In 1971, when I began working for the embassy, it was located at 1900 24th Street in a nice, quiet neighborhood surrounded by fine residences. The building was purchased from Sweden, which had also used it as an embassy. Near the entrance there was a pleasant sitting room that the staff used for coffeebreaks. Since I was new, I thought this was plenty formal for an embassy! The three-story house was anchored by a central staircase, which we often used as a channel to holler at each another to get someone’s attention. We found this much more efficient than running around.
The staff was less than half of its present size. At one point, my office was an old bathroom - I loved it and felt privileged to have an office to call my own. There were no stores in the area, so we went out together for lunch quite often. Few visitors came except the ambassador’s guests or those who had consular business. There was absolutely nothing of interest to the general public - no displays and no Finnish furniture, for instance.
The situation changed in 1979 when the embassy moved to 3216 New Mexico Avenue, a house purchased from the Hungarian Cultural Foundation. The embassy staff had grown in size, thus this larger colonial-type house was chosen to accommodate the growth. The entrance was quite stylish with a few steps leading up to large double doors that opened into the lobby and to the adjacent conference room, which was large enough to seat everyone around a ”figure eight” table. Some artwork hung in the entrance. Finnspark held its annual Christmas bazaar at the embassy a couple of times, even though the space was limited. I vividly remember the lines that wound around the building in the bitter cold; people waiting to get in for coffee or glögg.
We had easy access to stores and cafeterias, which were across the street at Foxhall Mall. Within a fairly short amount of time, the building, which was not designed to be an embassy, and where quite a few renovations had been made to accommodate more office space, grew too small. Also, there was absolutely no storage space. I had to practically crawl on my knees under the stairs to get to our information booklets. For years, rumor had it we would move yet again. We were more than fortunate to find a new location 1,5 miles away.
Finland was able to acquire a prestigious location on Massachusetts Avenue's Embassy Row thanks to advance preparations with the Foreign Ministry, speedy action on the part of our ambassador, and a very clever Finnish real-estate agent! We had a beautiful lot, and a perfect choice was made in the selection of architects.
More than a decade has passed, and our embassy still enjoys its place among the most visited architectural buildings in D.C. This is more than any of us could have wished for: a nice location surrounded by trees, lots of light inside the offices, an outside terrace, a sauna, parking in the building, walking distance to Georgetown and plenty of storage space!
From the modest beginnings on 24th Street and beyond, Finland has put itself on the map in Washington D.C.
Finnish representation in the United States was a legation until September 10, 1954 when it was upgraded to an embassy.