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The scale model even duplicates
cigar burns on the couches.
Volunteer Charles Voring works on the model's exterior
Florida artist's gift to America: White House II
By Joan Ryan Orlando Sentinel Photo: The Orlando Sentinal / GEORGE REMAINE
ORLANDO, Fla. — You don't walk in John Zweilei's warehouse. You maneuver.
You squeeze past a turn-of-the-century carousel horse, sidestep a replica of the Liberty Bell and come face-to-face with the biggest portrait of President Reagan you've ever seen.
Scattered across the floor and on the workbenches that line every wall are palettes, brushes and tubes of paint, Elmer's glue, nails and knives.
Your impression is that a gust of wind must have dumped an artist's studio into your grandmother's attic and moved them to south Orlando.
In the center. of this jumbled glory, as conspicuous as an opera diva at a circus, stands the White House — pristine, beautiful and absolutely awesome.
Randy Zweifel, 19, is painting the roof of the West Wing. (He has added sawdust to the gray paint to give the roof a rough look that matches the real thing.) Jack Zweifel, 24, is lightly painting grayish-green swirls on the fireplace in the Green Room, transforming the wooden mantel into marble.
Julie Zweifel, 9, is helping her mother, Jan, sort paperwork in an adjoining office. In another workroom, Janet Zweifel, 15, is stringing glass beads for an East Room chandelier.
John Zweifel, meanwhile, is explaining to a visitor why he, his wife and his six children (James, 23, is in class at the University of Central Florida this particular afternoon, and Kathy, 21, is at Hope College in Michigan) would spend $500,000 of their own money to build a scale model of the White House.
"The White House is the symbol of America and the symbol of freedom," said Zweifel, 47. "I'm an artist, and an artist cherishes his freedom. And every artist's dream is to create something that lasts longer than he does.
"Zweifel's White House is a 1- inch-to-l-foot model. Except for the size, it is an utterly faithful copy, down to the cigar burns on the couches and the gravy stains on the rugs.
Everything is handmade, and most of the furniture is carved from the same type of wood as the originals. The eight tiny television sets work, the phones ring, the clocks tell time. the chimneys blow smoke, the light switches turn on and off.
Zweifel began constructing the White House 24 years ago, working on it while building Zweifel International, which makes animated displays for department stores, shopping centers and attractions throughout the country.
Fourteen years after he began, Zweifel finished the first 25 rooms and took the house on a 50-state Bicentennial tour that began at the 1975 Central Florida Fair. Today, with 50 of the 130 rooms
A replica of the White House Christmas tree; Zweifel began the project 24 years ago.
Janet, one of artist John Zweifel's daughters, takes a peek at the Red Room; Zweifel says the project will take 100 years to complete.
(See WHITE HOUSE on 5-E)
WHITE HOUSE, from 1-E
White House II is his present to America
complete, the house still tours the country in the same 18-wheel truck with "White House" emblazoned on the side. It was in Orlando last week for cleaning, repairs and additions.
The house is intended to provide a snapshot of the way the White House appeared on July 4, 1976, so Zweifel is spared the task of redecorating every time a first lady does. But Zweifel is not finished. He said the house is a 100-year project that won't be complete until the Tricentennial.
In addition to adding more rooms to the exhibit as he finishes them, he and his family and friends have embarked on a new project. It's a dream, really. They are reconstructing the Oval Offices of every president from Washington to Reagan and will continue to build the Oval Offices of each president until the Tricentennial. They also plan to build models of five rooms from each administration from 1976 to 2076.
That's where the six children come in. Zweifel is counting on them and their children to carry out the. dream. Whether it's hereditary or just infectious, Zweifel's enthusiasm for the project has been passed in large doses to his children.
"The project is an everlasting thing," said Jack, who of the six is most involved in the day-to-day work. "There's so much interest in it from the public!, and not just as an artwork. It's a part of everybody. This is history, and everybody owns a piece of it."
That's the point John Zweifel keeps coming back to. The house, he said, is a gift to America. It is not his house, he said, but everyone's. Therefore, he has never charged admission to see it. The organizations that want to exhibit Zweifel's house pay to have it transported and set up.
`I want you to cry'
Plans are under way to set up a room in the White House where the Zweifel house can be enshrined. In the meantime, the house will travel to museums and malls, allowing Americans to visit the White House without going to Washington.
"I want you to cry when you see it," Zweifel said, "because that's the way you'd feel if you went to the actual house."
If you talked to those who knew Zweifel as a child in Wisconsin, few of them would be surprised to learn of his incredible accomplishment. He has been recreating people, places and events ever since he learned to use scissors and crayons.
His grandmother and great-grand-mother were invalids, and Zweifel would make models of all the exciting things he saw so that the women could enjoy them vicariously.
He is the kind of man who doesn't bother to look for the silver lining behind every cloud. He just assumes that it's there. He even found a posi-tive side to what everyone in the family refers to as "The Tragedy."
It was April 9, 1982. The Zweifels had been invited to display their White House in Holland, where the Dutch were celebrating 200 years of diplomatic relations with the United States.
The Zweifels finished setting up the house at about 2 a.m. and went I back to their hotel. An hour later, members of an anti-American group called Onkruit broke into the Madurodam Park exhibition hall in The ' Hague. They smashed the house with axes and splattered it with paint. "The White House should be destroyed and not praised," Onkruit said in a message to the Dutch national news agency, ANP. "Any U.S. propaganda, no matter how small, must be countered."
Zweifel wouldn't allow pictures of the house in shambles. "They wanted it to look like trash in a container," Zweifel said. "They were looking for the visual picture, the United States crushed."
With the help of nearly 100 volunteers, the Zweifel family put the house back into presentable condition in 12 days, and the exhibit opened — with a wall of plexiglass protecting it.
"Tragedies bring people closer together," Zweifel said. "People offered us food, hotels, help with rebuilding the house. The whole family got an invitation to the royal palace. People wrote us letters telling us how sorry they were that it happened and how it really brought the United States and Holland closer, which was exactly our purpose to begin with."
The Zweifels' White House hasn't fully recovered from The Tragedy. There still are carpets that need to be replaced; each is so intricate it takes five years to make. Moreover, the family lost time in building new rooms because it had to replace the old ones first.
No matter. There is another generation to carry on the dream, and another generation to marvel at it.