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.
Count J.H. Bernstorff, Ambassador from German. Leaving German Embassy (1917). 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.