Posts about Thomas Circle
The old German Embassy was located just west of Thomas Circle at 1435-41 Massachusetts Avenue, NW. The Germans first set up diplomatic quarters in the 70-room mansion (including 13 baths) under Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1893.
It was not considered an ideal accommodation for the German legation who soon started looking for a more suitable location, but two world wars interrupted their plans and they didn't leave for good until 1941 when the embassy staff was interned at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
In 1945 the Justice Department Alien Property Office seized the old embassy and sold it in 1951 for $165,000. When the Federal Republic of Germany sent over its first postwar diplomatic mission in 1951, they decided not to go back to the old embassy, and with the aid of $300,000 compensation from the United States bought a new residence for its Ambassador at 1900 Foxhall Road.
In earlier days, mystery and intrigue seemed to hang over the embassy. Stories circulated about the Germans using the top-floor rooms for radio equipment to code and send spy messages overseas. Others reported watching bits of ashy paper waft from the chimney on Pearl Harbor Day, speculating that official papers might have been burned. During World War II, the Swiss occupied the building. When the State Department took over in 1945, officials found $3 million in American currency that was reportedly used for espionage payments.
The long vacant building on Massachusetts Avenue finally went under the wrecker's ball on November 24, 1959, to make way for a parking lot with plans for a future 1,000-room motel.
Interior of German Embassy ca. 1906, Image from Library of Congress.
White, Jean. "Ax Crashes on Old German Embassy, Once Scene of Gayety and Espionage." The Washington Post, Nov. 25, 1959, p. B1.
Then (left): The Portland Flats, at the corner of 14th and Vermont on the south side of Thomas Circle. The building was designed by architect Adolph Cluss and built in 1879. This was Washington's first luxury apartment building, and comparable to the Watergate today. When it opened, rents were $150 a month, an unheard of price, considering that a house in Mount Pleasant could be rented for $50 a month. The building was razed in 1962.
Now (right): The aesthetically sterile Residence Inn. This building replaced the Portland Flats and originally was an office building. It has undergone some facade changes since its construction, but generally reads the same.
- Community stories show the shift to a walkable lifestyle
- Young kids try to assault me while biking
- Focus transportation on downtown or neighborhoods?
- Some are pushing to limit sidewalk cycling
- Metro bag searches aren't always optional
- Where is downtown Prince George's County?
- Endless zoning update delay hurts homeowners