State Dept. expands tour of its home Sights: Tourists can see diplomatic reception rooms, a 'bugged' brick and more.

February 23, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

With all the monuments, museums and official buildings to see in Washington, the State Department has rarely rated as a tourist destination.

Even the tours of its diplomatic reception rooms -- architectural, decorative and artistic gems in an otherwise drab behemoth of a building -- are lesser known.

The department hopes to change that and, perhaps, burnish its image along the way.

The building is in Foggy Bottom only a block north of the Mall, near the Lincoln Memorial.

The expanded tour still begins with the rarefied reception rooms on the eighth floor, but now adds stops on the first floor, including the main lobby, dominated by the flags of the 180 nations with which the United States has diplomatic relations. From there it is possible to see the Expanding Universe Fountain, a colossal bronze sculpture by Marshall M. Fredericks that stands, newly refurbished, in one of two inner courtyards.

Artifacts on exhibit

The centerpiece of the tour is a new exhibition hall devoted to the history of American diplomacy. The hall, assembled on a shoestring budget while officials think of ways to raise donations for improvements, has a makeshift feel, but it also has an array of artifacts. There are two yellowed books on diplomacy, in French, signed by the nation's first secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson; a "bugged" brick discovered in the American Embassy in Moscow in 1965; and the cabinet in which the Great Seal of the United States is still pressed (sometimes in mid-tour) on official documents.

The free tours are given three times a day, Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. Reservations must be made in advance because of security concerns. Visitors must provide date of birth, Social Security number and photo identification. The number for tours is (202) 647-3241.

Pub Date: 2/23/97

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