Mrs. Bush picks 'home for the holidays' theme, though few outsiders will see decorations

Tuesday, November 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Tiny replicas of presidential family homes are on display throughout the White House, part of Laura Bush's ``home for the holidays'' theme. But this year few people will see the holiday decor _ a casualty of tightened security that followed the terrorist attacks.

The traditional holiday tours will not take place this year, and the daily tours that once drew some 3,000 people a day remain suspended indefinitely.

``I know a lot of Americans look forward to touring the White House,'' President Bush told reporters Tuesday.

But terrorists don't take a holiday, the president added. ``In these extraordinary times, we're taking extraordinary measures. It is further reason why we must continue to wage a diligent and consistent fight against terror ... to make our country safe so we can have tours at the White House.''

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday that the Secret Service recommended halting public tours, and Bush agreed.

Fleischer called the White House ``probably the terrorists' No. 1 target.''

The presidential home will remain open to prescreened, invited guests, Fleischer said. When asked how long White House doors will be closed to the general public, he said, ``It's impossible to say. ... We are still a nation at war.'' The Secret Service did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Bush also restricted public access to the White House before the attacks, when he limited invitations to the Fourth of July fireworks-watching party. In past years, 11,000 or more attended; Bush restricted attendees to groundskeepers, employees of the residence, political appointees and their families. Then, the administration cited fears of wear and tear on the White House grounds.

Though she chose this year's theme in July, Mrs. Bush said Monday it carries special meaning in a year when millions of Americans shaken by the attacks are eager to reach the comfort of home and family.

``Because this year's holiday season follows a national tragedy, both home and family have special meaning to all Americans,'' she said. ``Gatherings of loved ones _ familiar faces in familiar places _ can be a tremendous source of strength and reassurance during this season of remembrance and good will.''

To highlight the theme, workers in the White House residence assembled replicas of 18 family homes of presidents, from George Washington's Mount Vernon to Franklin D. Roosevelt's Hyde Park.

A replica of the only house Abraham Lincoln ever owned, in Springfield, Ill., is on display beneath former first lady Barbara Bush's portrait in the Ground Floor Corridor. Nearby, a model of a home once occupied by Ulysses S. Grant stands under a portrait of former first lady Betty Ford. There's also a replica of Lyndon Johnson's Texas ranch.

In the Green Room, there is a model of a house known as Peacefield, home to presidents John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams.

This year's gingerbread house is a recreation of the White House as it appeared in 1800 when John Adams became the first president to live there. It took three weeks to assemble the cake, which is made from 80 pounds of gingerbread and 30 pounds of chocolate.

The White House Christmas tree will be an 18-foot Concolor fir from central Pennsylvania.

Members of Congress and their families, White House staff and military and law enforcement officials will be invited to a series of open houses, said spokeswoman Anne Womack.

There will be an enhanced display at the White House Visitors' Center nearby, where tourists can see replicas of the homes of presidents Eisenhower, Truman and Hoover, and get a video tour of the White House.

Five days after the attacks, Mrs. Bush chose a Psalm for the official White House Christmas card, which was designed by artist Adrian Martinez.

The Psalm reads: ``Thy face, Lord, do I seek: I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!''