Legation Pavilion: Endangered National Treasure


TALIM EGL_11 Pavilion highmed

The Tangier American Legation Pavilion; photo by Elizabeth Gill Lui

Though it is emblematic of the entire institution, the Pavilion was the last of the historic Legation buildings erected in this collection of structures built around and over pedestrians-only America Street in Tangier's medina.  Here's what Honor Bigelow wrote of the building 80 years ago – soon after its completion – in the Foreign Service Journal in October 1932:

From an architectural standpoint the American Legation in Morocco is unquestionably one of the most noteworthy… of the Government's program for the construction of offices and residences for its representatives in foreign countries… .  With a sum of twenty-two thousand dollars which Congress appropriated in 1926 the original building was completely transformed … [using] the traditional features of Moorish architecture.

TALIM HSR coverTwenty-two thousand dollars…  More than ten times that amount was invested in the 2011 Historic Structure Report commissioned by the State Department, whose cover is graced by a photo of the 1930s-era Pavilion.  The HSR is an exhaustive technical and archival achievement, representing many hours of measurement, analysis, and research.  The HSR pulls no punches: "differential settlement cracking" is found throughout the Pavilion building, in addition to leaks and rot of all sorts.

TALIM Pavilion crack 2cm x 20cm x XX meters

The owners of the Legation – the State Department's Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) – are aware of the Pavilion's critical condition, and progress resolving some of the problems (the rotten doors that were being scratched away by cats) is in the works.

But at this pace, the beautiful Pavilion may just succumb to its plethora of settlement cracks, some of which are wide enough to stick your thumb into.  Neighboring buildings lean into the Pavilion, and given the haphazard construction of adjoining buildings, we fear that some may even collapse, as has recently happened in Casablanca.

We've already had to close off an entire room, for fear of pieces of ceiling falling on visitors' heads.  And we continue to discover problems.  Fixing some loose tiles unearthed this monster crack, invisible below the floor. 

Okay, now what?  This blog post is a call for action.

One way is to push for recognition of the Tangier American Legation as an endangered treasure.  The private National Trust for Historic Preservation, in Washington D.C., has a program to raise funds to save National Treasures.  At present, all the sites on their list are in the US.  Of course, the Tangier American Legation is the only US National Historic Landmark located outside the US.  But it's considered sovereign American property, thanks to the Moroccan Sultan who allowed the American Consul to reside at this address in 1821.

The New York-based World Monuments Fund also has a watch list of at-risk sites, with a large grant from American Express for preservation efforts.  The Legation Pavilion might qualify, if enough readers contact WMF.

Palo Alto, California is home to the Global Heritage Fund, working on behalf of UNESCO's World Heritage List.  There is no shortage of institutions or priority lists.  We just need to get recognition as a step to getting help.

There is a more direct route: contribute to TALIM.  US donors can make their tax-deductible contributions to:

Dr. I. William Zartman, President TALIM

c/o SAIS Johns Hopkins University

1740 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20036-1984

TALIM Secstate's RegisterContribute $25,000 and Dr. Zartman will welcome you to the Ambassador's Club of Donors.  Contribute whatever you can, and everyone who knows this unique piece of American history will be grateful.  As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier this year, the "Legation building in Tangier stands as a testament to the continuity" of the relationship between Morocco and the United States.

So let's keep it standing!

Gerald Loftus

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