Over 100 years ago, in 1910, an organization called the American Embassy Association published an illustrated book entitled American Embassies, Legations, and Consulates Mean Better Foreign Business. You can leaf through the book here, courtesy Cornell University Library.
The above photo – which we have in our collection of prints – features in the book. People familiar with the Legation will note how much brighter it looked (as well as its neighbors' homes on the whitewashed street) a century ago.
The book was dedicated to the notion that the US should own suitable buildings to represent the country abroad, and despite the whitewashed walls, its authors didn't think much of the Tangier American Legation. "As a piece of government property it does not reflect credit upon us" the book intoned.
The recurrent calls for the US to be represented in Tangier in a more modern building finally culminated in the move to the new Consulate General in 1961. The Legation, just over 50 years ago, began its new life as a place dedicated to learning and as a witness to centuries of diplomacy from the earliest days of the American republic.
In this week of belated rains, which are much appreciated by Moroccan farmers and consumers, the many cracks, leaks, flaking and peeling that is the lot of the Legation do not reflect much credit on the US either. A visiting Spanish architect today expressed real concern over our emblematic Pavilion (photo, right), whose fissures are wide enough to accommodate your little finger.
This is not to belittle the efforts of our staff, and of Embassy contractors, to shore up this unique National Historic Landmark. It's just that years of piecemeal patching, painting, and repairing look exactly like what it is: a patchwork of well-intentioned efforts.
People often see the NHL plaque and then assume that we are part of the National Park Service – "where are the guys with the Smokey the Bear hats?" No, there aren't any park rangers here: the NPS has us on their list, that's all. And the National Trust for Historic Preservation, though aware of the Legation's unique place among American heritage sites, concerns itself with preserving Stateside buildings.
As it's been since 1821, the Legation is State Department property, the oldest on its inventory.
Imagine what this place would look like after a concerted effort to restore what is America's first diplomatic property. And that's what is needed: a multi-year investment, to make the place shine for its bicentennial in 2021.
After all, America has only one Legation.