According to the National Archives, the Presidential Library system officially began in 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt donated his personal and presidential papers, along with part of his Hyde Park estate, to the federal government.
Now that President Obama has left office, things are getting serious on Chicago’s Southside. The Barack Obama Presidential Center is expected to cost $1.5 billion — three times more than that of President George W. Bush.
As reported by Page Six, the husband and wife architecture team of Tod Williams and Billie Tsien fear that amount of money will be difficult to raise, noting that Obama steadfastly refused to fundraise for the project while in office.
According to Page Six, several factors play into the Obama Center’s projected cost.
The Obama Center is due to be so expensive because it will require the construction of both a presidential library and a museum about the lives of Barack and Michelle Obama.
And federal requirements now stipulate that former presidents must have larger endowments to pay for annual operating costs at the libraries.
So where will all that money come from? According to the National Archives:
The Presidential foundations (private, non-profit support organizations) raise the funds and construct the Presidential Library facilities, pay for the core exhibits in each Library’s museum, provide significant funding (and, in many cases, staff) for public programs and education programs, and (for George Bush, Clinton, George W. Bush, and all future Presidential Libraries) provide an endowment to the government to offset maintenance costs for the facilities.
The funding goal for the George W. Bush Center, dedicated in April 2013, was $500 million. Mission accomplished, according the the center’s president, Mark Langdale.
“It was our goal to raise $500 million by the time the George W. Bush Presidential Center was dedicated, and we reached that goal.”
The William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, dedicated in November 2004, was built at a cost of $165 million — mostly from private donations.
As reported by ABC News in 2002, Denise Rich, the ex-wife of fugitive billionaire Marc Rich, pardoned by Clinton in January 2002, donated $450,000 to the project.
Incidentally, the Obama presidential library won’t be the first monument to honor the former first couple. In 2012, a plaque was placed near a Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, where they first kissed.
“On our first date, I treated her to the finest ice cream Baskin-Robbins had to offer, our dinner table doubling as the curb. I kissed her, and it tasted like chocolate.”
As for the Obama library, though, “it won’t be easy,” according to Williams. “It’s not just about preserving the past. It’s about the future.”