Embassy Row astounds visitors and residents alike when they first see the palatial mansions that line several blocks on Massachusetts Avenue NW in Washington DC. It is one of the most exclusive DC neighborhoods. You’ll see both residences where the ambassador lives as well as chanceries (embassy offices).
“Massachusetts Avenue is a boulevard of grand mansions, row houses, and embassies, affectionately known as ‘Embassy Row.’ It is among the finest realizations of L’Enfant’s Baroque vision of grand vistas and diagonal avenues.”DC Historic Sites
Gilded Age millionaires, such as miner-turned-millionaire Thomas Walsh, built the “Palaces of Massachusetts Avenue” to flaunt their wealth.
These turn-of-the-century residences now serve as the embassies for many nations, including Brazil, Great Britain, Haiti, Latvia, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan.
Foreign countries began snapping up the properties after the 1929 Stock Market Crash and the ensuing Depression put a dent in family fortunes. Millionaires’ Row turned into Massachusetts Avenue’s famed Embassy Row.
“The income tax, World War I, Prohibition, the Great Depression, changing demographics, the death of long-time residents, and other factors brought change to Dupont Circle.”D.C. Historic Preservation Office
If you want to see examples of 19th-century architecture, you should definitely spend a day strolling up Massachusetts Avenue toward Sheridan Circle. Thanks to DC’s first governor, Alexander Robey “Boss” Shepherd, this marshland developed into one of the richest DC neighborhoods in the 1890s.
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There are so many interesting stories and scandals associated with the Gilded Age plutocrats who developed properties in the nation’s capital.
Quiz 1: What DC aristocrat (as well as a well-known female artist) displayed a nude statue outside her home on Massachusetts Avenue NW?
Answer: Alice Pike Barney chose to bring art to the nation’s capital. But “it attracted so many gawkers that the police covered it. But the next day the statue was found uncovered, in Sheridan Circle next to the general’s statue,” according to the New York Times (Nov. 2, 1982).
Quiz 2: Who owned 202 Massachusetts Avenue NW which is now the home of the Indonesian Embassy?
Answer: Thomas Walsh (Irish immigrant) who made his fortune in Colorado mining gold built the Walsh-McLean mansion on Massachusetts Avenue NW.
Quiz 3: What DC millionaire homeowner became rich as a distiller of whiskey?
Answer: Samuel Pike (who built Pike’s Opera House in Cleveland) is the father of Alice Pike Barney who lived in a regal residence on Sheridan Circle. It is now the home of the Latvian Embassy.
Quiz 4: Who is the neighbor to the Latvian Embassy?
Answer: The Turkish Embassy is the current owner of the mansion at 1606 23rd Street. George Oakley Totten, Jr. designed the home for Edward Hamlin Everett. He was the inventor of the Coca-Cola bottle cap.
Quiz 5: What patriotic organization is located in an Embassy Row mansion?
Answer: The Society of the Cincinnati, founded in 1783, is located at the Anderson House on Massachusetts Avenue NW.
The list goes on and on of the Who’s Who of DC Elites who lived on Millionaires’ Row circa 1900.
The Blaine Mansion
The former residence of a presidential hopeful (defeated by Grover Cleveland) anchors the Dupont Circle neighborhood with the Embassy Row section. Architect John Fraser merged several European styles: Chateauesque (French), Queen Anne Revival (English), and Second Empire (French). I can just picture the horse-drawn carriage lining up to discharge passengers at the porte-cochere.
U.S. Senator James G. Blaine lived in the impressive red brick mansion. He lost his presidential bid to Grover Cleveland in the 1884 presidential election. Other famous residents include George Westinghouse.
The Japanese embassy and Colombian Ambassador Enrique Olaya Herrera leased the building.
Today, the historic edifice is used as an office complex. Architects cleverly designed the modern office building which is connected to the old home.
Architects Arthur Little and Herbert W. C. Browne designed the 1905 Beaux-Arts style mansion for American diplomat Larz Anderson as a winter home.
A local newspaper described it as a “Florentine villa in the midst of American independence.”
“To the Andersons, their Washington home represented the culmination of what America’s founders, including George Washington, hoped their capital city would become—a grand, modern city to rival European capitals, but with a patriotic identity and a sense of history that would make it distinctly American.”Society of the Cincinnati
Larz and his wife Isabelle entertained frequently in the mansion. Their “Who’s Who” Gilded Age guest lists included Presidents William H. Taft and Calvin Coolidge, Gen. John J. Pershing, Henry A. du Pont, and members of the Vanderbilt family.
Larz died in 1937. His widow donated the house and its furnishings to the Society of the Cincinnati, of which her husband was a member for 40 years.
Today, the Society of the Cincinnati uses the Anderson House for its headquarters, library, and museum.
In 1996, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.
The scandals and tragedies associated with the Walsh-McLean Mansion are legendary. An Irish immigrant who struck gold in a Colorado mine went on to build this Neo-Baroque mansion on Massachusetts Avenue. His daughter Evalyn Walsh McLean and son-in-law Ned McLean lived in the home.
The couple examined the Hope Diamond in Paris on their honeymoon. The McLeans were not daunted by its curse. The jewel brought bad luck to all who owned it.
“Pierre Cartier sold it to them after telling them about the curse. A French gem merchant named Tavernier had stolen it from the eye, or maybe the forehead, of a statue of the Hindu goddess Sita.”New England Historical Society
Evalyn insisted on a “curse clause.” The jeweler must exchange the Hope Diamond for the jewelry of equal value if any fatality occurred to the family of Edward B. McLean.
Whether the curse is true, tragedy followed. A car ran over their 9-year-old son Vinson. Running away from his babysitter, he was run over by an automobile . . . the Hope Diamond hidden away in his pocket.
Harry Winston Inc. purchased Mrs. McLean’s entire jewelry collection, including the Hope Diamond, from her estate in 1949. On November 10, 1958, they donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution.
Railroad magnate Richard Townsend commissioned two New York architects to remodel the Second Empire-style home he purchased at 2121 Massachusetts Avenue NW. John Merven Carrere and Thomas Hastings were graduates of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in France. They modeled their redesign after the Petit Trianon at Versailles. The Townsen House is now the cloistered home of the Cosmos Club.
Incorporated in 1878, it is a “private social club for women and men distinguished in science, literature, the arts, a learned profession or public service,” according to their website.
Clarence Moore House
Clarence Moore hired a French architect to design his Beaux-Arts house at 1746 Massachusetts Avenue NW. Jules Henri de Sibour designed the mansion.
“The Clarence Moore House exemplifies the Beaux Arts style of architecture popular at the turn of the century in the houses built on Massachusetts Avenue.”DC Historic Sites
Moore perished on the Titanic. His wife Mabelle sold the home to the Crown in Right of Canada.
Designed by William Penn Cresson, the exterior of the Kellogg House features a Louis XVI style. It is located at 2234 Massachusetts Avenue.
Today the Republic of Ireland flag waves proudly outside the embassy. The Irish government purchased it in 1949. Louisiana Governor William P. Kellogg originally owned the property.
Edward E. Everett House
The Turkish Embassy is the current owner of the mansion at 1606 23rd Street. George Oakley Totten, Jr. designed the home for Edward Everett, nicknamed “the bottle top king.” He was the inventor of the Coca-Cola bottle cap.
Located at 1606 Twenty-third Street Northwest, the limestone structure “reflects the more eclectic variations which influenced Beaux-Arts Neoclassicism.
“With its size and setting on 23rd Street, the building takes visual command of the eastern approach to Sheridan Circle.”Library of Congress
Everett’s widow sold the house to the government of Turkey.
If you are feeling muddled about all the contrasting styles of architecture on Embassy Row, or you just feel exhausted from your long hike up Embassy Row, you might find a reason to laugh when you stand in front of the Embassy of Croatia (located at 2343 Massachusetts Avenue NW).
A bronze statue is stationed in front of the house on 2343 Massachusetts Avenue NW. Visible to all car and bus passengers, Jerome the Priest is disconsolate.
If you are curious to see inside the palatial mansions on Embassy Row, consider visiting Washington DC in May: “Passport DC is a month-long journey around the world highlighting DC’s thriving international diplomatic community and its lively and varied culture. Celebrated annually in May, which is International Cultural Awareness Month in Washington, Passport DC is 31 days of programming by embassies and some of DC’s very best cultural institutions.
“Thousands of people enjoy the popular embassy open houses, street festivals, performances, exhibitions, workshops and more. Passport DC invites everyone to experience a trip around the world without leaving the city!”Events DC
I participated in Passport DC in May 2019. It was thrilling to walk up and down the halls and stairs. I could picture the lavish Gilded Age parties. You will encounter long lines at the most popular embassies. But I found the wait worth it.