Embassies and residences in Washington, D.C., are a microcosm of diplomacy and history. The buildings themselves stand as a physical embodiment of their governments back home. Many have intriguing backstories and represent the personalities of their respective nations. As important national symbols, these buildings also need to be continually maintained and promoted.
This month, The Washington Diplomat talks to the ambassador of Monaco as her country celebrates an important milestone. We also tour the Norwegian Residence to see how the country updated the ambassador’s home away from home.
Monaco Marks 10 Years of Ties with U.S.
This month, Monaco reached the 10-year mark since opening its embassy in D.C., establishing full diplomatic relations with the U.S. In addition, the ambassador of the world’s second-smallest country has been working on its behalf for 40 years. Ambassador Maguy Maccario Doyle, who has spent nearly three years in her latest post, will welcome Prince Albert II to Washington in recognition of the milestone.
“Monaco is very well respected and is a friend to all countries,” Maccario told The Washington Diplomat in a recent interview at her residence in the heart of D.C.’s prestigious Kalorama neighborhood. “We are a small country and we have a prince who is very active, so the role of Monaco is to be a catalyst for opening discussions and solving many of the world’s problems. That could be the playground that Monaco could become. It’s safe, it’s secure, it’s apolitical.”
The ambassador’s residence, a four-level, Georgian red-brick townhouse with three bedrooms, was built by former U.S. President Warren G. Harding in 1916 when he was a Republican senator from Ohio. Monaco bought the residence in 2006 and Prince Albert II formally inaugurated it a year later. The home underwent an extensive renovation prior to Monaco’s purchase that meticulously strove to preserve and restore the building’s original features.
Although the residence had fallen into disrepair, the original structure remained largely intact, thanks in part to the fact that it had a single owner, Dorothy Tirrell Clagett, for over 75 years. A prominent ambassadorial aide at the State Department following World War II and the granddaughter of a Massachusetts congressman, Clagett spent decades living and entertaining dignitaries at the Wyoming Avenue residence.
Today, the stately residence often plays host to Monaco’s receptions and visiting dignitaries.
“Not shabby,” Maccario said of the residence. “It was a welcoming change from New York. It’s like country living in the city with the birds waking me up instead of the fire department or police going by my apartment.”
She spent nearly four decades in New York representing her government, and waking up to the sounds of traffic from a Manhattan apartment. She began work at Monaco’s national tourist office in New York City in 1976, became its director for North America in 1994, was appointed consul of Monaco in New York in 1995 and was promoted to consul general in 1997. She remained Monaco’s U.S. tourism director until Prince Albert II appointed her as ambassador in November 2013.
Maccario and Prince Albert II have grown into their roles on parallel tracks, the latter being crowned sovereign ruler of Monaco in 2005 after the death of his father, Prince Rainier III.
Maccario’s platform in the U.S. revolves around environmental and tourism issues. She is also the vice president of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, which supports hundreds of projects around the globe to promote sustainable development and help vulnerable ecosystems, and she is the president of the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation, which teaches swimming and water safety to children around the world.
“I’ve known the prince forever, I think,” the ambassador said. “Friends is a big word because he’s still my boss, but there’s definitely a great respect. I think he’s a very good man. He has the intelligence and the heart, and for me that’s very important because you can respect, but you also want to be inspired.”
Maccario, who lists Prince Albert II’s mother, Princess Grace, as a key mentor, was born and raised in Monaco by French art dealer parents. After the bus dropped her from school, she would see the latest photos of the royal family photographer at a shop right next to her parents’ gallery.
“I didn’t even know she was an actress,” Maccario said of Princess Grace, formerly the Oscar-winning actress Grace Kelly, who married Prince Rainier in 1956. “Of course, growing up in Monaco, the princely family is very much a part of our life, but I had never met her. We were never shown her films in Monaco at the time, so I did not really know of her level of a career until I came here to the United States.”
Maccario moved to New York City in her early 20s.
“That wasn’t easy, especially in the beginning when you don’t know people. I remember I was so lonely I used to go out into the street to be surrounded with people,” she said.
It was in New York that she first met Princess Grace, who retired from acting at the age of 26 to marry Rainier. Princess Grace was killed after a car crash in Monaco in 1982 and spent half her 52 years in the Mediterranean getaway for the rich and famous known for its casinos, opera and beaches (also see “Small in Size, Prestigious Microstate Is Rich in Personality” in the February 2016 issue).
“I was very nervous the first time that I met her because I had to pick her up at the airport,” Maccario said. “I thought, ‘What do I say? How should I behave?’ But she made me feel very comfortable, and although I was too shy to ask questions, I asked her a question that was very important for me. Looking at her film career and moving to Monaco, which was a different country at the time that she came, she did not speak the language, she was a princess that married the prince. I said, ‘I left Monaco because I thought it was so small and I needed to expand myself, and you had everything and made the trip in reverse,’ and she laughed, and she said, ‘Yes, it wasn’t easy in the beginning. Every time I came up with projects or ideas, I was told, ‘Madam, it’s impossible.’ Everything was impossible,’” Maccario recalled her saying.
“It was because she was a woman, because she wanted change. The piece of advice she gave was that if I ever had a project, to keep focused on the final goal of my project and to keep that focus — not to let anyone divert you from your goal, because if you start to think that way they will carry you into other directions from your path and you will lose track of where you’re really supposed to go in the end. So perseverance. Stay the course. That was important, because every time I have a project I really want to come through, you have to fight. It’s about being authentic, it’s about knowing what you’re talking about and not being afraid to roll up your sleeves and get into it because you need to.”
Maccario, whose life has been speckled with encounters with the rich and famous, including Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Denzel Washington, Christopher Reeve and Paul Newman, has never been star-struck except perhaps last year when she met former President George H.W. Bush for a State Department-sponsored series of ambassadorial events.
“At the end of the visit at the George W. Bush Presidential Library [in Texas], they said, ‘We have a surprise for you and George Bush Sr. is here to say hello to all of you.’ So we were about 50 ambassadors in a private room and he came. He was in a wheelchair because he had broken his neck…. He’s a charming man, and he came to me and he said, ‘Oh my goodness! What a beautiful woman! She’s beautiful!’ And I was red-faced.”
The ambassador stood over him because he was seated in a wheelchair, a somewhat awkward position that led to a rather embarrassing diplomatic faux-pas. “I was standing there like that and he put his hand there [on her behind], so everybody was like ‘Wow!’ But I didn’t think it meant anything. And then after that the protocol person said, ‘Oh, I apologize,’ and I said not to worry about it. I should have kissed him, but I didn’t dare to do that. That was a sweet moment.”
Maccario, who also serves on the Professional Advisory Board of the ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, spends much of her time focusing on Monaco’s leading industry: tourism.
“I’m not so into exchange of trades, because our economy is not based on that and is very, very small, and [instead focus on] the cultural and humanitarian efforts that help people around the world,” she said.
Spending your professional life in the service of your country can be a daunting endeavor, however.
“At one point I felt like I was at a dead-end at the tourist board [in Monaco],” she confessed, “and I remember talking to my dad. We were in Monaco, and I said, ‘I don’t know if I should stay. Maybe I’ve been working too long for Monaco. Maybe I should do something else?’ And he said, ‘You’re not going to leave Monaco, are you? You can’t leave Monaco.’ And then he passed away … and that made me decide. And then things turned around. So never lose hope.”
Norway Glimmers with Old and New
The Norwegian ambassador’s residence hasn’t looked this good since 1931, when the building was officially inaugurated. Situated across from the U.S. vice president’s residence, the Georgian mansion is home to an iconic statue of Crown Princess Märtha, who proudly stands at 3401 Massachusetts Ave., NW, waving at the city that sheltered she and her son, Harald V, the future king, from the Nazis during the Second World War. Now, the beauty of the mansion’s exterior is matched by the recently completed modernization of its interior.
“The updating of the residence was the first step in renovating the Norwegian Embassy in D.C.,” Norwegian Ambassador Kåre R. Aas told The Washington Diplomat. (The embassy sits directly behind the residence on 34th Street.) “The residence is one of Norway’s most important venues for building and maintaining bilateral relations with U.S. officials and U.S. citizens.”
Aas himself never got to enjoy the residence much. Shortly after arriving in Washington in late 2013, it shuttered its doors for much-needed upgrades. The one-year project started simply enough — adding indoor handicap-accessible ramps and an elevator — but a 25-year lull since its last renovation led to a full-scale $3 million, two-and-a-half-year overhaul. That meant new wiring, paint, furniture and lighting to revamp the property, which sees an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 annual visitors. The official reopening was in April — just in time for the U.S.-Nordic Leaders White House Summit — while finishing touches were completed in June.
Aas said the renovations promote and display traditional Norwegian culture with modern and classical art and fixtures.
“In modernizing the residence, we managed to preserve the original 1931 architecture and combine it with high environmental standards. It was also important for us to find a balance between inside and outside space, especially because being outside in fresh air is an essential part of Norwegian values.”
Norwegians are famous for spending time outdoors, and the residence’s backyard now includes a Ping-Pong table (a favorite of the ambassador and his son), a wood-burning pizza stove, a meeting table and plenty of seating.
Norway built the five-bedroom residence to be an embassy in 1931. Visitors, upon entering the front door and choosing the stairs or a ramp, are greeted by black-and-white subway tile and Brynjulf Strandenaes’s large 1934 portrait of Norway’s King Haakon VII and Dag Alveng’s 1996 “Summer Light” photo of the sun shining through a Norwegian forest. The wood-paneled office is exotically lit by paper lamps that shine on one of the residence’s most enduring artifacts: King Harald V’s boyhood desk while he lived in Washington, which is now used by the ambassador and his 15-year-old son.
A spiral staircase takes you past Percy Bryant Baker’s marble bust of King Olav V as a child and into a modernly furnished library that is elegantly adorned by Svein Bolling’s “Woman With Candle” and Kjell Torriset’s “Shape of Faith” cloud paintings.
The sitting room is where classical truly meets modern, as the sleek, almost plain furniture is muted by paintings of Norway’s landscape, numerous Edvard Munch paintings (seven throughout the residence) and a lush carpet owned by Vidkun Abraham Lauritz Jonssøn Quisling, Norway’s head of government during the Nazi occupation. The dining room is similarly adorned, focusing less on the elegance of its table and instead on its surroundings.
Even though the hammers have stopped their banging and all the paint has dried, the work is far from over. A major renovation of the chancery is planned for next year.
About the Author
James Cullum (@JamesCullum2) is a contributing writer and photographer for The Washington Diplomat.