200-Year Tradition : Capital Sets the Stage for Its Big Day

Times Staff Writer

As Friday’s inauguration approaches, Barbara Bush has almost single-handedly packed all the boxes of belongings in the rambling Victorian mansion that serves as the vice presidential residence. She has marked each with a colored dot--red to the White House, yellow to the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md., and blue to the family home at Kennebunkport, Me.

In the meantime, as part of the tightest security preparations for any public event in the nation’s history, welders were sealing manhole covers on Pennsylvania Avenue on Monday to prevent terrorists from popping up in the middle of the inaugural parade.

And at the Washington Convention Center, where two of nine inaugural balls will take place, Kevin Moley was planning the installation of luminous ceiling sculptures meant to symbolize the Bush campaign theme of “a thousand points of light.” In all, $25-million worth of parties--including one on Saturday dubbed “From George to George” (Washington to Bush)--are ready.

West Steps of Capitol


Continuing a 200-year-old tradition, the city named after the first President is all set to inaugurate and celebrate the reign of the 41st. Before a live audience of 140,000 and millions more watching on television, George Herbert Walker Bush and James Danforth Quayle will be sworn in as President and vice president of the United States at noon Friday on the west steps of the Capitol.

That is, unless the weather votes otherwise. Four years ago, snow and arctic cold forced the oath-taking ceremony for President Reagan and Vice President Bush indoors, under the Capitol dome, and the parade was canceled. The early forecast for Friday is for a high temperature in the mid-40s and precipitation no heavier than a few Democratic tears.

The whirlwind of celebratory bashes this week will present a paradox. Tickets to many events will be the most expensive in history, ranging up to $25,000 for an eight-person box at Thursday’s gala, to be televised live by CBS, featuring such entertainers as Julio Iglesias, Roberta Peters, Frank Sinatra, the Oak Ridge Boys and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Many Free Events

At the same time, there will be more free events than ever, including a forum Thursday at which “heroes from all walks of life” will tell young people about the “tremendous opportunities” awaiting them.

The committee planning the privately financed balls, galas, pageants, salutes, dinners, forums and parade has budgeted a record $25 million, to be raised through a combination of interest-free loans and contributions from corporations and rich individuals as well as sales of tickets, memorabilia and television advertising.

Partly because of inflation and the increased free events, that is far more than the $4.5 million spent on Jimmy Carter’s inaugural celebration in 1977 or even the much-criticized $16.3 million lavished on Reagan’s first inauguration in 1981. (The 1985 price tag was scaled back to $9.5 million.)

An additional $5 million in taxpayer funds will be spent this year on such things as security and platform construction at the Capitol.

“The money is not being spent for gold and glitter but for substantive kinds of things,” insists Stephen M. Studdert, executive director of the inaugural committee.

The festivities, says Penne Percy Korth, an art dealer who serves as committee co-chairman, are meant to “demonstrate to the world the beauty and uniqueness of an orderly, peaceful system that has operated successfully for 200 years.”

Inaugural extravaganzas have come a long way since George Washington, who took the oath of office in New York in 1789, watched a nighttime fireworks display from a friend’s house and walked home through crowded streets.

When John Adams succeeded Washington eight years later, there was a ball that evening, but it was for the retiring President, and no one thought to invite Adams, a political rival.

Andrew Jackson, the hero of the common man, threw open the doors of the White House during his 1829 inauguration--and thousands of celebrants descended on the mansion, stepping with muddy boots on damask-covered chairs and knocking over furniture and glassware to get at barrels of orange punch, ice cream and cake.

Despite that fiasco, the Bushes are reviving Jackson’s idea, opening the White House to all comers for three hours on Saturday morning. The newly moved-in hosts plan to greet many of the visitors themselves.

Tight Security

Reflecting concern over a worldwide epidemic of terrorism, extraordinary security measures have been taken for the string of inaugural events.

To prevent an airborne attack at the inauguration, a sentry armed with a Stinger anti-aircraft missile will be stationed atop a building on the Capitol grounds, sources said. Sharpshooters will peer down from the Capitol roof as Bush takes the oath and gives his speech behind bulletproof glass.

Each of the tens of thousands of people attending the ceremony will have to pass through metal detectors at just four openings in miles of snow fencing that surround the grounds. Television operations with bulky equipment have been warned to show up well before dawn so that bomb-sniffing dogs and security personnel can go through their gear.

Along the parade route from the Capitol to the White House, mailboxes, litter cans and newspaper vending machines will be removed to prevent the placement of time bombs. Buildings will be marked with large numbers so that roving SWAT teams can be directed quickly to any trouble spot.

More than 300,000 federal workers will be given the day off, at a cost to the government of $40 million, to permit office buildings to be closed along the route and to ease traffic jams.

The Bushes are not expected to follow the example of Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, who took a surprise stroll down the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue after his inauguration in 1977. Instead, they plan to ride from the Capitol to the parade reviewing stand at the White House in a new $600,000 armored Lincoln limousine that took three years to build.

In line with past practice dating to Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration in 1964, the Bush inaugural committee raised $20 million in start-up money for the parade and private events by borrowing $100,000 interest-free from each of 200 corporations and wealthy individuals.

The loans will be repaid from corporate sponsorship of free events and from sales of tickets, television advertising and memorabilia ranging in price from $25 belt buckles to $1,195 crystal eagles.

For Thursday night’s gala, to be televised live on CBS, 14 minutes of commercials have been sold for $350,000 a minute, about one-quarter the price for Super Bowl air time.

Executive director Studdert dismissed suggestions that the many generous financial supporters of the inaugural events might seek return favors when they have business before the new Administration. “There’s no linkage at all,” he said.

This year’s inaugural parade probably will not be able to compete with some of its predecessors for colorful participants and humorous moments. Buffalo Bill rode in Benjamin Harrison’s 1889 parade and Indian chief Geronimo rode in Theodore Roosevelt’s in 1901. In 1957, a horseman playfully threw a lasso over President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who as a West Point cadet 40 years earlier had marched in Woodrow Wilson’s parade.

But this year’s parade will feature at least one first: politically significant police officers. At a cost of $75,000, the inaugural committee is bringing to Washington by train police officers from Boston, Springfield, Mass., and New York City who supplied key endorsements in Bush’s presidential campaign against Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.

“It’s a way where George Bush can clearly send a message that he has a very strong posture toward law and order,” Studdert said. “Second, it’s a way to say thank you.”

Also appearing in this year’s parade, amid some lighthearted controversy, will be the California Raisins, a group of promotional dancers usually seen on television dressed up as dried grapes. When a last-minute scheduling change forced Bush, who had been in the area earlier, to cancel a rally last year in Fresno, home of the California Raisin Advisory Board, he joked: “I didn’t want to see those damned dancing raisins again.”

Perhaps as a good-will gesture, the raisins were invited to march in the inaugural parade. They declined at first, saying their 18-inch sneakers were not meant for walking, but then agreed to ride on a float sponsored by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

In all, 214 bands, equestrian teams, choral groups or other units will be represented in the 1.6-mile parade, and every state and territory except North Dakota will have an entry. North Dakota’s “centennial band” came up $80,000 short in travel money and opted instead to go to the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena.

California’s entry will be the Sacramento County Mounted Posse, which appeared in Reagan’s first inaugural parade in 1981 and was in Washington for the 1985 parade before it was canceled by the cold weather.

Some of the most intensive inaugural planning has gone into avoiding a repeat of the Great Fur Flap of 1985, when hundreds of ballgoers wound up with someone else’s fur coat--or none at all--because of a gigantic coat-check mix-up at the Washington Convention Center.

California firms making interest-free loans to the inaugural committee include Atlantic Richfield Co., Bank of America, Chevron Corp., Fluor Corp., Frederick Weisman Co., Pacific Telesis Group, Sun Diamond Growers of California and Unocal.

Individual lenders from California include Donald L. Bren, chairman of Irvine Co.; Dr. Armand Hammer, chairman of Occidental Petroleum Corp.; actor Glen Holden; Gordon C. Luce, chairman of Great American First Savings Bank of San Diego; David H. Murdock, Los Angeles real estate developer; Gerald L. Parsky, a Los Angeles attorney and former official in the Gerald R. Ford Administration; Jerry Weintraub, movie producer and close friend of the Bushes, and Earle C. Williams, a Los Angeles businessman.