Weeks before her family turns the White House over to President-elect Joe Biden, Melania Trump has announced that a new tennis pavilion on the south grounds is ready for action.
The project included sprucing up an existing tennis court and children’s garden, in addition to building a pavilion to replace a smaller structure.
The first lady’s office said on Monday that the pavilion’s design was inspired by the architectural style of the White House, especially the East and West Wings. A colonnade, parapet wall and fanlight windows tie the new building to the look and feel of the White House.
But critics expressed anger at the White House’s announcement while the US is in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Twitter there were comparisons to Marie Antoinette and the quote “Let them eat cake”, which is often attributed to her.
Molly Jong-Fast, an editor at The Daily Beast, tweeted: “Oh Good, those people in their ICU Beds will feel so much better knowing that Melania has finished her tennis pavilion.”
Oh Good, those people in their ICU beds will feel so much better knowing that melania has finished her tennis pavilion. https://t.co/8xuIf4WW8i
— Molly Jong-Fast🏡 (@MollyJongFast) December 7, 2020
Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economist with the Federation of American Scientists, said: “How many PPEs, tests, masks, contact tracers, and ICU beds could that have bought instead?”
One Twitter user called the first lady “Melania Antoinette”:
We are a week away from passing 300,000 Americans killed by COVID and Melania Antoinette over here updated the tennis court as her act of civic service this year. https://t.co/M5j7ozktAl
— Tom Matzzie 🎄 (@tommatzzie) December 7, 2020
Earlier this year, as the virus began to take hold, the first lady tweeted photos of herself wearing a hard hat while reviewing blueprints for the pavilion.
Her critics lashed out, with some calling the photos insensitive during the coronavirus scare.
She pushed back in a follow-up tweet encouraging “everyone who chooses to be negative & question my work at the @WhiteHouse to take time and contribute something good & productive in their own communities.”
In a written statement on Monday, the first lady thanked the “talented craftsmen” who worked on the project and the “generous supporters of the White House.”
“It is my hope that this private space will function as both a place of leisure and gathering for future First Families,” she said.
Biden is set to take the oath of office as the nation’s 46th president on January 20.
President Barack Obama, an avid basketball player, had turned the tennis court into one suitable for basketball.
President Donald Trump had been a regular spectator at the annual US Open tennis tournament held in his native New York, but he has not attended since taking office.
Completion of the tennis pavilion follows the first lady’s redesign of the White House Rose Garden earlier this year.
Mrs Trump helped break ground for the pavilion project in October 2019. Construction was in partnership with the Trust for the National Mall and the National Park Service. The new building was funded by private donations. The White House did not disclose how much it cost.