Call it the ultimate Airbnb crash pad.
In a recent interview on Bloomberg TV, Brian Chesky, CEO of the online room-letting empire, says he asked President Obama if he could get the Lincoln Bedroom listed for rent.
President Obama told him “I need to check with Michelle,” but said it was probably a long shot.
Chesky allowed that the President was probably just “humoring me.”
That said, it’s a lot more guest-ready than many of Airbnb’s offerings. A big comfy bed, great views of the Washington Monument and other DC landmarks, a modern flat-screen TV media center hidden in a repurposed walnut wardrobe, and (presumably) super-fast wi-fi. The vintage 1950s bathroom features a lovely domed ceiling, pale-green glass tiling, and a big tub etched with the presidential eagle seal. The White House even provides fluffy white towels and complimentary Aveda hair products.
Wait…a vintage 1950s bathroom?
The strange reality of the Lincoln Bedroom is that it isn’t Abraham Lincoln’s bedroom. He never slept there. He never walked those floors.
In the 1860s, the space now called the “Lincoln Bedroom” was a suite used as the president’s office and Cabinet meeting room. It had been since around 1830 and would be until the West Wing was built in 1902. Lincoln’s actual bedroom was down the hall, past a reception room, the family library, and Mary Lincoln’s bedroom.
Between 1949 and 1952, the White House interior was completely gutted and rebuilt. After decades of neglect, the building was in such poor condition that engineers feared it could collapse. The end result was a modernized living and work space, stabilized with new load-bearing steel beams. The trade-off was that the historic interior details were demolished.
The public rooms on the main floor were rebuilt on their old lines, but the upstairs living quarters were modified. The old presidential office suite was rebuilt as a modern bedroom suite, with a bathroom, bedroom and sitting room. President Truman christened it the Lincoln Bedroom as a place to display Lincoln-era furnishings and artifacts.
The room itself has been redecorated multiple times over the last fifty years. During the George W Bush era, the White House Historical Association paid $500,000 to give it a more authentic and vibrant Victorian feel. Many of the furnishing pre-date the Lincoln era, but were likely used by the family during their residence. The great rosewood bed that serves as the room’s centerpiece was purchased by Mary Lincoln in 1861, probably for a guest room. Other presidents slept in it, but Lincoln himself did not.
So it’s a complicated piece of historical memory: a bedroom that is a bedroom but wasn’t a bedroom; a “hallowed space” that was actually an office space; a “haunted” space whose original walls and floors are laying in a Virginia landfill. Abraham Lincoln, brought back from the beyond, would not recognize this space, or even the view from the windows.
At the moment, a decent Airbnb room a few blocks from the White House is renting for $327 a night. No rosewood bed. No reproduction Scalamandré drapes. They do provide shampoo, but it might not be Aveda. A secure building, but not snipers-on-the-roof secure. So – location, location, location – the Lincoln Bedroom could go for an easy $400 a night. That’s a cool $146,000 a year. The next president could support the sharing economy AND reduce the national debt at the same time.
Go on and list it! Lincoln would approve.