Get Up and Go Lake Marion Edition June 1998
Zweifel's little White House draws big crowds
By Frank Langley
One of the many moments John Zweifel loves to relate about Ronald Reagan is the time the president was patiently waiting for Mrs. Reagan to lead their guests into a formal dinner in the State Dining Room.
Finally, the President leaned over and whispered to her, "Why aren't we going in?"
"Because," Nancy answered, smiling, "you're standing on my gown."
It is one of literally several hundred thousand bits and pieces of information Zweifel has collected over the past 40 years in a life's work dedicated, both as a vocation and avocation, to the White House and its many inhabitants.
The hallmark of his life is the much acclaimed miniaturization of the presidential home and work place. His White House is 60 feet long, 20 feet wide and weighs 10 tons. But most incredible is that Zweifel, his family and associates, have duplicated in awesome detail every article in every room, all 132 of them and their 32 bathrooms.
In the words of Gail Buckland, whose lengthy credits include the Nobel Chair in Art and Cultural History at Sarah Lawrence College, and former curator of Great Britain's Royal Photographic Society:
"What is nearly incomprehensible, and at the very heart of John, Jan and Jack Zweifel's scale model of the White House, is the time spent researching, executing and maintaining it. Hour after hour, day after day, year after year...have been given over to making an exact replica of the real White House."
"The research was the biggest and hardest part," Zweifel says, The difficulties John refers to happened early on when bureaucratic pitfalls constantly stood in the way.
"Our only interest was in completely documenting every inch of everything in the room we were working on. We needed to know the materials in the drapes, chair covering and carpeting, types of wood used in the furniture, number of bulbs in the lamps and chandeliers, and their wattages — everything.
"We were often faced with political and security challenges."
Continuing changes happen every time a new administration moves in and large portions of the house undergo a drastic redesign.
Zweifel has nine versions of the famed Oval Office on display, dating back to Taft, the first occupant of the present day Oval Office site, and on to Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton. The last version comes complete with saxophone resting on a side chair. The changes in decor, furnishings and arrangement is a clear indication of the personalities of each man.
The usual reaction of the visitor viewing it for the first time is "unbelievable." Few people can imagine that a copy of the White House in such exacting detail is possible: electrical switches that work, tiny lamps with pea-size bulbs that go on-and-off.