Welcome to Dupont Circle, where we’ll start our tour of Embassy Row. Originally called Millionaires’ Row, it was mansions and large homes built by the newly wealthy. Today, the section of Massachusetts Ave NW north of Dupont Circle is the home to many of the embassies in Washington, DC. Who else but an embassy needed a 60 room house with a grand ballroom?
This tour will explore the neighborhood’s history and outside of embassies along the way, finishing up near the North entrance to the Dupont Circle Metro Station on the red line.
If you want to continue further up Embassy Row than Sheridan Circle, you can take our Embassy Row extension self guided walking tour. This will end at Observatory Circle where you can catch a bus back or continue up to the National Cathedral.
Either tour option is about 1.5 mile and 2 hours.
For more information on Embassy Row or to take our guided tour, visit our Embassy Row page.
Start at Dupont Circle Fountain. Easily accessible from either South or North exits of the Dupont Circle Metro Station.
A. Dupont Circle Fountain
When Pierre L’Enfant designed Washington, D.C. in the late 18th century, he created a grid system with boulevards named after U.S. states that overlaid this grid, such as you have here. This created many circles and squares were these boulevards and streets intersected. Originally called Pacific Circle, due to its location then on the northwestern border of the City of Washington, it was renamed in 1882 when the U.S. Congress honored Mexican-American War veteran, Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Dupont, with a statue in the middle of the circle. The statue of Dupont was considered poorly done and the fountain found here today replaced the statue in 1921. Designed by Daniel Chester French, who also sculpted the Abraham Lincoln Memorial statue, kept true to the seafaring life of the admiral – the fountain is adorned with two female allegorical figures (Sea and Stars) + 1 male (wind) – familiar figures for any sailor.
Look for the white mansion on the corner of P St NW on the east side of the circle. This is the Patterson Mansion (B.)
This beautiful white classical mansion, the only mansion left on the circle, was built in 1903 and designed by the famed architect Samford White, of the firm McKimm, Mead and White. It was built as a winter social home for Robert William Patterson, editor, publisher, and heir to the Chicago Tribune fortune. The home is mostly associated with his daughter, Cissy Paterson, the 1st woman in the U.S. to head a newspaper (Times-Herald), who spent many winters here. The mansion had a total floor area of 36,000 sq. ft. (3,400 sq. m), 16 bedrooms, a ballroom, library, auditorium, 2 elevators and 10 parking spaces when it was finished.
President Calvin Coolidge used the home for 6 months in 1927 while the White House was under renovation when the president hosted Charles Lindberg and presented him his first Distinguished Flying Cross. Cissy bequeathed her home to the Red Cross in 1949, who then sold it to the Washington Club, a now-defunct exclusive, female-only social club, who sold the building in 2014 to a property developer for $20 million, a record for a non-commercial real estate transaction in DC.
On the other side of the circle, look for the PNC Bank. This was the site of Stewart’s Castle. (C)
Today, this location is home to a subdued structure housing a bank. However, in 1872, a beautiful mansion occupied this plot. Designed by Adolf Cluss, who also designed the Franklin School, Sumner School, Arts and Industry, Eastern Market and many more buildings in D.C., this building was a great example of French 2nd Empire Design. The building was built for the wealthy gold miner and Republican Senator from Nevada, William Morris Stewart, who is credited for authoring the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed voting rights regardless of race, color or previous condition of servitude (formerly enslaved people). Stewart would be dogged by charges of corruption throughout his political career. Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain), who was briefly the senator’s personal assistant, and who accused the Senator of cheating him out of stocks, created a character, the corrupt Senator Dillworthy, in his book, the Gilded Age, that had a strong resemblance to his former boss.
As you walk to the next stop, cross the street at Massachusetts Ave NW. You’ll end up at a small park with a historic brick building and a covered entryway underground, this is Dupont Underground. Before the metro, these curved tunnels under the circle were used for trolleys until the DC streetcar system shut down in the 1960s. It has been re-purposed as a unique art space and can be toured at certain dates and times.
The next stop is the red brick building on the left at the corner 20th and Mass. Ave NW.
D. Blaine Mansion
Today, this building houses law offices and a pizzeria but it is the only Victorian mansion around the circle still standing. It was built in 1881 by James Blaine, Congressman from Maine and Secretary of State under Presidents Harrison, Garfield, and Arthur. In 1901 it was purchased by George Westinghouse, where he lived until he died in 1914. Westinghouse’s name isn’t as familiar as his main competitor, Thomas Edison, though, in the War of Currents, he may have been the winner.
Westinghouse and Edison had competing forms of electricity, both aiming to discredit the other in a vicious battle of public opinion and media. It was Westinghouse’s alternating current (AC) that would light the 1893 Chicago’s World Fair, proving it safe once and for all.
Continue up the street to the statue of the Hindu goddess, Saraswati.
E. Indonesian Embassy
As we make our way up Embassy Row, many diplomatic missions have installed statues in front. This is the Indonesian Embassy and the statue is of Saraswati. The story was that the Indonesian ambassador in 2013 wanted to “jazz up” Mass Ave. Note the children at the base of the goddess. They represent the different races in Indonesia. The statue of a Hindu goddess in front of the embassy of a Muslim majority country was meant to mark Indonesia’s dedication religious freedom.
The building was originally built by Thomas Walsh. He was an Irish immigrant who struck it rich in the gold rush and used his new money to build this mansion in 1901. Legend says he hid a gold nugget in the doorframe – but no one has found, or admitted to finding it. It had 60 rooms, a theater, a ballroom, a French salon, a grand staircase, and $2 million in furnishings
After her father’s death, Evalyn Walsh and her husband Ned Mclean lived here for a few years before their own sprawling estate north of Georgetown. Around this time, Evalyn became the last private owner of the Hope Diamond. You can find the Hope Diamond at the Natural History Museum on the National Mall.
Evalyn Walsh was part of a crew that could be considered the Mean Girls of the 1920s. These socialites had money, influence, and sass. Across the street, just to the right of the Embassy Row Hotel, was the home of Alice Roosevelt Longworth. She was the eldest daughter of President Teddy Roosevelt and a rebellious soul. When her father told her to stop smoking in the White House, she climbed onto the roof to smoke ON the White House. She lived in that house later in life, where you’d find her favorite saying cross-stitched on a throw pillow.
“If you don’t have anything nice to say… come sit down next to me”
As you cross 21st NW, note the Fairfax Hotel on the corner. This is where Al Gore lived while his father served in Congress. Cross Mass Ave here and head to the small park with the statue of Ghandi.
F. Indian Embassy
Behind this park in an unassuming building, is the Indian Embassy. The Indian Embassy gave us this statue of Mahatma Gandhi in 2000. It depicts Gandhi on his famous 1930 Salt March to the sea. Made of red granite from India, both the aesthetic of the stone and his clothing remind us of his dedication to a simple, grounded life. His peaceful non-violent resistance would be the heart of Indian independence from the British Empire.
If you have some time to spare or want to come back, we highly suggest visiting the Phillips Collection, which is just around the corner on 21st NW. It is the first contemporary art gallery in the US and still retains the original feel of exploring a family’s art collection in their home. The Phillips Collection began in 1921 and is run as a private art museum. For more information visit their website.
Continue up Mass. Ave. Note the palatial building across the street with the small statue of George Washington out front.
G. Society of the Cincinnati
Not every building on Embassy Row is an embassy, but most used to be private homes. This house was built by the Andersons with the intention that it would become the headquarters of the Society of the Cincinnati upon his death. Knowing this, Lars Anderson had the crest of the society built into the building above the door. You’ll see the American flag, the French flag, and the Society’s flag flying underneath it.
The Society of the Cincinnati was founded in 1793. It is a hereditary fraternity whose members trace their lineage all the way back to officers in the Continental Army, both American and French, during the Revolutionary War. The society is named after the idea that George Washington was like the ideal Roman dictator, Cincinnatus, who was twice called out of retirement to lead Roman armies against invaders. At the end of the crisis both times, he immediately gave up his immense power and returned to his farm, and is often mentioned as the ideal statesman. Washington famously followed this example and returned his military commission to the Continental Congress at the end of the War, something completely unheard of in his day. Today, the Society serves as steward to a vast collection of Revolutionary ephemera and an incredible research library, which can be utilized by anyone with permission.
On this side of the street is the Cosmos Club. This is a private club so don’t head up the driveway!
H. Cosmos Club
Somewhere deep within the architecture of this house is the original 1875 structure. In the early 1900s, the Townsends purchased the house. A soothsayer had told Mrs. Townsend that she would “die under a new roof” so rather than building a new house, she bought an older house and expanded it.
The Cosmos Club today a social club for those distinguished in science and arts. The member list is private but they advertise three Presidents, two Vice Presidents, a dozen Supreme Court justices, 36 Nobel Prize winners, 61 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 55 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom…. so keep an eye out who may be coming and going as you walk by.
Cross Mass. Ave here and head to the small triangle park across the street with the statue in the far corner.
I. Thomas Masaryk | Boundary Road
The statue is Tomas Masaryk, founder and first President of Czechoslovakia in 1918, serving until 1935. The plaster mold of this statue was made from life before his death in 1937, but the bronze statue was not placed here until 2002. The statue had been stored during the Nazi invasion and subsequent Communist rule.
President Woodrow Wilson was an ally of Masaryk, advocating for a free and democratic Czechoslovakia. It was here in Washington DC that Masaryk would be declared President of the newly formed republic, now independent from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Standing in this small park, you are now at the very outer edge of Washington, the federal city. When you cross Florida Avenue you will be outside the original city limits. In fact, Florida Avenue’s original name was Boundary Road.
L’Enfant’s original plans for our nation’s capital called for a perfectly square district, 10 miles by 10 miles. This would come to be called the District of Columbia, and tucked away within that district would be the federal city, later named Washington. Today, the city of Washington and the District are one in the same, but up until the late 1800s, the city ended at Boundary Road, and beyond here, you would be in Washington County. It’s hard to imagine today as you venture through the far reaches of Washington, but these were mostly farmlands and forests until just before the 20th century
Cross of Florida Avenue and listen to the next stop as you walk along this stretch of embassies.
J. What is an Embassy?
Here you start to see more embassies, though some of the buildings are still private residences. You passed the Luxembourg Embassy on the corner. Notice how it has two flags – one is the state flag, the other is the EU flag. All members of the European Union fly this blue flag with the circle of gold stars representing member nations.
Along this row, you’ll see smaller rowhouses, Embassies of Togo, Bahamas, Turkmenistan across the street. Note the building with the American flag. This isn’t an American Embassy! It is the home of the Daughters of American-Colonists.
You’ll also see here the Embassy of Sudan. In 2011, the Republic of South Sudan declared independence from Sudan. New country, new embassy and South Sudan’s diplomatic mission can be found in Georgetown.
Some key terms to know about Embassy Row and the buildings you’ll see:
We’ll pass many buildings as we go along. You can tell by their flag out front and if you don’t recognize the flag, there are usually plaques by the front door.
As you make your way to the circle in front of you, stay on the south side of Mass Ave. Just in front of the Irish Embassy; you’ll see a small section of the sidewalk raised up with a plaque on top.
K. Assassination of Letelier
Sheridan Circle was the site of a terrorist attack in 1976. Orlando Letelier was the Chilean ambassador to the United States under Salvador Allende, and then served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Interior Minister and later Defense Minister until Augusto Pinochet came to power. As part of the opposition, Letelier was imprisoned and tortured for more than a year. He was released on the condition that he leave Chile but was warned that Pinochet did not tolerate activities against his government – a clear warning.
The warning didn’t work and after moving to DC, Letelier was an outspoken critic of Pinochet. On a drive into the city for work, he was giving a ride to his assistant Ronni Moffit and her husband. As they rounded the corner here, a bomb exploded under the car – Michael Moffit only suffered a head wound, Letelier was alive but his lower body was nearly completely severed and Ronni would drown in her own blood shortly after stumbling from the car.
This was the third assassination attempt, second successful of Chilean exiles. Carried out by a former CIA agent turned Chilean secret police who had hired anti-Castro Cuban exiles – three were indicted with murder, the other two, Pinochet refused the extradition request. The CIA agent/police were released under Witness Protection in exchange for information.
The Chilean Embassy today is located on the other side of the circle.
Cross 23rd street and stop at the statue on the corner.
L. Turkish Ambassador’s Residence
If your family ever purchased a bottle that used a fluted bottle cap, you helped pay for this building. The inventor of this small but useful item, Edward Everett, built this house in 1915. In a twist of fate, it was built by George Oakley Totten, Jr. who was the official architect in Turkey for Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II. It is now the official residence of the Turkish Ambassador.
The ambassador in the 1930s, Mehmet Ertegun, lived here with his family. His two sons fell in love with American music and Ahmet Ertegun would go on to found Atlantic Records, a pioneering record label specializing in jazz, R&B and soul and still a player in today’s music world. They helped form the music careers of John Coltrane, Ray Charles, Roberta Flack and Led Zeppelin.
When the ambassador and his family were hosting musical events at this house, the doors were opened to all, regardless of race. This was during a time of segregation in America and the ambassador received a notice from the State Department asking that any black-American attendees enter through the back door. The ambassador ignored the request but replied to the State Department that all were welcome through his front door unless they wanted to attend and then they should enter in the back. As lovers of Jazz, the Ertegan’s hosted performances by Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and native DC resident, Duke Ellington.
The statue on the corner is a life-size bronze of Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern-day Turkey, whose aim was to bring a secular democratic system of governance to the new Republic of Turkey in 1923.
Continue along the circle and you’ll see a unique building on the left just past the statue with building blue stained mosaics.
M. Latvian Embassy | Alice Pike Barney
This arts and crafts style building was the former home of Alice Pike Barney. It is now the Latvian Embassy.
Alice was born to a father who made his fortune distilling whiskey and used his wealth to patronize the arts. He built opera houses and supported the arts in Ohio and later NYC. At the age of 17, she was engaged to Henry Morgan Stanley, a much older explorer. As he was travelling Central Africa on his ship, The Lady Alice, where I presumed he found Dr. Livingstone, Alice married another man..
Her husband did not believe women should pursue the arts. But when her friend Oscar Wilde told Alice that she should focus on painting, her husband didn’t protest. Alice studied art in Paris and was a very talented and successful artist. When her daughter grew up and published a book of love poems, Alice illustrated them. What Alice didn’t know was that the love poems were written to other women and that the models that posed for her illustrations were mostly her daughter’s lovers. When Alice’s husband found out about this, he rushed to Paris and bought the rest of the stock and burned it.
Alice continued to work on her art back here in DC, wrote plays and even patented a few mechanical devices. She would host cultural events here attended by Sarah Bernhardt, who arrived on a litter carried by four liveried horsemen. Alice hosted a play that starred the Russian ambassador’s daughter, which Alice Roosevelt wanted to be in by Teddy refused to let her. She wrote a ballet for Anna Pavlova, the ballerina.
After her death, Alice’s daughters donated this house to the Smithsonian but they didn’t know what to do with it so they sold it to the Embassy of Latvia. As you walk by, notice the garage is a miniature version of the Studio House.
You can cross the street to the center of the circle if you like, or just view the equestrian statue from afar. If you continue along the circle, you’ll see a statue of Phillip Jaisohn outside the Korean Cultural Library. The historical marker in front tells you all about him.
N. General Philip Sheridan
This equestrian statue honors General Philip Sheridan, Union General during the American Civil War. He led the Calvary Division of the Army of the Potomac and was instrumental in the defeat of the Confederates at the Battle of Shenandoah Valley and the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox.
The figure has a striking resemblance to Sheridan, though it was not made from life. His son posed for the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum. While you may not recognize this name, you might be familiar with his better-known work, Mount Rushmore.
The horse was Sheridan’s trusty steed who we renamed Winchester after a battle near Winchester, Virginia. If you’d like to see the horse, you can. He is stuffed and on display at the Smithsonian American History Museum in downtown DC.
Cross Mass Ave to get to the other side and continue up the street. You’ll pass the Egyptian Ambassador’s Residence, Chilean Embassy, and Embassy of Haiti. Stop at the statue of a seated man.
O. Croatian Embassy | St. Jerome Statue
St. Jerome was born in the 300s in what is today Croatia – this statue was brought here after Yugoslavia dissolved into Albania, Croatia, Bosnia in 1991. He’s most known for translating the Bible into Latin – the Vulgate version still used heavily in Roman Catholic churches. He was known for criticism of his intellectual rivals and thus is the patron saint of people with difficult personalities.
It was placed here in front of the Croatian Embassy, which used to be the Austrian Embassy before it moved to a larger building.
Next door you’ll see a large building on the corner and as the time of writing, and for the past five years, it was vacant and seemingly under construction. Embassies are owned by foreign governments and not subject to certain city regulations on blighted properties or taxes. While negative press is often used to shame the country into maintaining the property, the extreme step of revoking a buildings diplomatic status could result in international crisis! Since there is little to be done, sometimes you’ll see buildings like the Cameroon Embassy here as more of an eyesore than mansion.
You’ll see a small shaded park across 24th Street NW with a statue amongst the trees, head there.
P. Robert Emmett
This statue of Robert Emmett is one of four, the other are in San Francisco, Dublin, and Emmetsburg, Iowa. The DC version was dedicated in 1917. Robert Emmet was an Irish nationalist who tried to lead a rebellion against British rule in 1803. It failed and he would be hanged for crimes against the Crown. While you wouldn’t expect a statue to a failed patriot, his Speech from the Dock that he gave before his hanging inspired other Irish nationalists.
“Let my character and my motives repose in obscurity and peace, till other times and other men can do them justice. Then shall my character be vindicated; then may my epitaph be written.”
Make your way around the corner up 24th Street to S St NW. You’ll pass the Embassy of the Netherlands and come to 2340 S St NW on your right. It has an American flag flying out front.
Q. Woodrow Wilson’s House
This house was purchased by Woodrow Wilson sight unseen. His wife, Edith, had commented that she liked it and they would need a new place to live with his term was finished in 1921. The Wilson’s are the only family to ever live in this house. After President Wilson’s death in 1924, Edith preserved much of the interior and it would later become (and still is today) a house museum dedicated to his legacy.
President Wilson was the only President to stay in DC after his term ended, until President Obama moved into the neighborhood in 2017. Though Wilson still holds the designation as only president buried here. He is buried at the Washington National Cathedral further up Mass Ave.
Wilson was president during Prohibition, which forbade the sale or transportation of alcohol. Wilson, however, was more in favor of moderation and had a collection for his personal use in the White House. With the inauguration of the new president in 1921 on March 4, he would need to move from the White House to this new home – which meant the transportation of alcohol. To keep things on the up and up, there is an official law on the books, passed by Congress, that allows the transportation of alcohol on March 4, 1921, from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW to 2340 S St NW.
The house today is run as a private house museum and we highly recommend taking a break to visit. They offer guided tours usually on the hour. Hours and Admission information can be found on their website.
If you’d like to continue the tour of Embassy Row, skip down to the Embassy Row extension. This will take you further up Embassy Row to see a few of the larger embassies, such as Japan, South Africa and United Kingdom. Otherwise, continue down S St NW to explore the neighborhood of Kalorama.
As you continue along S St NW, you’ll come across to large buildings 2320 and 2330. (R) These two separate homes were eventually enjoined by the Myers family with one house as their residence and the other to display their collection of textiles. It would become the Textile Museum, which has since moved to GWU Campus. The two buildings were purchased in 2016 by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and will be combined to form a 29,000 square foot home – making it the largest residence in DC.
Continue past the Myanmar Embassy and the Irish Ambassador’s Residence, crossing the street to visit Mitchell Park.
R. Mitchell Park
Mitchell Park was originally developed around the American Civil War in the 1860s. Lots were subdivided and in 1901, it was sold to the Mitchells. Mrs. Mitchell gave the land to DC on the condition that the plot where her beloved dog was buried not be disturbed. So there is a small plaque in the playground noting the burial site. The Brown French Poodle, Bock, still rests there.
Continue down S St pass the Laos Embassy and turn right on 22nd St NW. This short bit of road ends at the Spanish Steps.
S. Spanish Steps
This hill was too steep to continue as a road so it was used as a pedestrian stairwell to continue south. Further developed in 1911 as part of the City Beautiful movement, the idea was by creating a visually pleasing part of the neighborhood, area residents would be encouraged to maintain both it an their own yards. Planners thought that creating beautiful architecture, even in the simplest things would create a sense of civic pride.
After walking down the steps continue down 22nd Street. You’ll pass the Embassy of the Dominican Republic. At the corner of 22 and R St NW, you’ll see a bronze bust.
T. Albert Santos Dumont
Not every building with a foreign nation’s flag is part of the diplomatic mission. In D.C., you’ll also find representatives to the Organization of American States (OAS) or in this case, this is the Brazilian Aeronautical Commission. This bust on the corner is Albert Santos Dumont. He was an aviation pioneer and though he was Brazilian, he spent most of his adult life in Europe. It was here that he made the first powered heavier-than-air flight in Europe, in 1906. Santos-Dumont believed that air travel would usher in an era of peace and freely shared his designed without claiming a patent.
It is widely believed in Brazil that his contributions to air travel and airplanes preceded the Wright Brothers to be first in flight.
This intersection is also called Dimitar Peshev Plaza. Peshev was Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of Bulgaria and Minister of Justice before World War II. He rebelled against the pro-Nazi cabinet and prevented the deportation of Bulgaria’s 48,000 Jews.
Turn left onto R Street and walk a few houses to 2133 R St NW. It’s a rather noticeable house with a blue door.
U. Morse Studio | FDR House
The red brick house with the blue door was built as an artist’s studio. Look at the hinges on the front door. Upon close inspection you can make out the initials E.L.M – Edward Lind Morse. He was the youngest son of Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph. If you’ve seen his portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, it was pained by Edward. It would later be the home of James Roosevelt, oldest son to Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt. This was a convenient location because next door at 2132 R St NW was the home of FDR when he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy 1917-1920. The spacious 12 bedroom home would also be the home to Martha Rountree, the creator and first moderator of Meet the Press. At the time of writing, it was the residence to the Ambassador of Mali but due the difficult parking in the area he was looking to move to the suburbs.
Continue on R St until it dead-ends on Connecticut Ave. NW
You’re now back within view of Dupont Circle and the metro station. If you right turn, you’ll find the North entrance to Dupont Circle station on the red line two blocks ahead on Q St NW. Past it, the road ends up at Dupont Circle where we began.
Embassy Row Walking Tour Extension
After visiting the Woodrow Wilson house backtrack along S St NW to get back on Embassy Row (Mass. Ave). You’ll pass the Embassy of Chad on your right before you get to Mass Ave. Cross the street and turn right and you’ll pass Embassy of Cote D’Ivoire and across the street, the Embassies of Zambia and the Marshall Islands. Stop at the South Korean Embassy.
A. South Korean Embassy
This is actually one of many buildings that are part of the South Korean mission. This is the main chancery, though closer to Sheridan Circle are the Consular Section and the Korean Cultural Center, as well as an annex in Virginia and the ambassador’s home in NW DC.
There is no North Korean Embassy, as we do not have diplomatic relations with North Korea. North Korea is represented in the United States through its mission to the United Nations. In North Korea, the Swedish Embassy is considered the US Protecting Power and offers limited services to American citizens.
Continue north on Mass Ave staying on this side of the street. After a private apartment building, the next building is the Embassy of Japan, you’ll see a two-story building set back behind a cobblestoned circular driveway.
B. Embassy of Japan
The buildings and grounds of the Japanese Embassy are considered a formal estate, with the ambassador’s residence, two chancery buildings, a teahouse, and tennis, gym, and other recreational facilities. The gardens border Rock Creek Park and were designed to complement the area.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, residences started to notice smoke coming from the back area of the building where they were apparently burning documents. The embassy was seized by the United States but was returned to Japan in 1952.
The more modern structure just past the cobblestone driveway is the new chancery for the Japanese Embassy. It was built in 1986.
As you walk further up Mass Ave you’ll pass the Consular Wing of the Indian Embassy, and you’ll see across the street the Chancery for the Turkish Embassy and Embassy of Belize. Continue to 2556 Mass Ave NW.
C. Mission of Spain to the OAS
In addition to Embassies, which are representatives of foreign nations to the US, some countries also have representatives to the Organization of American States. The OAS brings together the 35 independent states of the Americas. The OAS is the oldest regional organization, started in 1889.
Now you might be wondering why Spain, a European country, has a representative to the OAS? There are 70 permanent observers to the OAS, including Spain. These countries participate in activities and programs hosted by the OAS. The OAS headquarters is downtown by the National Mall.
Cross the street and head toward the building with all the flags.
D. Islamic Center
When this mosque opened in 1957, it was the largest one in the Western Hemisphere. It is also a Cultural Center. When the Turkish Ambassador (father to founder of Atlantic Records) died, there was no mosque in DC to host his funeral in 1944. After a conversation between a Palestinian businessman and the Egyptian ambassador, the Washington Mosque Foundation was formed. The Muslim diplomatic community rallied around the idea to build a mosque in DC. The chandeliers came from Egypt; tiles came from Turkey, Persian rugs from Iran.
Around the building are flags of Islamic nations around the world. As the goal of the Islamic Center is to promote the understanding of Islam, the building is open for tours and education. While no set tour times are scheduled, you are encouraged to stop by and see if someone is free during your visit.
Head up Mass Ave to the bridge. While you won’t be able to walk there due to Secret Service restrictions, when you cross Belmont Road NW, look to your right – all the way at the end of the road is the new DC residence of President Barack Obama. The Obama’s decided to stay in DC after his second term so his daughter could finish school uninterrupted.
For the next stop, listen as you walk across the bridge.
E. Glover Bridge
Originally there was no bridge across Rock Creek. In 1888 when the decision to extend Massachusetts Ave past Florida Avenue (Boundary Road), a small truss bridge was built at the bottom of the valley. When the Rock Creek Parkway was being developed in the 1930s, this current larger bridge was built that allowed Mass Ave to stay level across the creek. It is named after Charles Carroll Glover.
A local banker, Glover was dedicated to preserving and expanding the natural landscape of Washington, D.C. Through his efforts Potomac Park and the Tidal Basin were created, paving the way to the expansion of the National Mall. He also helped create Rock Creek Park, National Cathedral, and the National Zoo. Through his efforts, 3,200 acres of parks were created in DC.
Walking across the bridge, you’ll find the Embassy of Italy on your left and a crosswalk. This is the last crosswalk for a while so to be safe, you should pick which side you want to be one and view the other stops from across the street.
If you are on the north side (right side if you’re going up the hill), you’ll see up close the South African Embassy/Nelson Mandela statue, former Embassy of Iran, and Khalil Gibran memorial. From afar, you’ll see the Embassy of Brazil and the British Embassy/Winston Churchill statue. We recommend being on the north/right side because if you really want to visit Churchill, you can always cross up by the far side of the British Embassy and backtrack.
F. Embassy of Brazil
Brazil’s first diplomatic mission was to the United States because the US was the first country to formally recognize Brazil’s independence. In 1824, it was a legation that was sent to represent Brazil. A legation is headed by a Minister rather than an Ambassador and is consider to be a step lower than an embassy. However in the 19th and early 20th century, these were more common. Ambassadors were often representatives of Monarchs so it was more common for smaller republics or monarchies to send legations. Today, that practice has fallen out of favor and most countries have embassies.
Brazil was the second country to have an embassy of Embassy Row. The more historic building was purchased in 1934. This is the residence of the Ambassador. Next to it, the modern glass building is the new chancery, built in 1971. Brazilian materials such as black granite and Brazilian rosewood were used as much as possible.
Continue on Mass Ave and you’ll see a shuttered building on your right.
G. Former Embassy of Iran
This shuttered building has been closed in April 1980. After the Iranian Revolution and the fall of the Shah in 1979, followed by the Iranian Hostage Crisis, diplomatic ties were severed and remain such today.
But before this, the Iranian Embassy was known for lavish parties and epitomized the free-spirited, and drug fueled melees of the 1970s. You would find everyone from Andy Warhol to Liza Minnelli to Henry Kissinger, laughing, lounging, and drinking on Persian rugs. The bachelor ambassador, Ardeshir Zahedi, who reportedly dated Elizabeth Taylor at the time threw celebrations where people “swam in Dom Perpignan and bathed in caviar”
While the Iranians do not have access to the embassy, they do still officially own it. It is under the care of the State Department.
Next door is the Embassy of South Africa and statue of Nelson Mandela out front.
H. Embassy of South Africa
South Africa sent its first delegation in 1929. These two buildings, the chancery and the residence were built in Cape Dutch style common on the west coast of South Africa, though the buildings are made of Indiana limestone rather than traditional whitewashed plaster.
In front of the embassy, you’ll see a statue of Nelson Mandela. This was dedicated in 2013. Here Mandela stands with his fist raised, reminiscent of when he was released from prison after 27 years on Feb. 11, 1990.
That statue was unveiled after a renovation of the embassy. It had outgrown the space and needed larger quarters, but at the at dedication ceremony, it was also to symbolize “an exorcism of the building.” This was the South African embassy during apartheid.
In November 1984, local civil rights leaders went to the embassy to talk about the end of apartheid and release of political prisoners, such as Nelson Mandela. After the conversation, they remained in the embassy and refused to leave. After being forcibly removed in handcuffs, the next day others arrived and day after day for the next year people form all walks of life, including Stevie Wonder would come and have themselves peacefully removed in protest. In the September 2013 dedication, the four original civil rights leaders, including D.C. current congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, were invited back.
Mandela was a politician in South Africa fighting peacefully against anti-apartheid, the majority of the time from his prison cell. When he was released and end of apartheid allowed for a multi-racial election, he became president of South Africa. He died in December 2013, just a few months after his statue was dedicated.
Turn around and look across the street and you’ll see the statue of Winston Churchill in front of the British Embassy.
I. British Embassy
The British legation (one step below an embassy) was established in 1791. It was one of the first diplomatic missions in the United States. Their grand mansion was located by Dupont Circle on Connecticut Ave NW. A beautiful building surrounded by not much else. A modern day mural on Sunderland Place near the circle shows what it would have looked like (the other building is Stewart’s Castle).
The statue in front of Winston Churchill was put here in 1966. If you look closely, he is standing on the edge of the property. One foot is on British soil (the embassy) and the other on American. His mother was American, so the idea was to represent his dual-nationality and his efforts to promote the relationship between the two countries. He has a cigar in one hand and the other raised with V for Victory.
The embassy was moved to this location in the 1930s. The Ambassador’s Residence looks like an English country manor and was for a long time considered one of the grandest ambassador residence buildings in the world. Grand parties with impressive guests lists have been held here. King George VI became the first British head of state to make a US visit in 1939. At a party in his honor, while there were many curtsies and bows, a Texas senator greeted the king with “Hi-ya, Cousin George!”
After President Kennedy’s assassination, the children were schooled by the in-house tutors at the British Embassy here, as they could not be educated at the White House any longer. And at a masked ball in honor of the Beatles, Ringo Starr lost a bit of his hair to a fan with nail clippers. This building has seen its fair share of DC history.
The chancery building is not so grand and looks more like a high school. But if you look through the gates, you’ll see an old red telephone box, found all over the UK.
Continue on Mass Ave just past the South African Embassy. There is a small park and a footbridge to your right.
J. Khalil Gibran Memorial
Khalil Gibran was born in the Ottoman Empire, in modern day Lebanon but immigrated with his family to the US as a young man. To the English-speaking world, he is known for his best selling poetic prose and inspirational essays in 1923, The Prophet. It’s popularity in the 1930s and again in the 1960s makes Gibran the best selling poet behind Shakespeare and Laozi.
The area to your right is wooded and the next embassy is the first building you see on the right, but as you walk, keep listening for some background on the area to your left.
As you walk up Mass Ave the road begins to curve into Observatory Circle. Across the street is the British Embassy – note the red telephone booth! If you want to see Churchill up close, cross the crosswalk here and backtrack a bit. Though you’ll want to cross back to this side of the street for our next stop.
You’re walking along Observatory Circle and the area to your left across the street make up the US Naval Observatory. The Observatory was moved here from its former location (near the Lincoln Memorial today) in 1893 to avoid the light pollution from the city. It is no longer used for observation but still holds the largest astronomy library and is known for its collection of atomic clocks.
Stop at the green glass building on your right.
K. Finnish Embassy
Often called the “jewel of Embassy Row” the Finnish Embassy is the first green embassy – both color and Eco-friendly. The unique building was completed in 1994 and retrofitted to make it carbon-neutral earning a Gold LEED certification.
Most unique about this building is how it adheres to the Finnish way of doing business … in the sauna. The Diplomatic Finnish Sauna Society meets in the lower level sauna and the private society is composed of officials from all over DC. The reasoning behind the Sauna Society? Kari Mokko, the founder and the embassy’s press secretary said – “We don’t cause problems. We needed something to catch attention.”
Walk a little further to the building next door.
L. Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See
In addition to embassies and members of the OAS, there is also the Nunciature. While it has been elevated to the status of embassy and the nuncio is also ambassador of the Holy See, there are other purposes here. This is also the administrative head of the Catholic Church in the United States. The various diocese and bishops communicate with the Vatican through the nuncio.
There has been a delegate from the Holy See in DC since 1893, but it wasn’t until 1984 that it was elevated to an embassy.
Cross the street and stop at our final embassy with the statue out front.
M. Norwegian Ambassador Residence
The Royal Norwegian Embassy is Norway’s largest embassy and is located on 34th St NW. This is the home of the ambassador and just reopened in 2016 after extensive renovations.
The statue out front is Crown Princess Märtha. During WWII, as the Nazis were invading, King Haakon VII set up a government in exile in London. His daughter-in-law, Crown Princess Martha and her children moved to Washington. The US still had a position of neutrality but formally recognized the royal family as the true rulers. Martha and her children lived nearby for five years – her youngest, Harald is now the King of Norway.
He came to dedicate this statue to his mother in 2005, along with his two sisters. It was the first time they were all together in DC since 1945. It was to mark the 100 years of alliance between Norway, when it declared independence from Sweden, and the US.
Cross the street at the crosswalk here and head towards the clock.
N. US Naval Observatory
The atomic clock in front of you shows the exact time, to the second, that the United States uses so set your watches. This is secured federal property so don’t try to go in but you can view from the sidewalk here
There is a phone line that has telephone voice announcements of the time. The actor Fred Covington (he was the auctioneer in Roots) has been reading the time since 1978 –
Measurement of time might seem irrelevant to you but the Time Service Department helped you get there today. GPS uses this measurement. Sometimes tweaks in the counting cause chaos to our daily lives. On June 30 2012 around 8pm, a leap second was added and the Internet crashed for a moment. Computers looking for the time were met with: 7:59:60 – which is normally 8:00:00!
You’ll see a large white house with green shutters on the hill to your left. That Number One Observatory Circle and is the home of the Vice President. The Naval Observatory is the official temporary address of the Vice President, at least by law. The VP moved in in 1974 but it wasn’t meant to be permanent.
The house was originally built with the rest of the grounds in 1893 as the home of the superintendent. Once the observatory moved, it was used for admirals and nicknamed Admiral House. Admirals Charles Nimitz and Elmo Zumwalt lived here.
Here we end our walking tour extension of Embassy Row. You aren’t far from the Washington National Cathedral. Just continue up Massachusetts Ave and turn right on Wisconsin Ave NW. It’s about a 15-minute walk. Alternatively, it is easy to catch a bus back down Embassy Row to Dupont Circle. There is a bus stop right here at the corner and you can catch N2 or N4 buses.