Skip Global Navigation to Main Content
Skip Breadcrumb Navigation
Embassy Building

The Chancery

The Chancery (DOS photo)

The Chancery (DOS photo)

...We are closely associated and are allies, because it helps to protect the interest of our country and because it protects the interests of freedom around the world. I do not believe that there is any Embassy in the world more important to the United States than the Embassy in Paris, because the influence of this city and country goes far beyond its borders”

President John F. Kennedy’s in remarks at the U.S. Embassy Paris, June 1, 1961

The Chancery of the Embassy of the United States in Paris was the first building constructed by the U.S. Government to consolidate its foreign affairs agencies abroad. It was, however, the last building to be constructed on the historic Place de la Concorde in the heart of Paris. In order to build the Chancery, the Foreign Service Buildings Commission, established by an act of Congress in 1926, purchased the property on the northwest corner in 1928. Soon after, the Commission appointed the New York architectural firm of Delano and Aldrich to design a building in harmony with the architectural style originally conceived for this square by the architect of Louis XV, Jacques-Ange Gabriel.

In the mid-eighteenth century, when Gabriel was asked to design the original royal square, the neighbohood was more rural than urban. In 1757, the City of Paris legally authorized the creation of the Place Louis XV and the rue Royale. The same law decreed that all buildings on the Place should be designed in architectural symmetry. The Ministry of the Navy was built between 1762 and 1772. At the same time, two sumptuous private residences, the Hotel d'Aumont (now the Hotel de Crillon) and the Hotel Coslin, were constructed on the Place.

A wealthy landowner, Grimod de la Reyniere, purchased the property where the chancery now stands from the City of Paris in 1769. There he built a mansion which would be known for its magnificent receptions and opulent banquets, but which never conformed to the architectural requirements decreed by law. In the 19th century, the mansion was sold, briefly became the provisional headquarters of the Duke of Wellington (1816), and later was bequeathed to the French government. In 1850, the mansion became the Residence of the Turkish Ambassador and later, from 1877 until 1928, it housed the Cercle de l'Union Artistique, an artists' professional association.

On the staircase walls beneath the medallion seal of the United States hang two Gilbert Stuart oils, a large full figure portrait of George Washington and a smaller portrait of James Monroe, Minister to France in 1794. The large atrium lobby behind the staircase, a room originally used for consular affairs, is now sometimes used for special gatherings when the President, Vice President or Secretary of State visits the Embassy.

 
Benjamin Franklin (© P. Maulavé)

Benjamin Franklin (© P. Maulavé)

Only in 1933, some 176 years after the law that prescribed architectural harmony around the famous square, did the U.S. government construct on this site a building which conformed to the intended unity of design. Although French authorities approved American symbolic decorative motifs, such as eagles on the pillars at the main entrance and the seal on the portal over the door, the Chancery building was designed to complement other structures on the Place de la Concorde and to replicate their neo-classic accord. In his comments at the laying of the cornerstone in 1932, Ambassador Walter Evans Edge underscored this architectural compatibility as a sign of Franco-American harmony: "When this edifice is completed, it will round out the plans of Jacques-Ange Gabriel, architect of Louis XV, thus contributing to the perfection and symmetry of practical Franco-American relations."

Today, the Chancery faces the avenue Gabriel and the gardens of the Champs Elysees. To one side is the famous Hotel de Crillon. From the Ambassador's office, one can admire what is probably the most beautiful example of 18th century French architecture, the Place de la Concorde, with statues representing France's great cities, fountains evoking Saint Peter's Square in Rome and twenty gilded columns holding lamps. The statue of King Louis XV has been replaced by the Obelisk of Luxor, given to Charles X by Sultan Mehemet Ali. It is the oldest monument in Paris as it dates back to Ramses II in the 13th Century B.C.

The four-story Chancery is noe-classical in style and balances the northwest corner of the Place de la Concorde. The base of the Chancery is in very hard Villebois-Montalieu stone from the Isère region. The walls are constructed of Anstrude stone with brick backing. This stone, from the Yonne region, was specially selected for durability and to match the color of the other buildings on the Place de la Concorde.

 
George Washington, Oil on Canvas, Author unknown (DOS photo)

George Washington, Oil on Canvas, Author unknown (DOS photo)

All projecting motifs, as well as the balustrades, balconies and cornices, are made of Massangis stone, also from the Yonne. 

The Cobblestone paved courtyard at the main entrance to the Chancery is flanked on one side by a seated statue of Benjamin Franklin, first envoy to France in 1776-1779, and on the other by a fountain basin combines Hauteville and Villebois stone. 
Models for the exterior and interior sculptural work were made in the United States and approved by a Congressional Committee before being executed in France. The eagles placed on the two pillars at the main entrance on avenue Gabriel were sculpted in France from the two large blocks of Hauteville stone. The symbolic eagle appears again in the seal of the United States in the medallion of the main entry portal. 

 Though its exterior carefully follows Gabriel's architectural intent, the building's interior is inspired by the finest of American Colonial design. An American Federal Giltwood mirror hangs on the right wall of the entry foyer. This rare piece, with a convex plate and a baubled cavetto frame -- known as a witch's mirror because of its distorted reflection -- is crowned by a complex crest incorporating a lion's head, anthemion and lyre and two serpentine eagle heads. Carvins of shell and foliage adorn the circular frame. Above the mirror is a large Cartier clock, built into the wall and connected to a sophisticated electric system for accuracy. An identical clock can be seen in the wall of the adjacent lobby area called the Atrium.

The entry foyer is illuminated by two gilt-brass and glass octagonal lanterns framed by brass rods and surmounted by American eagle finials. The marble columns on each side of the main doors, display bronze busts of George Washington and the French hero of the American Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette. These busts are by the famous 19th century French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, best known  for another work of great Franco-American significance, the Statue of Liberty. The large portraits on this wall are of the Comte de Rochambeau, a famous maréchal de France, and the Marquis de Lafayette. The role of France in the independence of the United States is again called to mind in the elevator foyer by the framed copy of the Franco-Anglo-American treaty signed in Paris and in Versailles on September 3, 1783.

On the staircase walls beneath the medallion seal of the United States hang two Gilbert Stuart oils, a large full figure portrait of George Washington and a smaller portrait of James Monroe, Minister to France in 1794. The large atrium lobby behind the staircase, a room originally used for consular affairs, is now sometimes used for special gatherings when the President, Vice President or Secretary of State visits the Embassy.

 
Ambassador Wallace (S.P. Kendrick, after Philip de Laszlo)

Ambassador Wallace (S.P. Kendrick, after Philip de Laszlo)

Eight elegant chandeliers, presented as a gift to the Embassy form the Cercle de l'Union Artistique, adorn the executive offices and reception areas on the first floor. Two of the chandeliers grace the Ambassador's office, with its oak floors laid in the special design known as parquet Versailles. The oak comes from beams originally set in the Louvre Museum. 

The sculptured oak cornices in the first floor Wallace Library and the Protocol Office display friezes of the interwoven letters "U.S.A." The Wallace collection of 2,437 volumes dealing with Franco-American relations was formally presented to the United States Government as a gift in 1930 by Ambassador Hugh C.Wallace. Another valuable collection in the Library is Duvergier's French Laws and Decrees, dating from the first publication in 1786. The library is often used by the Ambassador for large meetings. Many preparations for the 1994 Presidential visit in Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of D-Day were completed in the Wallace Library by White House and Embassy employees involved in that historic occasion.

The United States of America sent representatives to France for a century and a half before construction of the Embassy Chancery was begun in 1931. These included famous Americans such as Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe. These first Ministers or Ambassadors, and those who followed them, occupied many different premises. The first American legation (1777-1785), established by Benjamin Franklin at 66, rue Raynouard in Passy in the 16th arrondissement, no longer stands, but a trace of the history lives on in the name of the rue Franklin.

Toward the end of his stay in Paris in 1789, Thomas Jefferson occupied an apartment near the Champs Elysées at 2, rue de Berri in the 8th arrondissement. His residence was frequented by French military officers, such as the Marquis de Lafayette, who had fought with the Americans in the War of Independence. In 1870 the legation relocated to 75, avenue Foch and remained there throughout the Franco-Prussian War.

The Place des Etats-Unis received its name when the American legation occupied the premises facing it in 1882. Perhaps presaging the mobility of American society in the 20th century, the legation moved from 59, rue Galilée (1887-1897), to 18, avenue Kleber (1898-1913) and then to 5, rue de Chaillot (1914-1933). During World War I, the Hotel de Crillon was an annex of the Embassy.

As America's role in the world expanded, and the American delegation in Paris grew, various services and offices were scattered across the city. A building was needed to bring all the American agencies under one roof, and in 1925 the search for the site of the present chancery began.

Listen to this radio program

A Guide to Portraits in the Chancery

  • Elihu Benjamin Washburne The Cultural Heritage Program (CHP) in the General Services Office (GSO) is tasked with maintaining the Heritage Collection of fine objects including historic finishes and furnishings of the Embassy Tri-Mission. The CHP also manages the Art in Embassies Program as well as the Docent Tour Program. The portraits in the Chancery are part of the Heritage Collection. The collection of portraits ranges from the American Forefathers and the first envoys to France to the succeeding Ministers Plenipotentiary and Ambassadors. The collection also includes two former Consuls.
    … The United States interest in France is not based on mere
    sentiment. I know it is customary on these visits to recall Lafayette
    and all the rest...Our interest here is more substantial, and I believe
    it goes to the common interests of both the United States and France.
    We are closely associated and are allies, because it helps to protect
    the interest of our country and because it protects the interests of
    freedom around the world. I do not believe that there is any
    Embassy in the world more important to the United States than the
    Embassy in Paris, because the influence of this city and country goes
    far beyond its borders”
    President John F. Kennedy’s in remarks at the U.S. Embassy Paris:
    June 1, 1961



    Enjoy our Portraits Gallery online ! (PDF, 1 MB)

Adobe Reader

  • Free Download

    All downloadable documents on this page are provided in PDF format.  To view PDFs you must have a copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader.  Download it for free now.