Travel

Embassy Row We’re Not Being Diplomatic When We Say it’s Gorgeous

  • The Delta Shuttle Sheet
  • -
  • May, 2002

by Karen Feld

Walk or drive along the section of Massachusetts Avenue known as Embassy Row and you’ll feel as though you’re touring the world. Though fewer than half of Washington’s 162 embassies actually stand on Embassy Row, it’s home to some of the most prestigious, and they are as diverse as the countries they represent. Few of the embassies are open to the public, but you can still enjoy the architecture, art and gardens during a leisurely stroll down Mass Ave from Observatory Circle to Scott Circle. It’s especially beautiful in May, when the roses, azaleas, dogwoods, magnolias and cherry trees are in bloom.

embassy

The British Embassy stands on 4.5 acres adjacent to the vice president’s residence and the Naval Observatory. With the seal of the crown engraved in the brick above its entrance and the red telephone booth to the left, the building is unmistakably British.

The embassy’s chancery– that’s where the embassy offices are located– is where admirers paid their respects in the days following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. A happier occasion there was the recent knighting of American movie director Steven Spielberg.

Lavish garden parties are held in the formal and rose gardens– the best and most colorful in the city– behind the residence.

The demure whiteness of the Bolivian Embassy is refreshingly simple by contrast. Its decorative flag blazes against the barrel-tile green roof.

The Brazilian Embassy looms next to the Bolivian as an exercise in modern design. I stop and let the triangular marker in front lead my eye to the enormous rectangular glass structure.

Across Massachusetts Avenue, the Finnish Embassy stands in marked contrast to its stoic stone neighbors, The Vatican and Cape Verde. Instead of the manicured front lawns and ornate gardens, it’s the building that dazzles with its modern, Scandinavian design.

ROW HOUSES
BRITISH EMBASSY, Observatory Circle, 3100 Massachusetts Avenue NW
BOLIVIAN EMBASSY, Observatory Circle, 3014 Massachusetts Avenue NW
BRAZILIAN EMBASSY, Observatory Circle, 3006 Massachusetts Avenue NW
FINNISH EMBASSY, Observatory Circle, 3301 Massachusetts Avenue NW
GREEK EMBASSY, Sheridan Circle, 2221 Massachusetts Avenue NW
AUSTRALIAN EMBASSY, Scott Circle, 1601 Massachusetts Avenue NW

The Greek Embassy, a white brick building with a circular drive, was formerly a private residence, built in 1906. Ambassador Alexander Philon and his wife, Helen, host art and educational events that provide guests with an opportunity to partake in their gracious hospitality and view her Greek and Islamic art collection, as well as Greek pieces on loan from museums in Athens.

The four-story, 60-room, Beaux-Arts mansion that is now the Indonesian Embassy was originally the mansion of Thomas Walsh, a goldminer, whose daughter, Evalyn Walsh McLean, was the last private owner of the Hope diamond. During World War II, the building was used by the Red Cross as headquarters for emergency first aid. The Indonesian oat of arms is displayed over the ornate doorway, flanked by Ionic columns of green-veined marble.

The Australian Embassy acts as another reflection of homeland architecture. The seven-story building contains a ceiling designed by an Australian architect to resemble the midnight sky and intense starlight of the Australian Outback– an effect achieved with the use of deep blue fiber-optic cables. You’ll see it if you visit the second-floor library or view the works of Australian artists on the main floor.

-KAREN FELD

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