, toured the group through the three-story home.
Master Sgt. Scott Smart, a docent, pointed out, "the Home of the Commandants is the oldest continuously occupied residence in Washington, D.C., and it was declared a historic landmark in 1976 by the Department of Interior."
Some of the home's history was presented by Marine docent Gunnery Sgt. Brad Chrisman, including the original budget. Historical trivia and interesting facts about furnishings and portraits of past commandants were presented throughout the tour.
Other first floor rooms on the tour included the sun room, music room, dining room and ladies' sitting room.
The tour includes characteristics of the commandants' official portraits, facts about some of the home's furnishings, many of which were donated by the various commandants who resided there.
Composer John Philip Sousa's eyeglasses, baton and flask are displayed on the piano in the music room. Sousa served as the Marine Band director from 1880 to 1892. A 1920s bronze Tiffany floor lamp with a green and blue dragonfly glass shade is also a significant piece in the music room. The lamp was actually saved from breaking by one of the staff Marines on duty at the home during the rumble from the 2011 earthquake.
The carpet in the dining room is decorated with the original symbol of the Marine Corps. An antique blue plate, the oldest item in the house, is displayed on the dining room mantel.
The second floor of the home is the personal living quarters of the commandant and his family, including a family sitting area, the commandant's personal study and bedrooms. Visitors can look into the study and the commandant's bedroom. Cpl. Brittney McGhee, another docent on the tour, told everyone the Family sitting area is the only room in the house that is completely decorated with the current commandant's personal furnishings.
The third floor includes three suites, named after Thomas Jefferson, Col. [Charles] Waterhouse and Prince Phillip, as well as a toy room, decorated year-round with a Christmas theme including antique toys and memorabilia from Gen. Amos' childhood. A tapestry, which originally served as a guest book for visitors to the home, including Mark Twain, is hanging on a hallway wall on the third floor.
Throughout the tour, guests were allowed to walk in most rooms, while a few were roped off, but viewable from the doors leading to those rooms, including the commandant's personal study, personal bedroom and the toy room.
The upstairs balcony boasts a spectacular view of the residence gardens, parade ground and the historical buildings of Marine Barracks.
At the conclusion of the tour, everyone posed for a group photo with Mrs. Amos and a surprise guest -- Chesty XIII, the current mascot of the Marine Corps.
"I think the tour is important to understand the history of the Marine Corps," said Capt. Anna Antoine, H&S Bn. supply officer.
"I thought the tour was amazing and [to] know we got to do something not all Marines get to do, touring this home," said Staff Sgt. Alberto Rodriquez, an admin chief at H&S Bn. "I liked the personal living spaces and the personal touches General and Mrs. Amos have throughout the home as well as all the portraits of the commandants."
"It was interesting to hear about and see the renovation as well as personally meet Mrs. Amos," said Pia Cacioppo, of the Marine Corps Exchange retail section. "As a Marine wife, it was interesting to see a piece of history."