What did Larz Anderson have in common with Marjorie Merriweather Post?

Vaulted ceiling in the oval reception room of Palais d’Assche in Brussels. (Photo by Skip Moskey.)

When Larz Anderson was appointed American Minister to Belgium in August, 1911, his first thought was: where would he and Isabel live in Brussels? He was a bit of a snob when it came to domestic architecture, and had very well-formed opinions of what constituted an appropriate residence for an American diplomat.  Within days of his appointment, he was on his way to Belgium to find quarters for his legation.  In those days, the chief of an American diplomatic mission was responsible for finding the building that would house him, his family, and his staff, and pay for it out of his own salary.

Palais d’Assche, 33 rue de la Science, Brussels (1912).

He knew of one address in Brussels that, sight unseen, he had already set his heart on: 33 rue de la Science, the Palais d’Assche that from 1901-1909 had been a royal residence. Prince Albert and Princess Elisabeth, the future sovereigns of Belgium, had lived and started their family there. Its royal pedigree, its exquisite design and size, its French-style interiors, and its stables and garage suited Larz perfectly.

However, the owner of the d’Assche, the Marquis d’Assche, had decided that he wished to once again occupy his own home, now that it was finally free of its royal tenants. No other available property in Brussels could meet his standards, and so Larz was resigned to the unhappy fact that he would have to take over the shabby residence at 44 avenue des Arts that his predecessor, Charles Page Bryan (1856-1918), had occupied.

American Legation, Brussels, 44 avenue des Arts (1909-1911)

From an architectural point of view, Bryan’s legation reminded Larz of the Villa de Renzi in Rome that his mother had rented in 1894-95, but its infrastructure was deficient.  It was small and needed another bathroom, a new furnace, and other amenities that he would have to install at his own expense. “Frankly, I had hoped for a Piombino,” Larz wrote in his diary, referring to the massive and prestigious Palazzo Piombino on the Piazza Colonna in Rome, now the American Embassy.

Palazzo Margherita/U.S. Embassy, Rome.  During Larz’s time in Rome, this palazzo was known as the Piombino.

On his Atlantic crossing back to New York, Larz received a radiogram from the marquis agreeing to give the Andersons a two-year lease on the Palais d’Assche, on the condition that Larz make extensive improvements to both the infrastructure and the decoration of the interiors.  In the end, Larz would spend over $200,000 ($5 million today) to make these improvements.  As you will read in the Andersons’ biography, they lived in the Palais d’Assche for less than ten months!  The palace would later serve again as an American diplomatic post. From 1938–1939 it served as the American Embassy under Joseph E. Davies, who is perhaps best remembered as the husband of Marjorie Merriweather Post, one of the grande dames of early 20th century American society.

Here is some interior photography of the Palais d’Assche as it is today.  It is still a magnificent building, owned and carefully preserved by the Belgian Government.

Fireplace in one of the smaller reception rooms of the Palais d’Assche. On the right, you see evidence of the room’s current use as an office. (Photo by Skip Moskey.)
Detail of the room that Isabel Anderson occupied as her bedroom. It had been the bedroom of Princess Elisabeth (later Queen Elisabeth; 1876-–1965) when she lived in the palace with her husband Prince Albert between 1901–1909. (Photo by Skip Moskey.)
Detail of the silk wall coverings in what was once Isabel Anderson’s bedroom. It is believed that these silks were installed during renovations costing $5 million (in 2017 dollars) that Larz undertook before they took occupancy in November 1911. They actually spent no more than eight months in residence there. (Photo by Skip Moskey.)
A view from the large drawing room into a smaller side room in the Palais d’Assche in Brussels. (Photo by Skip Moskey.)

Author Skip Moskey giving at talk at the Palais d’Assche, January 2014. If you would like a copy of the talk (in French), please contact Skip via Facebook or his website, skipmoskey.com.

For more information about the Andersons’ life in the Palais d’Assche, please read Larz and Isabel Anderson: Wealth and Celebrity in the Gilded Age by Stephen T. Moskey.  Available on Amazon Prime.