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Mansion's Doors to Close in May

Richmonders who want to check out the recently renovated Executive Mansion will have to hurry.

The Warners

have three daughters, ages 7, 10 and 11. The governor and his family traditionally

live on the second floor, which is closed to the public.

"I'm a little surprised," says former First Lady Roxane Gilmore, who encouraged

visitors to the mansion, especially children. "We never found that having the

citizens of Virginia come to the mansion and see it was really an inconvenience."

But, Gilmore says, each administration has the right to open the mansion — or

not — as it sees fit.

Collis' decision is hardly unprecedented; many other states' executive mansions

close for the summer. Some don't give tours at all.

Docents, most of whom are women of a certain age, show thousands of visitors

each year around the elegant home, completed in 1813 and renovated in 1999 at

a cost of $7.2 million. The first floor of the house has been open for tours,

off and on, since 1954.

Bowers says she's heard no complaints from the 59 volunteer docents, who are

mostly glad to have a summer vacation. But a few say they're disappointed.

"A little thing is a little thing — until you become faithful to that little

thing," says one docent, who has given tours once a month for nearly 20 years

and who asks not to be identified. "Every mansion doesn't do this," she acknowledges.

"But Virginia is unique."

When the first lady is on vacation this summer, tours can be arranged for interested

groups if they call ahead, says Bruce Garrison, executive mansion director.

Summer is the season with the lowest tour attendance, says Bowers, since no

school groups come through. The busiest times at the mansion are during the

legislative session, when 300 people tour the mansion on an average day, and

weekends around Christmas. The popular Garden Week begins April 20 this year,

so people may still tour the mansion's grounds then.

"The house belongs to Virginia, and [most first families] like people to see

it," says the unhappy docent. "Of course," she admits, "it is an imposition.

Could be." — Melissa Scott Sinclair

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