The following Letter to the Editor has just been published in the May issue of the Foreign Service Journal, and after a few "attaboys" from FSJ readers, we're sharing it. Just like 19th century Consuls who wrote to the State Department about the "considerable diplapidation" and "ruinous" condition of the Legation, the response to our repeated warnings about the state of the crumbling Pavilion building must have been sent by clipper ship. We're still waiting.
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To the Editor:
The mail gets to us slowly here in the medina, so I
am only now able to comment on the excellent December 2012 article by
Dr. Jane Loeffler on "Beyond the Fortress Embassy." As the director
since summer 2010 of TALIM, the Tangier American Legation Institute for
Moroccan Studies, I have come to appreciate what Ambassador Barbara
Bodine, quoted in the article, calls "embassies integrated with their
surroundings and culture."
You can't get more integrated than the American Legation, which is
not only nestled in the medina's pedestrian streets, but actually
bestrides "America Street" and is built over that same street. That was
the American way of diplomacy in Morocco from the 1790s to the early
Sixties. The Legation is the only US National Historic Landmark abroad,
by virtue of the its status as the first American diplomatic property, a
gift of the Sultan of Morocco in 1821.
The October 1932 issue of the Foreign Service Journal carried a
story about the then brand new "Moorish Pavilion" annex of the Legation,
which author Honor Bigelow described as "one of the most noteworthy"
American diplomatic buildings of the era. Photos of that same Pavilion
grace OBO publications highlighting the Secretary of State's Register of
Culturally Significant Properties, or the new public-private
partnership, the Fund to Conserve United States Diplomatic Treasures
Abroad. It is a very photogenic building. Until you look close.
More than eighty years after Congress appropriated $22,000 to build
the Pavilion, this diplomatic treasure is at risk. Major structural
fissures, water damage from leaking roofs, rotting wood, etc. threaten
what is a repository of the best that artisans from across the Maghreb
could produce – mashrabiyya screens on the windows, intricately painted wooden ceilings, zellij floor tiles.
As a living embodiment of citizen public diplomacy, the Legation is
also a symbol of America's engagement with the Arab, African, and Muslim
worlds, dating back to the very beginning of our country (Sultan Sidi
Abderrahman recognized "the Americans" as Moroccan partners in December
1777, when George Washington was hunkering down in Valley Forge).
OBO, the Fund to Conserve, and historic preservationists would do
well to band together to "Save the Legation Pavilion," perhaps a
rallying cry for 2013. What could be more important than to save this
example of America's diplomatic heritage – from a time when "fortress
embassy" meant a solid oak door and a deadbolt lock – in such a crucial
region of the world.
Sultan Moulay Suleiman, our benefactor in 1821, would expect nothing less of the United States.