Tuesday, January 5, 2016

State Department Diplomatic Reception Rooms

Living in Washington means sometimes being friends with movers and shakers - or people whose jobs seem immeasurably cooler than your own. It also means having unique opportunities that folks who live elsewhere don't have. 

The U.S. Department of State offers public tours of its beautiful diplomatic reception rooms, yet because the tours take place only on weekdays, then it had been an item on my Washington bucket list for a long time before I finally could make arrangements for such a tour. A friend who is in the Foreign Service and currently working in Washington before heading for her next assignment in South America was able to join me for the tour. Although she registered us for it, anyone can do so via this website

After arriving at State Department headquarters in Foggy Bottom, going through visitors' security and checking in, I met my friend and we waited for the tour to begin. On the dot at 10.30am our group of twelve people was gathered and we were provided with some instructions before we were escorted through several long hallways and into a large elevator which led us to the Diplomatic Reception Rooms and the beginning of the tour. Throughout the duration of the tour we were accompanied by not just one, but two Diplomatic Security officers. 

While the State Department headquarter building is a typical office building -- and not a particularly attractive one at that --, these special rooms, opened in 1961, are anything but typical. Designed by Edward Vason Jones, and filled with art, antiques and important memoribilia from American history, these spaces are impressive. They are used for official entertaining purposes, though can also be rented for huge sums of money -- two days before I visited, the rooms had been used for the annual Kennedy Center Honors award dinner, which takes place the evening before the televised show from the Kennedy Center.

The tour guide was incredibly knowledgeable about the many artifacts in the rooms, and she told us many stories and factoids, though the 45-minute length of the tour prevented her from going into minute detail or from showing us every singe item -- and that's okay! It was a bit difficult to take good photos, as I wanted to hear what the guide was explaining, plus lighting was far from ideal. But below I share a few photos from the tour.
This portrait of Washington is used on the dollar bill - except it's flipped.
Desk on which Treaty of Paris was signed - ending the American Revolutionary War.

Desk at which Jefferson probably wrote the Declaration of Independence.
The largest room; through the door you can see the kitchen in which caterers were prepping lunch for an event.
Everything's so ornate!
Room in which lunch event was about to take place. Our tour was cut slightly shorter due to this event.
Almost a bit gaudy...
Uncanny how much Pres Jackson looks like current Sec. of State Kerry!
Once the tour had concluded, and our group had returned to our starting point, my friend and I exited through that less-than-impressive exit, scurried around the corner to the main exit where she checked me in as her visitor, and she proceeded to show me around. The main entrance is impressive, as it contains flags from all the world's countries with which the U.S. has official relations. Typically tours are also taken here, but due to the VIPs being expected for the aforementioned luncheon, we were not shown this area.
The Latvian flag - among others.
In the basement of the building she showed me the two competing privately-owned gift shops. I couldn't resist, and a pink "Future Secretary of State" t-shirt found its way into a special three-year old's Christmas stocking a few weeks later. After my little shopping excursion we moved onto lunch in the cafeteria, and that concluded my interesting State Department visit. Special thanks to my friend A for hosting me!

1 comment:

  1. My pleasure! I was really happy to finally take that tour. Nice write up and great pics!


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