Don Bonnett lives and works in Timonium and owns a 150 year-old farm in Havre de Grace, where he grew up as a boy. Mr. Bonnett worked in the construction industry for over thirty years. He sold steel for Armco Building systems among many other companies. His projects include many of Maryland’s pre-engineered buildings on the Eastern Shore, the Maryland State Fairground’s Cow Palace, an aircraft hangar that housed NASA’s first shuttle prototype, the “Atlantis” from which Columbia, Discover, and other shuttles were modeled and more. His most memorable project includes the Presidential Inaugural Stand, built in 1980 & 1984 and still being used today! Here are some secrets about the stand you’ll only hear about –standing behind the scenes!
The presidential stand is actually an important part of the inauguration process. The stand is where the president views the parade after being sworn into office. Enter two Maryland companies who built the stand that is “still standing” since 1980!
In 1980, Frank Fields, Vice President of Associated Builders of Hyattsville, received a contract to build the presidential reviewing stand. In turn, he contacted Don Bonnett who was Armco Steel’s district manager for the Mid-Atlantic area. Armco steel supplied the steel to support the stand. Here are some other facts you might not know about this important structure which millions of people will see during the upcoming parade:
The current inaugural stand is modeled after President Kennedy’s inaugural reviewing stand. Don Bonnett of Armco Steel and Frank Fields of Associated Builders reviewed the inauguration construction plans based on President Kennedy’s 1960’s stand.
Kennedy’s stand was built almost entirely out of wood. The wooden structure had several interior wooden columns for support. These columns created blind spots and hindrances for the viewers. In contrast, the new stand would be made of steel. Since steel can span greater distances than wood, (and is stronger in many cases), the interior columns were eliminated. The updated stand could then accommodate up to 20 additional seats. (Anecdotally, Don overheard that Nancy Regan was happy she could invite more people!)
The stand is built on top of the sidewalk in front of the White House. Steel needs support because of the weight. Massive concrete piers are poured and then the steel is bolted to the pier to build the stand’s frame. In particular, the secret service liked the idea of concrete piers because it helped eliminate potential damage from vehicles running into the stand and provided the president an extra layer of protection.
In 1980 and without a computer or cell phone, Don Bonnett only had two hours to get the engineering and approvals completed before meeting with the Inaugural Committee, General Services of the District of Columbia, Secret Service, White House architect and others. From there, Fields and Bonnett would have less than 6 weeks to build the stand.
The 1980 stand was disassembled and handed over to the district for storage to be reused for the next inaugural parade in four years. Four years later, Mr. Bonnett received a call that the inaugural committee and others involved would like to use the former stand yet the stand was somehow lost. Bonnett and Fields then had to reorder the steel for the stand.
The 1984 stand was built but was NEVER used! The temperature was only 7 degrees with windchills of 22 below zero. Out of fear for people’s health and safety, the parade took place in the former Washington Capital Centre.
Usually the inaugural parade date is January 20th however that day coincided with the Super Bowl in 1985, therefore, the parade was postponed one more day.
The inaugural stand is NOT paid for by taxpayers but rather donations to the inaugural committee where proceeds go towards the reviewing stand.
Today’s inaugural stand is pretty much the same as it was in 1980. Because of heightened security the president sits behind a bullet proof shield. Without revealing any secrets, if there was a threat, the secret service could have the president removed from the area in less than 10 seconds.
Today, Mr. Bonnett with his daughter, own Maryland Sales and Marketing Associates. Their company provides sales management, sales training, marketing, social media, and graphic design. Mr. Bonnett has been hired as a consultant, lecturer, and project manager for companies, institutions, and non-profits including John Deer, Johns Hopkins, University of Maryland, SBDC, World Kitchen, Grimme, Ameri-Prise, Towson University, Enoch Office, and Chambers of Commerce and more.