Austria’s Chanceries and Residences in Washington
By Sigurd Pacher
In 1838, official diplomatic relations between Austria and the United States of America were established. The first Austrian minister to the US presented his credentials on October 13, 1838, and established an Austrian legation in Washington, D.C. His residence was at what is known today as the Abbé House at 2017 I Street, NW. At that time, legations were usually not housed in buildings owned by foreign governments, but it was pretty common to rent large homes, changing locations as budgets and fashionable areas waxed and waned.
The Congressional Directory of 1843-44 lists as the residence of the Austrian representative Gilbert’s on F Street. In 1861, the address given was corner of F and 20th Streets. In 1869, the Austrian-Hungarian minister (following constitutional changes, Austria was renamed Austria-Hungary in 1867) resided at 1735 Pennsylvania Avenue. In 1875, the residence was at 1021 Connecticut Avenue, while in 1878, it was listed at 1528 I Street. In 1883, it was 1711 Rhode Island Avenue, and in 1887, the minister lived at 1410 Connecticut Avenue. Even though it is unclear from the Congressional Directories whether the legation and residence always shared the same location, it seems likely that the office of the legation and the residence of the minister were housed in the same building.
In late 1895, Austria-Hungary decided to purchase a large mansion in what was then known as West End to house both the legation and the residence. The edifice was located at 1305 Connecticut Avenue, just south of Dupont Circle, and had been built by David Levy Yulee, the first Jewish senator in the U.S. Congress. In 1866, Yulee founded the Florida Railroad Company and upon retiring moved with his wife to D.C. in 1880. The Yulee mansion as the house became known was built between 1883 and 1885 at a cost of $40,000. Austria-Hungary bought it for $80,000 which, according to the Washington Post, was at that time considered a fair price. As the building stretched to 18th Street and had the entrance to the legation on that street, it was also listed as 1304 18th Street, NW.
In 1902, when the diplomatic relations were upgraded to ambassadorial level and the Austrian-Hungarian minister in D.C. was elevated to the rank of ambassador (at the same time, the U.S. representative in Vienna was also made an ambassador) the legation officially became an embassy. As ambassadorial contacts existed, at least at that time, only among great powers, having U.S.-Austrian relations elevated to ambassadorial level was also an indication that the United States had been accepted as a great power by the major European nations.
In April of 1917, diplomatic relations between Austria-Hungary and the U.S. were severed due to World War I. After WWI, following the demise of Austria-Hungary, the Austrian-Hungarian embassy was sold, the proceeds divided between Austria and Hungary, and the building torn down in 1922/23 to make way for stores and office buildings that were slowly making up their way on Connecticut Avenue.
The newly created Austrian republic and the U.S. re-established diplomatic relations in 1921 after the U.S. Congress had passed a Joint Resolution ending the state of war with Austria-Hungary on July 2, 1921. Consequently, Austria opened a legation in D.C. (note that it was just a legation and not an embassy as Austria was no longer a great power) which, for a short while, was located at 1801 23rd Street, NW. In 1922, the office of the legation and the residence of the Austrian representative were moved to 1851 Wyoming Avenue. This building, which Austria rented, had been designed in 1909 by architect Albert H. Beers for Clarence F. Norment, the banker and real estate developer, and later had been for a short while the home of Josephus Daniels who was Secretary of the Navy during the Wilson Administration.
In 1928, Austria chose to buy property on Massachusetts Avenue and to build a new legation there for a total cost of $150,000. The four-story-brick building, located at 2343 Massachusetts Avenue, was planned by architect George Nicholas Ray and completed in 1930. It housed the chancery (office that houses a diplomatic mission) and the residence of the Austrian minister. Upon the occupation of Austria by Germany in March of 1938, the building was transferred to the German authorities who then rented it to the Danes.
In 1945, after the end of WW II, Austria, occupied by the four Allied powers, and the US once more re-established diplomatic relations. Austria’s first postwar representative to the United States was recognized by the U.S. government on January 21, 1946. Austria seems to have had its first office after the war at 1341 Connecticut Avenue before it was then moved to 1706 21st Street, NW in early May 1947.
The Austrian representative, promoted to minister and head of legation in late 1946, originally resided, together with his family, at the Brighton Hotel at 2123 California Street, NW. In May 1947, it was decided to lease a house at 2220 Wyoming Avenue to be used as the minister’s residence. When the old legation building at 2343 Massachusetts Avenue was returned to Austria in April 1948 (after the Danes had moved out), it became the new residence. In contrast to the interwar period, chancery and residence were no longer in the same edifice, but occupied two different buildings.
In mid-1951, the chancery was moved to 2144 Wyoming Avenue, before it eventually ended up in its old location at 2343 Massachusetts Avenue again in 1956. The then-Austrian ambassador (in late 1951, the diplomatic relations between Austria and the U.S. had again be elevated to ambassadorial level) had his residence moved at the same time to 7001 River Road in Potomac, MD, a suburb, about eight miles away from the chancery. According to press reports at that time in the Baltimore Sun, the main reason for moving the residence to Potomac was to escape the traffic and parking hassles in D.C.
In any case, just a few years thereafter, in late 1959, Austria purchased the building at 2419 Wyoming Avenue to house its ambassador. The Mediterranean Revival-style mansion was designed by Appleton P. Clarke and completed in 1926. It was commissioned by William Livingston Crounse, a journalist, who later co-founded the National Press Club. Upon his death in 1935, he left his entire estate to his widow Pepita who, when she passed away in 1951, left it to Oscar L. Milmore, a former U.S. diplomat, whom she had married in 1942. He then sold the mansion to the Austrians, and it has been the Austrian ambassador’s residence ever since.
In the late 1980s, Austria decided to move its chancery from Massachusetts Avenue (the building was sold and is now (as of 2015) home to the Embassy of Croatia) to the International Chancery Center Campus, a 47-acre site belonging to the federal government, which had been established in 1968. The new embassy building, located at 3524 International Court, NW, was planned by Austrian-American architect Leopold Boeckl and opened its doors to the public on October 26, 1991. It is a three story building that houses a large atrium (holding more than 400 people), several offices, and a few apartments for members of the embassy staff. It has served as Austria’s hub in the U.S. capital for almost 25 years now and will certainly continue to do so in the years to come.