The Toutorsky Mansion: from home to music academy to embassy
The Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington DC is well-known for its architecture, particularly the numerous former Gilded Age mansions that were subsequently converted to foreign embassies, private social clubs, or national headquarters of civic and non-profit organizations. The Toutorsky Mansion on 16th Street, followed a similar if drawn out fate. Many of the Gilded Age mansions were built on the prominent avenues that lead like spokes of a wheel from Dupont Circle itself—where Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire Avenues all intersect. But the Toutorsky Mansion, built in 1894 for US Supreme Court Justice Henry Billings Brown, is located on 16th Street, NW, approximately a half mile from Dupont Circle on a prominent, but primarily residential, street now lined with apartment buildings and rowhouses.
Following Brown’s death in 1913, the house was used house briefly by the Persian Legation and then the Zionist Organization of America before being purchased in 1947 by Basil Peter Toutorsky, a noted Russian musician who had emigrated to the United States in 1923. Together with his wife, Toutorsky founded the Toutorsky Academy of Music, which the two of them ran for some 40 years. Following their deaths in the late 1980s, the house was purchased by Bruce Johnson, who upgraded the house’s infrastructure while restoring many of its historic features, and in 2001 the next purchaser attempted to turn the mansion into a bed-and-breakfast, much to the chagrin of neighborhood residents. Failing to get a sufficient number of rooms allowed, the owner in 2008 put the home on the market, selling it in 2011 to the Embassy of the Republic of Congo.
The Foreign Missions Board of Zoning Adjustment at the US Department of State handles all matters regarding the location of embassies in the United States. In their application to locate the Embassy Republic of the Congo to the former Toutorsky mansion, they requested permission to make two curb cuts and pave a circular drive in the front yard of the embassy. The request was denied, so the Embassy promised it would leave the front yard, with its three mature trees, as it was, and the request was approved. Several months later, the Embassy cut down the trees and added a driveway anyway, leading the US State Department and the District of Columbia Department of Transportation to require the Congolese Embassy to tear up the pavement and restore the yard. The embassy subsequently compiled and the embassy remains active in Washington.
In 2015, a protest held in front of the embassy illustrated the potential pitfalls for residents having an embassy as a neighbor.
By Catherine Finn
January 6, 2011
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December 6, 2011
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