Office Space of the Gods
Posted by Mr. President on August 17, 2007
Presidential site preservation comes up against the banal reality of a proposed site in Austin Texas.
The“Austin American Statesman” reports that a former Lyndon Johnson office suite in the Austin federal building has survived relatively intact since the heroic LBJ era.
Local GSA Administrator Steve Rutledge was honest with the Statesman about the office’s charms:
“You kind of have to be a certain age to care, to be honest. If you’re over 40, like I am, you’re kind of interested. If you’re under 40, it’s like, ‘Who’s LBJ?’ “
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COMMENTARY: W. GARDNER SELBY
LBJ’s old pad in federal building is looking a little dated
AMERICAN STATESMAN STAFF
Thursday, August 09, 2007
What may be the corniest shrine to Lyndon Johnson sits on East Eighth Street in Austin south of the Capitol. It’s so unquestionably fixed-in-time drab, it might be wonderful — assuming no one messes with it.
The LBJ Suite on the ninth floor of the J.J. “Jake” Pickle Federal Building, built in 1965, gave LBJ a place for occasional meetings with aides as president and in the years before completion of his presidential library and museum. It’s lately been the site of retirement receptions for federal workers. President Bush and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, used it before being sworn in to their offices.
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The 11-story building has been deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places because of the 2,100-square-foot suite. I decided to take a look after U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, mentioned her work to preserve the office in a July statement lauding Lady Bird Johnson. In his time, Pickle (who held an annual party in the suite) likewise insisted on keeping the space as is.
The suite has a locked entrance next to the elevators below the roof where President Johnson once arrived by helicopter. I tiptoed in through another door, fully expecting everything to be pretty and perfect, in keeping with the typically buffed presentation of venerated leaders in their home states.
That view neatly crumbled: It was obvious that the space has been preserved but not restored.
In the dining room just past the entrance, I blinked at an undramatic small oval wooden table, around which Johnson conversed with aides. I was quickly distracted by the carpet, originally gold-green but now running toward rusty brown with ample stains — signs of wear and tear and, it’s been reported, a fire sprinkler incident.
The carpet extends into the living room, which has a copper-covered fireplace and an array of chairs and two small couches, one of them colored as though someone had pressed Key limes and avocados through a sieve. A sitting chair has the same look.
Graying drapes, hemmed by what look like heavy-duty staples, cover the windows. Peeling them back, I saw the view looking south through bulletproof glass: spectacular.
Huge, aged TV consoles still work, warming up slowly. On the dining room wall, I punched thumb-sized buttons marked with the call letters of area TV and radio stations — plus one marked “MUZAK” and another (forever available) stating “SPARE.”
A small kitchen holds a monstrous iron stove, a scary-looking broiler and a refrigerator that was still clunking, though it had nothing inside and the front-door temperature gauge looked broken.
A separate small sitting room opened into a bathroom with a shower sporting four shower heads; Johnson liked a powerful spray. Water no longer flows through them.
The suite appeared to be on the verge of falling apart, with a missing ceiling tile leaving overhead wires and an air conditioning duct visible.
Still, I was grateful to see a space frozen in time, like Elvis Presley’s home, Graceland, if mustier. In an era when politicians liken themselves to giants of history — sometimes before they win an election — it’s a comfort to be reminded of how hard, and unrealistic, it is to proclaim connections.
Steve Rutledge, senior property manager for the General Services Administration in Austin, offered perspective on the space:
“It’s not like a bunch of the public is clamoring to see it. You kind of have to be a certain age to care, to be honest. If you’re over 40, like I am, you’re kind of interested. If you’re under 40, it’s like, ‘Who’s LBJ?’ ”
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