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Own your own (faux) White House

If you are among those shopping for your own personal White House, don’t worry. You have options.

Is the replica White House for sale on Georgetown Pike in McLean, Va. – complete with curved portico and towering columns – not quite right? Then maybe the replica White House for sale two miles away on Towlston Road is more to your taste in bootleg executive mansions. That one comes with a Truman balcony. And, priced at $2.69 million, it might cost less than the Georgetown Pike home, which was listed for nearly $7 million two years ago and will be sold at auction later this month.

A knockoff White House in nearby Haymarket, Va., needs only a couple of snipers on the roof to give it that true seat-of-power finish. An Atlanta White House features its own Oval Office. A column-correct version in Dallas (ionic pillars on north and south porticos) was on the market earlier this year for $15 million.

As the country cringes its way to an election with the actual White House as its prize, other ZIP codes seem to be lousy with the places. If your wannabe first family is not likely to move into the 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW address, with all the features that go with it (acclaimed chef, Rose Garden, walking distance to the Peet’s Coffee on 17th Street, nuclear arsenal), there are other White Houses to be had in abundance.

That’s good for Jeff Stein, the real estate agent in charge of selling the Georgetown Pike White House. Being a domicile doppelgänger helps with the copy writing. (12,500 square feet, six bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, pool, outdoor kitchen, looks like the freaking White House!)

“It’s a unique look that helps the house stand out from other properties of this size on the market,” Stein said on a recent Sunday as potential buyers trooped in and out of the neoclassical building. One family of six split up, the kids heading straight for the backyard pool, the dad heading toward the basement theater and the mom mulling the gleaming music room.

If they were looking for a secure Situation Room or a red phone to the Kremlin, they were disappointed. This White House is presidential only in its facade, where six columns and the rounded portico have screamed “South Lawn” since it was built in 1989. It became a little less authentic in 2004 when it acquired a two-car garage where the East Wing should be.

There has been a lot of traffic in the three open houses the agents have held in the weeks leading up to the Oct. 27 auction, which Stein expects to attract a crowd of bidders. He won’t say what the minimum acceptable bid will be, but bidding will start at $2 million. Almost none of the potential buyers have asked about the home’s exterior.

“We’ve always liked it not because it looks like the White House but because it’s a really well-built house with a beautiful neoclassical style,” said Philip Gentry, the Arlington, Va., dentist who has owned the house for the past 22 years with his wife and dental partner, Jeanette Coutin-Gentry. They are selling as their children start to enter adulthood. “To us, it’s always looked more like the governor’s mansion in Mississippi.”

It does, in fact, bear a remarkable resemblance to Gov. Phil Bryant’s Greek Revival home in Jackson, but that doesn’t carry the same listing-language pop.

What the White House look-a-likes also share is deep symbolism, which may explain the appeal of the look. Columns in particular denote power and authority, according to Jack Nasar, a retired Ohio State University architecture professor who has studied the meaning of home design. (Houses with porches are rated the “friendliest.”)

“It’s almost a plantation style; it connotes leadership and power,” Nasar said. “It communicates that this is the home of a high-status person, a leader.”

Even better, it makes it easy to have pizza delivered.

“One thing that’s been great is giving directions,” Gentry said. “You just say ‘the White House on Georgetown Pike.’ 

For Thanh Nguyen, the Vietnamese-born engineer who built the Towlston Road White House, replicating the president’s house was an architectural “thank you” to his adopted country. Nguyen declined to be interviewed, but the retired founder of a federal construction contractor has told friends about the love-of-America impulse that went into his 14,000-square foot paean to what was then the Clinton White House when he finished it in the mid-1990s. It took six years to complete.

“He took the original White House blueprints and hired an architectural historian to adapt them,” said Chu Nguyen, a friend of the owner who also served as his real estate agent when the house was for sale several years ago. “It’s very authentic, even the interior paneling. It was a labor of love.”

But Thanh Nguyen lives alone, an aging man rattling about an empty mansion in Nixonian isolation.

“He doesn’t have any family with him, and it is way too big for him,” said Chu Nguyen. “He’s lonely.”

But the White House can be a hard sell. The property has been on and off the market several times in recent years and went unsold at $3.5 million earlier this year. It is currently listed for $2.69 million according to Zillow.com. The Haymarket White House, which went into foreclosure, had been listed for $1.2 million before selling in 2012 for $865,000.

The Atlanta White House replica was also built by an immigrant-made-good, in that case an Iranian-born home builder. Chu Nguyen said most of the potential buyers he heard from for the McLean White House were also more-recent arrivals to the United States.

“I think Americans like the concept of the White House, but I’m not sure they want to live in one,” he said. “I suspect the market here is foreigners. ‘Hey, I went to America, and now I live in the White House.’ “

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