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White House

Balboa Theater

Underwriters Laboratories
text image - Gibson & Gibson Antique Lighting

Jim Gibson with President Bush's dog, Barney, at the White House.

The San Diego Union-Tribune - Nov 7, 2004

White House

Chula Vista specialist is enlisted to replace
antique light fixtures

By Cathy Lubenski


Jim Gibson's journey from his Chula Vista business to a photo op on the White House lawn holding first dog Barney started on the pages of a national magazine.

Gibson, owner of Gibson and Gibson Antique Lighting, was featured in the December '03 issue of Renovation Style as an authority on antique lighting.

"Someone had picked up a copy of the magazine in the White House bookstore," Gibson said, "and called me. She said 'We're in the middle of restoring one of the rooms at the White House and we have a large glass chandelier that needs to be replaced. We've looked all over the place and we can't find anyone who can do it. Can you?' "

After receiving a fuzzy, faxed picture of the fixture, Gibson, who's been in business for 19 years, recognized it immediately as "a classic shape from the '30s," and a piece he could replicate, thus ending an international search in one glance.

Gibson traveled to Washington, D.C., in September to install three fixtures he'd made from the picture faxed to him from the White House.

It took Gibson and his colleagues six weeks from the time he got the call from the White House until the day he installed the fixtures in the Cabinet Room. "It was the fastest job I've ever done, considering the handmade variables. All the glass was handblown, even the molds were handmade. Everyone, realizing who the client was, worked double time."

The pieces were packed carefully and shipped across the country, and Gibson followed them on Sept. 3 (Labor Day weekend). He was in the White House early Sept. 4, a Saturday, to install the fixtures. The people with whom Gibson was working were, on the most part, impatient to be finished because they were working on a holiday weekend but Gibson told them, "This is my first time here, and I'm from the other coast, and I think this is pretty great."

The security guards were charmed by his enthusiasm and presented him with a White House baseball cap. When a member of the household staff was walking the Bushes' dog, Barney, in the Rose Garden, Gibson was photographed by a guard holding the first dog. (However, of the 14 digital pictures Gibson took, the Secret Service deleted all but two before giving the disc back to him.)

Buzz Blodgett of Blodgett Glass in Leucadia worked with hot glass to make a light fixture for the White House. Rose Goehner

The fixtures Gibson made -- a hand-blown white glass bell with a clear bottom etched with acid to give it a frosted look, and brass fittings -- were based solely on the picture. The original fixture, which hung in the Cabinet Room from 1934 to 1970, no longer exists. (Gibson is forbidden by the Secret Service to say where in the White House he worked, but a story in The Washington Post has since identified it as the Cabinet Room in the West Wing and described the room's redecoration.)

To a lay person, creating a fixture from a picture may seem daunting, but Gibson said, "I've had that type in my shop half a dozen times over the years, so I'm very familiar with it. It would've been impossible to find three matching ones, and they wanted them twice as big as the originals so they had to be custom- made."

Gibson started the White House project by calling area people with whom he's worked over the years and telling them about the job and, more important, who the client was. "I think every one of them said, 'You mean the White House?' After that, all the doors opened and people wanted to meet."

Gibson's work circle included glass blower Buzz Blodgett of Blodgett Glass in Leucadia; glass mold maker Rose Goehner of Carlsbad; Dean Hunting of WPT Design of San Diego, the molded glass maker; Juan Carlos Bulas of San

Diego, bronze casting; Lawrence Hughes of Hughes Cabinetry and Woodworking in Chula Vista, who created the molds for the bronze pieces; and Mike Bellama of Bellama Sheet Metal in Chula Vista, the custom suspension system maker.

Toward the end of the 11-hour job, when Gibson was packing up to leave, he was told that the first family would be arriving by helicopter on the White House lawn from their appearance at the Republican National Convention in New York City, and to slow down if he wanted to see them. He did and was allowed to wave from inside the White House at the president, first lady and the Bush daughters as they disembarked. "He waved in my direction," Gibson said.

For Gibson, working in the White House was the experience of a lifetime, and one that might be repeated. Since installing the fixtures Gibson has been asked by the White House to create extra fixtures in case any of the first three he made are broken. "That room is used so much for TV and if someone hits that glass and it breaks, they need to be able to unpack one and put it up right away," Gibson said. He's also been contacted about working on a home of one of the joint chiefs of staff.

These days when Gibson picks up the phone, he never knows when he's going to hear: "White House calling."