Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Behind The Scenes Photos: Building The Pavilion For The State Dinner For President Hollande

The pavilion seen from inside the White House's Blue Room
Guests will be transported by trolley from the White House to the bottom of the South Lawn for the formal dinner in the massive rental "tent"...
Washington, DC - President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will cap President François Hollande's State Visit on Tuesday night with the ultra-formal State Dinner, celebrating the centuries-long alliance between the US and France.  It will be for about 350 guests, according to a Senior White House Official, and will take place inside a massive pavilion on the South Lawn, which the White House is referring to as a "tent."

The pavilion as seen from the bottom of the South Lawn
 Guests will be able to see the dramatically lit pavilion from the Blue Room, the center oval parlor on the State Floor, where they will be received by the President and Mrs. Obama and President Hollande during cocktails before the 8:00 PM dinner.

Construction on the pavilion began last week, and the structure grew exponentially in size over the weekend, with finishing touches still being added on Monday.  It stretches across the South Lawn, and extends back toward the fenceline that separates the historic grounds from the Treasury Department. 

A close-up view
Hollande's dinner is the first the Obamas have hosted in nearly two years, and will feature a post-dinner performance by nine-time Grammy award winning R&B singer Mary J. Blige.  But there will be no dancing, the White House official said, thanks to the French President arriving stag for the long-planned dinner.  CLICK HERE for the four-course American-themed menu.

The white-walled pavilion is a rental, as is everything that is in it, White House aides said at a press preview on Monday.  There will be no Presidential china used for the dinner, thanks to the number of guests; the State sets are not big enough.  And the historic sets are not used for events in tents.  The rental flatware and glassware, linens, tables, chairs, and flower urns were delivered on Sunday.

A worker cleans one of the doors
The pavilion is surrounded by a series of smaller "tents," as well as mobile power hubs and heating units.  These include separate tents alongside the main pavilion for the White House chefs to stage the dinner service.  

The pavilion is raised off the ground and has a wall of glass windows overlooking the lawn, glass and aluminum doors, heat, electricity, and a full sound system.  The flooring inside is covered with carpet.

A worker wires lights on the South Lawn fountain during a snow storm
On Sunday afternoon the South Lawn was a hive of activity, with workers toiling away to get the structure completed even as the temperature plunged during a sudden storm that dumped snow.  


Workmen on Sunday were busy dragging electrical cable to the fountain in the center of the South Lawn; it will be lit with colored lights, because it is visible from inside the pavilion. 

The pavilion can hold far more guests than either the State Dining Room or the East Room, where the President and Mrs. Obama have held their prior State Dinners.  Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard has hired Rafanelli Events to orchestrate the decor, as Bernard has done for each State Dinner since he was appointed to his post in 2011.  

The Boston-based event firm is owned by Bryan Rafanelli, perhaps best known for Chelsea Clinton's 'wedding of the century,' though Rafanelli's website says he has managed events for "some of the most successful people, companies and brands in the world."

A wall of windows looks onto the South Lawn
Giant delivery trucks carrying the logos of Boston-based flower and event companies were parked on the South Lawn driveway on Sunday and Monday afternoon, delivering cases of flowers, dramatic ornamental urns, and furniture.  

Sample place settings and floral decor
White House Floral Designer Laura Dowling spent years training in France, aides noted, which is just one more link between the two nations.  The flowers that will be used are a combination of blues and purples, and the lighting and table clothes are variations on the color scheme. 

Guests will first arrive for the 8:00 PM dinner through the East Wing of the White House, then after cocktails and the Presidential receiving line they will be ferried across the South Lawn to the pavilion, riding in old-fashioned motorized wood trolleys.  That's basically a necessity:  The temperature is predicted to be below freezing.  And the South Lawn is very large.   The trolleys, also rentals, have been used at other State Dinners.

Fired-air heaters warm the interior
Of course the Obamas have invited many VIPs and celebrities to the State Dinner, including Bradley Cooper, currently nominated for an Oscar for his supporting role in American Hustle, the New York Times reported.  Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, and Dr. Jim Yong Kim, will also attend the State Dinner.  President Hollande dined privately with the duo on Monday night, without President Obama.

The pavilion at the beginning of construction last week
The two Presidents viewed impressive architecture of another kind on Monday afternoon as they toured Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia to begin the State Visit. The trip to President Thomas Jefferson's mountaintop estate was "a wonderful visit," said President Obama, noting that it represented the "incredible history between the United States and France."

There will be more of that transcontinental love during the State Dinner toasts on Monday evening in the pavilion.  

The pavilion for the India State Dinner in 2009
CLICK here for all posts about Hollande's State Visit.

*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama; bottom photo by Pete Souza/White House