AT DC: The Department of State Diplomatic Reception Rooms

AT DC: The Department of State Diplomatic Reception Rooms

Maxwell Ryan
May 6, 2008

This is from our DC finalist, Colleen. Comment away!

I call this, One of Official Washington's Best Kept Secrets.

Though Washington is replete with official reception spaces, few can match the panache of the State Department Diplomatic Reception Rooms, a unique set of museum-like rooms used by the Secretary of State, the Vice President, and Members of the Cabinet to entertain world leaders, foreign officials and American dignitaries. Every year over 80,000 guests attend official luncheons, receptions and dinners in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms. Fortunately for those of us unlikely to be invited to a State dinner any time soon, the rooms can also be visited simply by signing up for one of the three daily public tours....

When the Diplomatic Reception Rooms opened in 1961, they featured wall-to-wall carpeting, brown plywood-paneled walls, and acoustical ceilings- a far cry from the current elegant setting that houses an unmatched collection of early American art and furniture valued at over $90 million. This remarkable transformation from glorified office space to 18th century architectural masterpiece took place under the guidance of Edward Vason Jones, a self-educated neoclassical architect from Albany, GA.

There are eight Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the State Department, though you won't be able to wander through all of them on the tour. Each room contains a selection of classic early American art, furniture and accessories. Some of my favorite pieces from the collection include a silver tea service once owned by lexicographer Noah Webster, a writing table where Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and John Jay signed the Treaty of Paris, and a silver bowl crafted by Paul Revere.

Want to check out the space for yourself? You can make a reservation to tour the Diplomatic Reception Rooms online or by calling 202-647-3241. The 45-minute guided tours are conducted Monday through Friday at 9:30 am, 10:30 am, and 2:45 pm. Because the rooms are often in use, the availability of tours is dependent on an ever-changing schedule of official events- I recommend checking the online calendar before submitting your tour request. The tour is not recommended for children under 12 and strollers are not permitted. With advance notice, the Department can provide wheelchairs, sign language interpreters, and even foreign language interpreters (subject to availability).

(all pictures courtesy of

- Colleen

(Thanks, Colleen!)

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