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Secretary's Register Honors Culturally Significant

Secretary's Register Honors Culturally Significant Properties

When the U.S. Embassy in Rome began security improvements around the Palazzo Margherita, a 17th-century building it acquired for offices in 1946, workers unearthed ancient artifacts, including imperial lead water pipes from a villa owned by General Sallust, one of Julius Caesar's officers. The embassy hired an Italian archaeologist to record and preserve the artifacts.

In Paris, the Hotel Talleyrand, an outstanding example of 18th-century French architecture that the United States purchased in 1950, has been undergoing a meticulous restoration over the past eight years. Thanks to funds contributed largely by private donors, French painters, gilders, weavers and carvers have been able to restore the interior of the building, which served as the headquarters for the Marshall Plan, an innovative assistance program that helped Europe recover after World War II.

In Seoul, South Korea, a building that was once part of the royal Duksoo Palace was purchased from the royal family in 1888 and carefully preserved and restored. It now serves as the U.S. Embassy's guest house. The Korean people have acknowledged the building, known as the Old American Legation, as a symbol of freedom against aggressors.

In Manila, Philippines, the chancery that hosts the U.S. Embassy not only has been placed on the Secretary's Register but also has been designated a historic property by the National Historical Institute of the Philippines. Its bullet-scarred flagpole has been left unrepaired as a testament to the battles fought on its grounds during World War II.

These four architectural treasures are among 17 properties listed on the Secretary of State's Register of Culturally Significant Property, which is similar to the National Register of Historic Places maintained by the U.S. secretary of the interior.

Other properties on the register include Winfield House in London; Schoenborn Palace in Prague, the Czech Republic; the Old Legation in Tangier, Morocco; the Ambassador's Residence in Tokyo; Palacio Bosch in Buenos Aires, Argentina; the Ambassador's Residence in Hanoi, Vietnam; Villa Otium in Oslo, Norway; the New Delhi Chancery in New Delhi; the American Center in Alexandria, Egypt; the Chancery in Athens, Greece; Truman Hall in Brussels, Belgium; Byne House in Madrid, Spain; and the U.S. Embassy in Tirana, Albania.

In the State Department, a group called the Cultural Resources Committee reviews properties that are nominated each year for the register, which includes chanceries, ambassadorial residences, office buildings, staff apartments, a gardener's house and a guesthouse. The committee also maintains an inventory of significant overseas properties owned or leased by the U.S. government and clarifies protection standards and guidelines.

The State Department manages approximately 180 properties that are significant for their historical, architectural or cultural qualities, according to Kevin Lee Sarring, the State Department's cultural resources architect and secretary of the Cultural Resources Committee.

Nominations for the register sometimes come from U.S. embassies, but also can be initiated by civil servants in Washington and other individuals, Sarring told USINFO.

Listing on the secretary's register not only honors a site, but it also helps the Department of State manage and protect the property, Sarring said. "In terms of competing for scarce maintenance resources, it helps, too," he said.

Whenever bringing a property in line with security standards might have an adverse impact on the elements that make the property culturally significant, the Department of State and the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations follow preservation guidelines -- including guidance issued by the secretary of the interior, the Venice Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites, and the host country's regulations and customs. The aim is to make these properties secure without compromising the qualities that make them significant.

The secretary's register is likely to grow, Sarring said, adding that the working list of nominated properties has reached 180. "We draw from that list to make our recommendations to the secretary," he said.


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