White House Replica Sticks to Details
Barbara Bush feels right at home with White House replica -Robin Rombach/The Pittsburgh Press
By Bob Satz Jr. The Pittsburgh Press
People of Pittsburgh: For the holidays, John Zweifel gives you the White House, complete with gravy stains, cigar burns, exten-sion cords and pencils.
"It's your house," says Zweifel, the Orlando artist who's whittled away 20 of his 52 years building his dream home — a 1/12th scale replica of the presidential palace.
He does mean replica:
"Those clocks work. The light switches work. The phones ring."
The tiny televisions work, too.
The miniature furniture he crafted of the same woods as the real pieces, he says; he repro-duced as faithfully any scratches and other imperfections, including stains.
Everything's here, right down to the 120 place settings in the State Dining Room. If he could shrink people from 6 feet tall to 6 inches, they could sit down to eat.
"We wanted it to be perfect," says Zweifel, whose creation will spend the next month in the Auditorium of Kaufmann's, Downtown, as the centerpiece of the "A Christmas at the White House" exhibit to benefit public television station WQED.
Life-size visitors can peer in the windows and the cutaway south side to see how the White House looked on July 4, 1976 — except for the holiday decorations and snow added for this exhibit. Fires burn in some of the fireplaces, too. Smoke even curls from the chimneys.
It was no small feat to bring the executive mansion into a department store, because even in miniature, this baby is 60 feet long and weighs more than a ton and a half. They had to use a crane to raise it in eight pieces to the 11th floor more than a week ago. They've been putting it together day and night since.
It was the fine detail that wowed 'em at its unveiling yesterday for the media and guests at a private reception attended by Barbara Bush.
The idea behind his project, Zweifel says, is to give people a glimpse of something they can't otherwise see. "Let's give the White House to the people. Let's show America what it's really like."
He and his wife, Pat, have had privileged access as they've worked — collecting photographs and drawings — with every president since John F. Kennedy. The replica was first presented to the American people during the Ford administration in 1975. "I still have a few more rooms to do," Zweifel says.
His wife re-created, in color and texture, the rugs, drapes, bedspreads and other accessories — even the paintings that hang throughout.
One carpet can take years, Zweifel says. "It may have a half a million stitches."
He says they've put more than 400,000 man- and woman-hours into the house. He won't say how much money.
Also in the exhibit are dioramas of other rooms they've done, including the Bush Oval Office, as well as settings of presidential china and other memorabilia.
Though the exhibit has traveled to all 50 states, he says, this is the first time it's been in Pittsburgh.
"A Holiday at the White House" opens to the public today and runs through Dec. 23. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for children 12 and under and senior citizens. Tickets may be pur-chased at all Kaufmann's loca-tions, but same-day tickets must be purchased Downtown. Dis-counted tickets — for $3 — and special hours are available for groups of 25 or more. For infor-mation: 622-6424.