Washington — If the walls of the former Iranian Embassy could talk, they would tell of elegant events attended by famous diplomats, actors, dancers and other celebrities.
The parties are a memory now. The embassy closed in April 1980, when diplomatic relations were severed between the United States and Iran in the wake of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, which saw a revolutionary student group occupy the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and hold 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days. But the Iranian Embassy, located blocks away from the Islamic Center along Washington’s “Embassy Row” on Massachusetts Avenue, maintains a clean facade in spite of having remained empty for much of 31 years. This is due to the efforts of the United States government, which is its official custodian.
Earlier this year, the State Department provided essential repairs for the embassy, which was built in 1959, to ensure the safety of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. The department made the blue tile dome that crowns the structure stable and watertight.
According to the State Department’s Office of the Spokesperson, the United States maintains Iran’s buildings in the United States “to respect and protect the properties in furtherance of international obligations.”
This embassy is one of 11 properties owned by the Iranian government across the United States, all of which are now in U.S. government custody. Six of the properties are located in Washington, including the Iranian ambassador’s residence — a 44-room Georgian-style mansion built in 1934 located next door to the embassy.
Some of Iran’s properties stand empty; others are rented. Rental income from the properties helps pay for the maintenance of others. For example, a townhouse built in 1890 a block from Manhattan’s Central Park houses an elite gallery that sells works of art covering six centuries to museums around the world.
The U.S. Embassy in Tehran has been occupied since it was seized in 1979. Anti-American murals commissioned by the government of Iran were painted on the brick walls forming the perimeter of the embassy grounds, and the building itself was used as a training center for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.