Governor's mansion in Olympia re-opens on September 15, 1975.

  • By Dotty DeCoster
  • Posted 7/29/2009
  • Essay 9080

On Monday, September 15, 1975, Governor Daniel J. Evans (b. 1925) and First Lady Nancy Bell Evans (b. 1933) open their home to the press for a full tour of the restored and remodeled Washington state governor's mansion, originally built in 1908. When the mansion had its first housewarming in January 1909, the women of Olympia not only provided hospitality but also loaned their furniture for the occasion. This time, after more than three years of effort, the official residence re-opened with decorations and furnishings donated through the private Foundation for the Preservation of the Governor's Mansion, now (2009) called the Governor's Mansion Foundation.

A Plan for the Mansion

The Evanses started working with the Legislature as early as 1966 to develop a plan to renovate the governor’s mansion. Although it was not until 1973 that the Legislature provided funding for renovation of state capitol buildings, in May 1972 Nancy Evans, working with interested people throughout the state, organized the Foundation for the Preservation of the Governor’s Mansion. Architect Ibsen A. Nelsen (1919-2001) drew up the plans for the project, and the interior design was by Jean Jongeward (1917-2000). The Foundation raised funds and drummed up public enthusiasm, and the renovation was officially  launched with a series of events, including two receptions on September 18, 1972, to honor major donors to the foundation’s work, a modestly priced tea at the mansion on Friday, September 19, and a champagne dinner fundraiser that evening.

The renovation of the three-story Georgian Revival house was extensive, and included new wiring, plumbing, plaster, and interior walls, added insulation, new paint, refinished floors, and fireproofing. The fireplaces and chimneys were restored, and a new elevator was installed in the existing shaft. On the first floor, additions included  a new family dining room, a solarium, a restroom, a gallery, a family living room, a staff sitting room, a service area, and a renovated kitchen.  On the second floor, two guest bedrooms with attached full bathrooms were added, a small office was created for the governor’s wife, the family bedrooms and bathrooms were revised, and the family den and study were completely remodeled.  On the third floor, an existing dormitory, three staff bedrooms and a staff bathroom were repainted. Revised traffic patterns inside the house made it more comfortable for both public use and private use by the governor’s family.

The existing foyer, library, ballroom and formal public parlor were restored and redecorated, with the public rooms painted off-white with green detailing to showcase the furnishings and decorations. In the state dining room, landscapes suggestive of early Washington were hand-painted on canvas in the style of French wallpaper manufacturer Jean Zuber (1772-ca. 1835), whose scenes of early America were popular in the early nineteenth century. Chandeliers, some original and some donated, graced the large public rooms, complemented by antique furniture of the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century period. Silver service and other silver objects from the State’s collection also were displayed. 

Outside the mansion, the garage was relocated, a new driveway and parking area were built, and a sentry station for security staff was constructed. The grounds were partly re-landscaped, and the exterior brick on the original parts of the building was waterproofed. 

At the time of the re-opening, all the expenses had not been calculated, but the cost was believed to be close to $1 million. ($600,000 was originally allocated by the Legislature.) 

A Chance to Reflect on Where We've Been

On September 16, 1975, the Seattle Post Intelligencer quoted Nancy Evans:

"When people visit the mansion, they’ll see a home true to the architecture of the period when this state came into being ... . And that’s important, just as the White House -- or homes where any head of  government lives and entertains -- is important to the people. It gives them a chance to reflect on where we’ve been, even as we look forward to the future” (“Remodeled Governor’s Mansion a Dazzler”).

Today, the Governor’s Mansion Foundation solicits donations and provides an opportunity for public participation, with membership and docent programs and public tours of the mansion's public rooms. It conducts research on the building's history and maintains an official scrapbook. The foundation also coordinates musical events at the mansion, and the Governor’s Chamber Music Festival has held annual recitals there since 1989. In addition to its usual activities, during the centennial year (2008-2009), the foundation hosted a variety of special events.    

Despite its public role, the governor's mansion is first and foremost a residence for the state's first family. Since its renovation was completed in 1975, the mansion has been home to six Democratic and two Republican governors.

Sources: Judi Hunt, “Remodeled Governor’s Mansion a Dazzler,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 16, 1975, p. B-3; “Governor’s Home Gets Expensive Face-Lift,” Ibid., September 16, 1975, p. A-3; Washington State’s Executive Mansion, ed. by Georgia Gellert (Olympia: Governor's Mansion Foundation, 1990), available online (;  E. Ann Olson email to Dotty Decoster, RE:  Mansion re-opening celebration, May 16, 2009, in possession of Dotty DeCoster; “The Club Mural,” University Club, Florida, website accessed May 12, 2009 (; “The Governor’s Mansion Foundation News,” November 2006, Vol. 11, No. 2, Washington Governor's Mansion Foundation website accessed May 25, 2009 ( “Chamber music concerts at the Washington State Governor’s Mansion,” Northwest Reverb, January 24, 2008, website accessed May 25, 2009 (; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, “Evans, Daniel J. (b. 1925) and Nancy Bell Evans (b. 1933)” (by Casandra Tate), and “Washington State Governor’s Mansion,” (by Dotty DeCoster), accessed May 2009; "About Nancy Bell Evans," Nancy Bell Evans Center On Nonprofits and Philanthropy website accessed May 2, 2009 (; tour of the governor's mansion on April 29, 2009, by Dotty and Esme DeCoster, guided by Governor's Mansion Foundation.

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