News & Politics  |  Real Estate

Fix These Mansions!

Dilapidated embassy properties are driving DC residents crazy. When will they get fixed?

Cameroon’s flag flies outside its boarded-up Mass. Ave. building. Photograph by Evy Mages

Kalorama is known for multimillion-dollar homes and famous residents. Which is why it’s somewhat surprising to learn that the Northwest DC neighborhood has more than its share of unoccupied, crumbling buildings. Blame the same diplomats who helped create Kalorama’s graceful, cosmopolitan vibe. Unlike regular landowners, embassies are exempt from many regulations, including those designed to police eyesores. They’re not, however, exempt from neighborhood griping. Following recent complaints from residents, local pols have been pressuring the State Department to hold countries accountable. Even so, some properties remain in disrepair. Here’s a look.

2221 R Street

Country: Serbia.

Condition: Once the residence of the ambassador from Yugoslavia, the building fell into limbo after that country’s breakup. Eventually, Serbia took possession, but the property remains unoccupied, marked by peeling paint, a rusty awning, and gas lamps that no longer turn on at night.

Status: Repairs could be in the works, though there’s no timetable. “Renovation remains our main priority,” says a spokesperson.

2349 Massachusetts Avenue

Country: Cameroon.

Condition: The former Cameroonian Embassy is a 1907 mansion that resembles a French castle, but it has been notable for its boarded-up windows, junk-filled yard, and signs that read danger: keep out.

Status: “It’s not an abandoned building—it’s under construction,” says a communication attaché for the embassy, who estimates that renovations will be done sometime in 2018. “We want to do something that can sustain another 100 years.”

2201 R Street

Country: Pakistan.

Condition: A 1906 Beaux Arts beauty, the onetime embassy of Pakistan has been vacant for about a decade—and it shows. A demolition notice hangs to the left of the front door. Some windows are broken, while others are covered with cobwebs.

Status: Pakistan has since moved into expansive new digs near the Van Ness Metro. The fate of its former building remains a mystery: The embassy didn’t respond to repeated requests for information.

2148 Wyoming Avenue

Country: Sri Lanka.

Condition: This red-brick rowhouse has been largely unused since the embassy moved to larger quarters in 2015. The front door still bears the country’s seal, but the structure looks unoccupied.

Status: An embassy representative says the property is being refurbished as a cultural center. A good sign: Movers were recently spotted carrying in furniture.

This article appears in the February 2018 issue of Washingtonian.

Courtney Vinopal is a former Washingtonian editorial fellow. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, and previously worked as a press attaché for the Embassy of France in Washington, where she ran the institution’s social media accounts and newsletters. She lives in Woodley Park.