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Both timing, security tight for inaugural events

With the first U.S. presidential inauguration since 9/11, the four days of events last month in Washington for the second term of President George W. Bush required tight security and even tighter turnarounds. Cueing on the theme "Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Service," the package of solemn ceremonies and sparkling parties came in with a price tag of $40 million.


The company that was everywhere doing everything was Hargrove Inc. of Lanham, Md. (, the official general contractor to the Presidential Inaugural Committee for the last four inaugurals.

For George W. Bush’s second inaugural, Hargrove was responsible for designing, fabricating and installing the decor for the opening ceremonies, the nine official inaugural balls, three pre-inaugural fund-raising dinners, and a bevy of other official and unofficial inaugural events. Also, the company provided six floats for the parade following the ceremonies.

According to marketing director Marvin Bond, the package of projects added up to total of:

  • 58 projects in 38 venues in five days
  • 25,000 man-hours by 200 permanent staff and 400 on-site hires
  • 25,000 board feet of lumber, 600 rolls of carpet, 500 gallons of paint and 20,000 yards of fabric
  • 15,000 parade-float flowers
  • 50,000 square feet of signage
  • 100 trucks making 412 runs.

“Because of security, the balls were not as spread out across the city as previously,” Bond notes. “But that gave us additional challenges because of rolling in and out for back-to-back events in the same venues.”

As a prime example, he notes the National Building Museum, Washington Hilton and Union Station, which hosted pre-inaugural candlelight dinners on Jan. 19 and inaugural balls the following night. “Planning was the key, much like a military campaign plan, with personnel, transportation and goods all assigned specific dates and times,” he explains. “All materials were color-coded and labeled by venue. This is important because the basic look of the balls and dinners was similar, but each had to adapt to different ceiling heights, stage areas, etc., and some had different entertainment stages, ceiling treatments or other units. In other words, the right pieces had to get to the right places in the right order.”

The tight room turnovers meant that sales reps, account managers and project managers assigned to each venue essentially camped there throughout the project. The Hargrove parade float team had the toughest assignment: “They worked 38 hours straight in the cold and snow,” Bond notes.

Hargrove has worked on presidential inaugurals since President Harry S. Truman’s in 1949. “Virtually everyone in the company works hands-on with projects that may be outside their normal duties," Bond notes, "whether it’s checking and installing signage, making swags or doing heavy lifting on the parade line.”


Bethesda, Md.-based Ridgewells (, which has catered White House events since the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961, cooked up a range of events during inauguration week, from themed cocktail parties to dressy sit-down dinners. Along the parade route, Ridgewells' signature purple Mercedes trucks could be seen up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, providing gourmet meals for major lobbyists, law firms and corporations holding events in the elegant homes lining the street.

Patriotic themes were, of course, a hit, such as an event at the National Archives that kicked off with red, white and blue martinis. “A Walk Around Washington” event used décor and menus to take guests to “Capitol Hill,” the “Adams Morgan” neighborhood, and the “West Wing.”

“For the most part, inaugural events are very traditional,” says Susan Lacz Niemann, one of Ridgewells' owners. “Yet we always try to reflect some of today’s food trends. So instead of buffets in some cases, we had a chef prepare small plates that present one item with its side dish and sauce so the guests can just pick it up and go. This year, we also incorporated more seasonal, local items into the menus, as well as organic ingredients.”


Dealing with the myriad entities involved with all the ceremonies and events was one of the biggest challenges facing power supplier Aggreko Event Services (, based in Houston, says North America event manager Gary Meador. The company handled power generation for the official ceremonies (including the massive inaugural stage, support tents, and trailers for officials, production crews and security personnel) along with special performances and the media center. Aggreko also powered the parade and the official balls.

“We dealt with the Presidential Inauguration Committee, the Secret Service, the Armed Forces, the U.S. Park Service, the City of Washington, the national media, four major tent companies and several event producers,” Meador says. “The challenge came with everyone having their own timelines to accomplish a lot of work in only a few hours. For the most part, the inauguration was a 72-hour event from install to load-out.” The powerful snowstorm that hit the Northeast just days before the inaugural events, with the threat of another storm due two days after, added to the “greater sense of urgency to get our gear out of there ASAP,” he adds. The Aggreko team took 3,000 man-hours during inauguration week to handle the power needs for event producers.

With installations impinging on national parks and monuments, environmental concerns were vital. Aggreko used its Greenpower generators, which generate low carbon emissions and retain all internal fluids in the event of spills, along with its double-wall, spill-proof EnviroTank fuel tanks. The company used only electric heaters, which ruled out the need for storing large amounts of propane gas on site and also avoided smelly fumes. The electric heat was a hit with the Secret Service, too, “as it removed the security threat that having large amounts of high-pressure, flammable gases on site would have posed,” Meador notes.


Signature Event Services ( of Frederick, Md., provided more than 40,000 square feet of space with tenting and flooring in locations including the Mall, the Pentagon and the Ellipse, the equivalent of "more than three and a half football fields," notes company president Tom Brown.

Brown notes that Signature's effort combines the capabilities of the company's special event staff and its newly formed government and military affairs division "as we work for and with the leaders of the inauguration."

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