A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Adventures in real estate: own your own piece of … America?

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 2, 2007

This article, from South Africa’s Mail and Guardian, cropped up in a google news search for “Beirut”. Its a hoot of a read:

In the market for an old embassy?

The list gives a glimpse of the style to which United States diplomats were once accustomed. It mentions swimming pools and tennis courts (note the plural) in Abidjan, hardwood flooring in Belize, a private elevator in Bogotá and mature landscaping in Ottawa.Now these relics of American diplomatic riches, and much more, are up for sale, victims of the post-September 11 drive to increase security. The State Department has released a portfolio of 29 properties in 21 countries that it intends to dispense with — combined asking price, more than $205-million.The items range in scale from the 2 342 square metres of the US embassy annex in central London, on the market for $180-million, to a 142-square-metre condominium for $150 000 in Santiago, Chile. They cover the full gamut of glamour too, from a concrete house in Georgetown, Guyana, to a diplomatic residence in Taipei, Taiwan, with views over Yang Ming Mountain national park.

The State Department’s decision to sell some of its residential family silver is part of its push to improve security in its missions around the world. Alarm bells rang in 1983 with the attack on a marine corps barracks in Beirut that killed 299 US personnel. After the bombings of American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998, Congress approved $1-billion towards improving the security in US outposts worldwide. But the programme was dramatically expanded in the wake of September 11.

Under its bureau of overseas building operations, all diplomatic buildings have been reviewed to see if they can be renovated to give sufficient protection from suicide car bombs and missiles. Any that fail the test — often because they are too close to roads — are being sold and replaced by purpose-built compounds. Since it was formed in May 2001, the bureau has opened 42 new embassies and 40 more are under design or construction.

The crown jewel in the latest list is the navy annex in Grosvenor Square, central London. Built in 1935, it was a base for Dwight Eisenhower in World War II. Today it is a pale reflection. Estate agents Savills described it as “tired old government-style offices. Reggie Perrin would feel at home there.”

The State Department said final bids are being reviewed. It said the building was considered “excess”. However, the US government is known to have become increasingly annoyed in recent months by a campaign orchestrated by local residents in Mayfair against measures to tighten up security around the embassy including a programme of road closures.

The State Department is known to be considering leaving the entire Grosvenor Square premises and moving to a location where it can better protect itself from grumbling neighbours just as much as from potential terrorists.

Several other chancery and embassy buildings are already up for sale after new premises have been erected, including a compound in Bamako, Mali, up for $2,1-million; the former US ambassador’s residence in Belize City located in what is described as a “stable middle- to upper-class area”; the complex in Managua, Nicaragua; and the embassy in Kathmandu, which was acquired by the US in 1964 and whose “impression of a grand colonial estate” helps explain its $6-million asking price.

In Ottawa, the international estate agents Cushman & Wakefield are selling the property that has been a US residence since 1948, emphasising that it was used as the home of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in the film Mr and Mrs Bridges. The agents also point out that the principal rooms are on a scale suited to formal entertaining.

Potential buyers have to be a little cautious, though. Anyone able to afford $1,5-million for the former ambassador’s residence in Tripoli, Libya, may be interested to know more about what the US government calls “title issues”. Glossing over the building’s history of anti-US riots and diplomatic frostiness with the Gaddafi regime, the dossier merely says that “ability to convey clear title is an issue that we continue to work through with host government”. — Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007


One Response to “Adventures in real estate: own your own piece of … America?”

  1. intlxpatr said

    This was in the Kuwait Times yesterday! I know the old residence in Tunis / Carthage was a jewel – high above the Mediteranean, spacious and elegant. . .

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