Our Homes Over Time
Austria's Chanceries and Residences in Washington, D.C.
By Sigurd Pacher
For 25 Years now, the Embassy of Austria has been standing on a 1.14-acre plot in Northwest Washington. It officially opened its doors to the public on October 26, 1991. The three-story building was designed by the Washington architect Leopold Boeckl, son of the famous Austrian painter and sculptor Herbert Boeckl.
The Embassy comprises 52,000 square feet of office and event space. The most striking feature of the building is a 5,000-square-foot sky-lit atrium at its center, which serves as an auditorium for cultural events, offering enough space to seat approximately 400 people. The multi-purpose room, or “library”, next to the atrium can accommodate another 150 people, and is often used during film screenings. Before finding our home in 1991, various buildings in Washington served as Chancery or Residence for over 150 years.
In 1838, Austria and the United States of America established official diplomatic relations. The first Austrian minister to the U.S. presented his credentials on October 13, 1838, and established an Austrian legation in Washington, D.C. His residence was, 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 Gilbert’s on F Street as the residence of the Austrian representative. In 1861, the address given was corner of F and 20th Streets. In 1869, the Austro-Hungarian minister (following constitutional changes to a confederation, the Austrian empire was consequently renamed Austria-Hungary in 1867) resided at 1735 Pennsylvania Avenue. In 1875, the residence was located 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 had founded the Florida Railroad Company and upon retiring in 1880, moved with his wife to D.C. The Yulee mansion was built between 1883 and 1885 at a cost of 40,000 USD. Austria-Hungary bought it for 80,000 USD which, according to the Washington Post, was considered a fair price at that time. 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 Austro-Hungarian minister in D.C. was elevated to the rank of 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 finally been accepted as a great power by the leading 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 Austro-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 a property on Massachusetts Avenue and to build a new legation there for a total cost of 150,000 USD. 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 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, the U.S. and Austria, occupied by the four Allied powers, 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 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 been 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 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, library, several offices, and a few apartments for members of the embassy staff. It has been serving as Austria’s hub in the U.S. capital for 25 years now and will continue to do so in the years to come.
Sigurd Pacher served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the Austrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. until 2015. He currently serves as the Austrian Ambassador to Kuwait.