|The entrance to the Smithsonian Castle |
in Washington, D.C.
Then there’s the architecture. The awe-inspiring national monuments, built in Greek Revival style, excerpts of speeches by Jefferson, Lincoln, and Washington etched into the granite walls. The famous buildings that hold our three cherished branches of government, universal symbols of democracy and all things American. The museums – not just the exhibits, but also the enormous edifices that house them. The Old World urban layout, including the roundabouts with pretty fountains and gardens, designed by Pierre L’Enfant, the French architect who also planned Versailles. The Library of Congress, which stores a copy of every book published anywhere in the world. (Do they still do that, in this age of e-books and e-readers, I wonder?)
And, of course, the embassies, dozens of them along Massachusetts Avenue, NW, not far from where I lived in Dupont Circle. Peru, Denmark, Cape Verde, Bulgaria, Japan. It seemed to me back then, and often still does, that strolling by these buildings was akin to making a really quick visit abroad.
|(Photo: M.V. Jantzen)|
Regardless, the armed guards are long gone, and the embassy itself is now housed in a separate chancery right on Mass Ave (as Washingtonians call it). But the ambassador still resides at the impressive old mansion, which is one of the city’s most important historic buildings and has its own colorful story to tell.
Believe it or not, this impressive mansion sits atop what was once a city dump. In 1909, Ohio millionaire and philanthropist, Edward H. Everett, purchased the property. Everett earned his fortune, among other things, for inventing the crimped Coca Cola bottle cap. He was a pioneer in glassmaking (think fruit jars and soda and beer bottles), owned oil companies in Texas and Ohio, and had been a large shareholder of Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis.
|The view from the dining room |
into the conservatory
(Photo: Library of Congress)
Totten liked to experiment with different architectural styles around Embassy Row, and Everett’s house was no exception. The architect blended three architectural periods in his design for the mansion: 16th-century Italian, 18th-century Romanesque, and 19th-century Art Deco, borrowing additional decorative features from Ottoman styles. It took five years to build, and when it was complete in 1915, the Edward Everett House, as it is still known, had some of the most innovative features of the time, including a Webster air washer and a built-in humidifier.
The palatial, three-storied home also featured – still features, in fact – an enormous foyer with a black-and-white marble floor, teakwood floors everywhere else, marble fireplaces, ornamental ceilings in every room, a swimming pool in the basement, a ballroom, a musicians’ gallery, an elevator, and a rooftop garden. According to the society pages from newspapers of the time, the Everetts threw many a lavish party in this home, including festive musical evenings featuring singers from New York’s Metropolitan Opera. At least one party included 3,000 guests, an orchestra that played till 3 a.m., a lavish dinner, and footmen who wore “mulberry livery, with white silk stockings and pumps with silver buckles everywhere.” (Gotta feel sorry for those poor footmen.)
After Everett’s death, the government of Turkey leased the space in 1932 from Everett’s widow then bought the house – including all of its furnishings – outright in 1936. Total cost, $265,000, though even back then the house was valued at more than $400,000.
(Photo: Library of Congress)
Turkey was a young country at the time, only a couple decades out from when the Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I and Ataturk, who’d led the country’s national independence movement and founded the modern republic, still served as its first president.
A jazz enthusiast, Munir Ertegun, a career diplomat, became Turkey’s first ambassador and moved into the new Washington embassy and residence, where he lived and worked until his death in 1944. Ertegun’s sons, Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, shared their father’s love of music and went on to found Atlantic Records and discover such legendary artists as Led Zeppelin, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Otis Redding, John Coltrane ... on and on, right up to Kid Rock. At one time, Ahmet served as chairman for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. How’s that for circling the globe?
|Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun|
|Lawrence Brown and Johnny Hodges |
perform at the embassy in the 1930s
In an interesting side note, when Ambassador Munir Ertegun passed away in 1944, Washington had no mosque at which to hold his funeral. As a result, the beautiful Islamic Center of Washington was born, the movement to build it led primarily by the Washington diplomatic community. The center, to this day, is controlled by a board of governors made up ambassadors. Heard of anything like that before?
But back to the house. Now that there are no hired guns – human or otherwise – guarding the historic old mansion, I might finally be able to pay it a visit, camera in tow.