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The Presidential Townhouse (716 Jackson Place NW) is a government property near the White House

reserved for the exclusive use of former presidents of the United States during visits to the capital.

The Trowbridge House (708 Jackson Place NW) is nearby and is currently undergoing renovations to also serve as guest house for former presidents. Neither should be confused with the President's Guest House (commonly called Blair House), which is a guest house for foreign dignitaries.

What determines who can stay in these two houses? Specifically,

  1. Is the "exclusive use by former presidents" actually authorized by law? By executive order? Or simply by tradition?

  2. Can/Has it been occupied by more than one ex-president at a time? If not, who decides which ex-president has priority?

  3. Can/Has a current President prevented (or interfered with) an ex-president from staying there?

  4. Do presidential widows also have rights to stay in these houses?

PTH and Trowbridge near the White House

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There aren't much publicly available information regarding these buildings but I'll answer with what I could find.

Some background

Both 708 Jackson Place (Trowbridge House) and 716 Jackson Place are managed by the General Services Administration, as part of the wider "Jackson Place Complex".

Regarding 716 Jackson Place, the GSA explains:

The building at 716 Jackson Place is owned by the federal government and is reserved for the exclusive use by former presidents when they are in town. Purchased by the government in the late 1950s, it became the "Presidential Townhouse" in 1969 by order of President Richard Nixon. The five story building includes two dining rooms, multiple bedrooms, and space for a Secret Service detail in the basement. A four-story building dating from the late 1860's, it was once the home of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Some additional details of the renovation at Jackson Place can be found at the website of a construction firm.

1. Is the "exclusive use by former presidents" actually authorized by law? By executive order? Or simply by tradition?

From above, it's noted that President Nixon designated those buildings as the "Presidential Townhouse" "by order" in 1969. However, I could not find relevant executive orders regarding this.

Purchased by the government in the late 1950s, it became the "Presidential Townhouse" in 1969 by order of President Richard Nixon.

At a congressional hearing in 1979, a GSA official stated that the White House has "the assignment responsibilities". It also appeared that despite being reserved for "the exclusive use of former Presidents", others had used the building too. It is unclear if that has changed. The hearing also provided some other information regarding this townhouse.

The have space assignment, they have the final word on who can use it and who can't. We have had former Vice President Agnew in there, we had the Rockefeller Commission in there and a drug commission as well as others. It has been used by a number of different organizations or people.

2. Can/Has it been occupied by more than one ex-president at a time? If not, who decides which ex-president has priority?

There is no official source I could find regarding this. FWIW, CBS News mentioned this:

Of course the house is large, but it's no mansion, so if the ex-president's club gets much bigger, and the man sitting in the Oval Office decides he ever needs all of them in Washington, D.C. at the same time, the presidents may have to draw straws to see who gets the prime real estate across the street.

3. Can/Has a current President prevented (or interfered with) an ex-president from staying there?

It appears to be yes. Michael Duffy and Nancy Gibbs, author of the book "The Presidents Club", noted that President Carter did not let his predecessor, President Nixon, stay there. Via the same CBS News article linked above:

But the first time Nixon came back to Washington after his resignation, he was forced to go elsewhere.

Nixon asked to stay in the building, but Jimmy Carter wouldn't let him.

4. Do presidential widows also have rights to stay in these houses?

From the congressional hearing mentioned above (under #1), the President has the "the final word on who can use it and who can't". So, it's possible with the permission of the incumbent President.

Relevant articles:

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    Great answer. Comment on #4: Since non-presidents have stayed there (as you say in #1) and even former presidents could be told no (as you say in #3, it would seem that the answer is 'Yes, she could if the current president invited her," but no one has any "right" to stay there. – Damila Jan 19 at 15:56
  • @Damila I've updated it, thanks for pointing out! – Panda Jan 20 at 1:53
  • This answer needs to be brought forward into the 1980s, at the very least, where it was noted in a 1988 report (GGD-88-57FS) by the GAO that former presidents had only used it for a mere 57 days over FY1980 to FY1987, mostly by Ford, and that Ford and Nixon had expressed willingness to give up the perq. Wikipedia is out of date. Per the same report, Congress actually took away all GSA funding for "rent" in 1988 because the building was so largely unused by former presidents. – JdeBP Jan 23 at 16:37
  • Wikipedia also needs to know about back in the 1970s. The idea that this has been reserved exclusively for former presidents since 1969 is belied by the fact that this was Spiro T. Agnew's office from 1973 to 1974, per contemporary news reports. – JdeBP Jan 23 at 16:52

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