Swiss Embassy's Last Fling
Music, Games Fill NW Home That Will Be Razed, Rebuilt
By Dakarai I. Aarons
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 27, 2004; Page C03
This was no ordinary embassy party, but this was no ordinary occasion. There were no tables with linens or waiters walking around with trays of hors d'oeuvres. Instead, there was live music, games and even paint splashing yesterday at the Swiss Embassy residence.
More than 1,000 people -- neighbors, friends, anyone interested -- gathered at the Woodley Park site to help staff members say goodbye to their workplace before it is replaced with a $10 million building.
Children with paintbrushes and foam sponges in hand crisscrossed the upper floor of the embassy, turning the once-white walls into multihued displays. Paint dotted the carpeting and walls throughout the two-story residence.
"Please paint me!" exclaimed a notice written on a wall in one of the reception rooms.
Just outside the embassy's front door, a hopscotch game was drawn on the circular driveway with chalk.
Ambassador Christian Blickenstorfer and his wife, Susanne, said they wanted the public to join them in their last day in the residence for an event entire families could enjoy. The embassy invites the public to more than 90 percent of its cultural events, but this was a bit different.
Tom Berry brought his son Kelton, 5, to paint the walls and have a good time, and he was looking forward to some Swiss sausages.
"This is well-organized and wonderful for the kids," he said as Kelton painted window panes bright yellow.
The tables, chairs and other adornments were gone. Instead, the walls were covered with drawings of suns and flowers and other things. From the largest room's doors opening out to the garden, the Washington Monument could be seen in the distance.
"We wanted to have a special event that [was an] out-of-the-usual use of the house," embassy spokesman Alex Biscaro said. "We wanted to seize this opportunity to open the house to neighbors and families," he said.
Susanne Blickenstorfer said she would miss the home's coziness but hoped that the new home would provide that same environment. "It suits our Swiss character," she said.
She said she looked forward to going through the house one last time to see all the designs guests had painted: "We will have a beautiful souvenir for the last day."
Said James Fitzpatrick of McLean: "I think it's a fantastic idea. I like the connection between art and the people."
A diverse group of visitors roamed the two-story building, which features several meeting rooms on the lower level, a spiraling wooden staircase and an expansive kitchen that fills much of the first floor's east side.
The embassy, at 2920 Cathedral Ave. NW, was built in 1926 and designed to last about 50 years, Biscaro said. Embassy officials wanted to renovate it, but an architectural analysis indicated that a new structure was the best course, he said.
The building will be razed next month and a new embassy built on the same spot, with the anticipated opening in fall 2005.
Swiss and U.S. architects will create a cross-shaped complex that will be slightly larger than the current residence's footprint but will provide 30 percent more space inside to accommodate the more than 400 receptions the embassy holds annually, Biscaro said.
In holding yesterday's event, embassy officials said they hoped that people would have fun and learn something about Swiss culture. As well as tasting a variety of food -- which in addition to sausages included seven varieties of Swiss cookies and two types of Swiss bread -- visitors participated in a Swiss trivia quiz. The first prize was two round-trip business-class tickets to Switzerland; the second-prize winner received a private dinner with the Blickenstorfers.
Viviana Mills, who lives behind the embassy, came to check out the plans for the new building and the surrounding gardens.
Her stepdaughter Michelle said she thought that the building plan looked nice and that the family would probably paint with her 3-year-old brother.
"We thought it would be fun," she said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company