Not only is Washington, D.C., our country’s capital, but it is a hot tourist destination. In 2017, the area set a new record with 22.8 million visitors. Top tourist sites are predictable–the Washington Monument, the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Lincoln Memorial. Been there, done that. So what do I want to see when I head to D.C. this weekend? Can’t wait to check off visiting Embassy Row from my bucket list.
Embassy Row isn’t a single building or monument, and you won’t find it marked on a map. It is a nickname for a section of Massachusetts Avenue in NW D.C. where numerous embassies and diplomatic missions are concentrated. The area is bookended by the north side of the U.S. Naval Observatory (the Vice President’s home) and Scott Circle. In a city known for political double talk, it is refreshing to find an accurate name for something. Embassy Row consists of, well, a row of embassies.
And exactly what is an embassy? It is an office or residence of an ambassador, someone sent on a diplomatic mission by one country to another country. As a rule, embassies are located in a country’s capital city; thus, ambassadors to the U.S. can be found in embassies in our capital, Washington, D.C. Consulates or trade missions can be found elsewhere.
Being the world power that it is, the United States has diplomatic representation from almost every nation. Therefore, over 175 embassies or diplomatic missions can be found in Washington, D.C. Political upheaval overseas has increased the number of embassies in our nation’s capital. Over 20 chanceries (embassy business offices) have been added since 1991 due to the breakup of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia.
Cuba, Iran, and North Korea do not have full diplomatic representation with the U.S.. Thus, those countries do not have an embassy here. North Korea is probably too busy building its nuclear capability to be concerned about building an embassy in the U.S. anyway.
Although a large number of embassies are located in D.C., less than half of them.can be found along Embassy Row. So why do I want to go to this area? In the first place, Embassy Row is an impressive and historic location. It is so historic, in fact, that it is protected by the Massachusetts Avenue Historical District.
In the late 19th century and the early 20th century, Massachusetts Avenue was THE residential address to have. Mansions were erected on that street to house D.C.’s political and social elite. As the result of the Great Depression, many property owners on what we call Embassy Row today were forced to sell their homes due to financial struggles..
But Millionaire’s Row quickly turned into Embassy Row. The British Embassy was built on Massachusetts Avenue in 1925, and the Japanese Embassy in 1931. Many other countries followed suit. Some countries opted to move into the existing mansions and transform them into embassies rather than building a new structure.
Tourists may take a walking tour to view the impressive architecture of the historic mansions used as embassies. Adding to the fun is trying to determine to what country a particular embassy belongs. The task is easier for some buildings than for others. A statue of Winston Churchill with a cigar flashing a V sign is a dead giveaway for the British embassy. Likewise, the statue of Mahatma Ghandi in front of India’s embassy screams “India.”
Being the advance planner that I am, I’ve already reviewed online maps of Embassy Row. These maps helpfully provide the street lineup of embassies with the street number and nation’s flag identified. I’m definitely checking out #2220 (Guatemala–location of my first overseas mission trip), #2234 (Ireland–home of my maternal ancestors), #2525 (Turkey–evokes memories of a wonderful Mediterranean cruise I took), and #3100 (United Kingdom–Long Live The Queen! Age 93 and counting…..).
Embassy Row is also a draw for me because it can be a magnet for protests. American citizens aren’t typically able to go to a foreign country to express opposition to its policies, but they may be able to get to the country’s U.S. embassy to sound off. Until its retirement, a giant inflatable blue whale was often seen on Embassy Row when Greenpeace staged protests against foreign country’s environmentally unfriendly policies. The Vatican’s embassy is the target of an ongoing multiyear protest by a molestation victim decrying the Catholic Church’s alleged cover up of pedophile priests.
I am one tourist who would enjoy observing freedom of speech being exercised to send a message to a foreign country. Protest scenes allow me the opportunity for great candid shots to post on social media too.
Seeing Embassy Row in person has been a dream of mine ever since I read the murder mystery, Murder On Embassy Row., written by Margaret Truman Daniel, the only child of Pres. Harry S. Truman. Talk about someone who had a behind the scenes look about the goings on in Washington, Ms. Daniel is your woman. I want to see the words from the pages of her book mentioning these embassies come to life before my tourist eyes.
Finally, I want to go to Embassy Row because I am intrigued with the world of intrigue. I’m a huge James Bond fan and have read numerous spy novels. If foreign diplomats are on Embassy Row, you can’t tell me there’s not some spying going on. Why, I’ll bet some of the Secret Service agents tasked with protecting the embassies are secretly spies as well. Perhaps I should wear a trench coat and sunglasses while touring Embassy Row to get me in the mood for the area.
As I am checking out the Embassy Row embassies, I’ll be keeping an eagle eye out for diplomatic license plates on the cars I see. The State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions issues these licenses whose initial letter is “D” or “S.”. I’m guessing “D” is for diplomat and “S” is for spy. The next two letters on the plate indicate the country. I’ll be on high alert if I spot a license plate that reads “S4RU.” (Spy For Russia?)
The Russian Embassy is not, however, on Embassy Row. It’s located on Wisconsin Avenue instead. Perhaps the Russians are trying to keep their distance from 007’s Brits who are over on Massachusetts Avenue.
I may not run into the Spy Who Loved Me while checking out Embassy Row, but I’ll love being in an area where stories of intrigue have been set, real life drama is played out, and freedom of speech is alive and well. While the U.S. government conducts business in Washington, D.C., embassies of almost 200 other countries do business do too. It’s a small world after all, especially on Embassy Row.
JUST WONDER-ing: Have you ever heard of Embassy Row? Were you aware that so many other countries have a base of operations in our nation’s capital? Do you believe the espionage is occurring there or is that just something that happens in a James Bond movie?