Embassy Row is the informal name for a street or area of a city where embassies or other diplomatic installations are concentrated. Perhaps the best-known of these is in Washington D.C. Washington’s Embassy Row lies along Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
The nouveau-riche crowd has made many an eyeball roll reflexively skyward. Call them robber barons or captains of industry, dub their heyday industrial or gilded but today you can experience the Beaux-Arts grandeur of Washington’s Massachusetts Avenue, better known as Embassy Row.
Embassy Row is where families decided to showcase their fortunes in the nation’s capital: members of the first ranks of mining, railroads, banking, publishing, politicians and speculators in the 1880s and 90s. Spendthrift offspring, the Great Depression and other misfortune eventually drained the resources of many families. Only 50 years later, embassies, clubs and other institutions were buying up their mansions for as little as 10 cents on a dollar. But in between, the high life and high architecture has made form some great stories. Alice Roosevelt Longworth delivered her famous line here – “If you don’t have anything nice to say, sit next to me” – and spirited chum Evalyn Walsh Maclean lived a few doors up where she kept the Hope Diamond.
Considered Washington’s premier residential addresses in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Massachusetts Avenue became known for its numerous mansions housing the city’s social and political elites. The segment between Scott Circle and Sheridan Circle gained the nickname “Millionaire’s Row”.
The first embassy on Embassy Row, and still one of the most prominent, was the British Embassy, directly adjacent to the United States Naval Observatory. It was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens to combine the offices and the residences of the ambassador, resembling an English country house in the Queen Anne style of architecture.
The street began to lose its elite luster in the 1920s, and some neighborhoods east of Scott Circle decayed as the Great Depression caused many to see their homes. Fashionable living also shifted from Massachusetts Avenue to 16th Street N.W. But the main impetus for the strip’s re-characterization was the rise of the United States in the aftermath of World War II. Nations competed to build or maintain grand residences to represent their nation’s significance in the capital of the new superpower, and the expansive old estates proved well-suited for use as embassies (and also as lodges of social clubs).
Washington’s Embassy Row culture once mirrored the exclusivity of its residences. Since early 1990, however, many embassies have begun to sponsor public events to promote business and cultural interests of their countries.