The U. S. Am­bas­sador’s Res­i­dence: A Brief His­tory

Thai-American Business (T-AB) Magazine - - Contents - Writ­ten by: Paul C. Jor­gensen

To ap­pre­ci­ate the United States Am­bas­sador’s res­i­dence in Bangkok, with its grace­ful ar­chi­tec­ture and lush grounds, one needs to un­der­stand the peo­ple and events that trans­formed a rice field dis­tant from the old city to the wel­com­ing home of to­day.


By the late 1800s, the area east of Rat­tanakosin was filled with ver­dant rice fields, in­ter­laced with large and small kh­longs and dot­ted by small, scat­tered farms. English­man Franklin Hurst pro­posed to the royal fam­ily an un­likely ad­di­tion to the Bangkok coun­try­side: a club with a horse rac­ing track and a sports field. King Rama V granted a char­ter to the club in 1901, stip­u­lat­ing the name that it still bears to­day, the Royal Bangkok Sports Club ( RBSC). Mean­while Sino- Thai en­trepreneur Lert Sreshtha­pu­tra, also known as Nai Lert, en­vi­sioned the miles of fields as res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods. To en­hance the at­trac­tive­ness of these tracts, he im­ported from Brazil and planted hun­dreds of al­biza sa­man trees, giv­ing the neigh­bor­hood a look un­like any other in the city. Dr. Alphonse Poix, a French doc­tor who acted as royal physi­cian to King Rama V, shared Nai Lert’s vi­sion and erected a stately house on a large piece of land. To­day it is now the home of the Nether­lands Am­bas­sador.

Per­son­i­fy­ing Bangkok’s boom growth was English en­gi­neer Ho­ra­tio Vic­tor Bai­ley. By 1913, Bai­ley was a well- con­nected Bangkokian, hav­ing worked for Bangkok Dock Com­pany and later as En­gi­neer- InChief to the Royal Mint De­part­ment. Bai­ley then founded his own engi­neer­ing con­sul­tancy and an im­port com­pany. As an RBSC trustee and avid horse­man, Bai­ley was drawn to land­scape sur­round­ing the RSBC. Bai­ley chose a 250 square yard plot near the Poix es­tate, a place that would af­ford him am­ple space to raise horses, and be­gan dig­ging a ring canal and de­sign­ing his own house.


Bai­ley sited his house at the back third of the prop­erty, in view of but at a dis­crete dis­tance from the dirt road that in­evitably would be de­vel­oped some­day. Walk­ing on a path from the front drive south of the house, Bai­ley’s prom­i­nent bathing sala would come into view, and ad­ja­cent to it, Bai­ley widened and deep­ened the west­ern and south­ern bor­der canals to form a large, square bathing pond.

For the main house ar­chi­tec­ture, Bai­ley chose a play­ful com­bi­na­tion of Euro­pean colonial, re­strained gin­ger­bread and trop­i­cal Malaysian de­signs, har­mo­nized with Si­amese ar­chi­tec­ture’s el­e­gance, in­tri­cacy and neat­ness. His de­sign was con­sis­tent with sev­eral other houses built in Bangkok at the time.

The house was built on strong wooden stilts, with liv­ing ar­eas above the ground in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the an­nual rainy sea­son flood­ing. The house boasted eaves that ex­tended far from the ex­te­rior walls, giv­ing the home pro­tec­tion from Bangkok’s am­ple sun and rain. Be­neath the eaves was an ex­te­rior gallery with teak floor­ing that en­cir­cled the house, en­closed only with rail­ings. Bai­ley de­signed a ve­randa to in­ter­sect with the gallery around the house and gave the room char­ac­ter with ceil­ing fans, teak floor­ing and shut­ter open­ings topped by an ar­cade of “bro­ken” arches. A close look at the false cor­bel, or wooden base, of each of these arches re­vealed Bai­ley’s whim­si­cal side: gar­goyle- like carved hu­man faces, fac­ing in­ward, with both Euro­pean and Asian fea­tures.

Con­tin­ued pros­per­ity for Bai­ley seemed guar­an­teed, but on a solo trip to New York at the age of 40, Bai­ley died. The cir­cum­stances of his death were as un­clear and mys­te­ri­ous as the dis­po­si­tion of his es­tate: he left no funds to his fam­ily. By fam­ily ac­counts, Bai­ley’s wid­ows, un­able to main­tain the house or staff or to stop ar­gu­ing about the lack of money, left the prop­erty by 1922.


The so­lic­i­tors leased the Bai­ley prop­erty to the Bel­gian min­is­ter to Siam, Baron de Vil­lenfagne. Af­ter four years, the so­lic­i­tors put the prop­erty up for sale. The prop­erty caught the eye of the Siam Min­istry of

For­eign Af­fairs, who was look­ing for an of­fi­cial res­i­dence for its Amer­i­can ad­vi­sor, Ray­mond B. Stevens. Af­ter six months of ne­go­ti­at­ing, the prop­erty was sold to the Min­istry of Fi­nance for 180,000 ticals ( US$ 5,237 or about $ 71,000 in 2017 money).

Stevens proved to be the first sav­ior of the es­tate, much of which had fallen into dis­re­pair and dis­use by 1927. Stevens over­saw two months of ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tions to the Bai­ley es­tate, trans­form­ing the grounds by re­mov­ing the sta­bles, up­grad­ing ser­vants’ quar­ters, and re­pair­ing the bathing sala and path­ways. In the main house, Stevens up­graded bath­rooms with new sep­tic tanks and flow­ing wa­ter and added a new porch. As a fi­nal mod­ern touch, Stevens in­stalled tele­phones. He lived at the es­tate un­til 1935 when he was suc­ceeded by Fred­er­ick R. Dol­beare. With a war rag­ing in Europe and in­creas­ing ten­sions in South­east Asia, Dol­beare re­signed in 1940, end­ing the role of in­de­pen­dent Amer­i­can ad­vi­sors in ( now) Thai­land, and leav­ing the house un­oc­cu­pied.


In De­cem­ber 1941, Ja­panese troops en­tered Bangkok. Ja­panese troops broke into the es­tate, used the grounds for ma­teriel stor­age and stuffed the build­ings with troops. The main house did not fare well: troops stained the pa­tio tiles with mo­tor oil and scorched the fine teak floor­ing in the main house with their char­coal cook­ing bra­ziers. Ap­par­ently, in re­sponse to short­ages, troops also ripped out all the plumb­ing and elec­tri­cal wiring from the es­tate’s build­ings. By the end of the war, de­part­ing troops left the es­tate strewn with trucks, gun car­riages and tanks, many jut­ting out of the wa­ters of the canals sur­round­ing the es­tate. Like many Bangkok build­ings at the end of the war, the Wire­less es­tate ap­peared be­yond re­pair.


Fol­low­ing the end of the war, ca­reer For­eign Ser­vice Of­fi­cer Ed­win F. Stan­ton was ap­pointed U. S. Min­is­ter to Thai­land. He and his wife, Josephine, moved into the Amer­ica Le­ga­tion quar­ters at 125 South Sathorn Road, which Mrs. Stan­ton quickly found had “no com­fort, no pri­vacy” and no doors to shut be­tween the liv­ing quar­ters and the of­fices be­low.

With State De­part­ment’s au­tho­riza­tion for the Stan­tons to rent a “suit­able res­i­dence,” Mrs. Stan­ton scoured Bangkok and spot­ted the old Bai­ley house. Their ini­tial im­pres­sion was not good: “sag­ging… painted choco­late brown, shut­ters hang­ing pre­car­i­ously; in­deed the whole house listed to one side… the ex­ten­sive gar­den crammed with rusted war junk.” But Mrs. Stan­ton saw prom­ise. Mrs. Stan­ton im­me­di­ately called the Thai Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs, stat­ing that the Stan­tons were will­ing to rent the prop­erty if the Min­istry paid for the re­pairs. The Min­istry agreed. The Crown Prop­erty Bureau ( CPB) drew up a two- year, re­new­able lease dated Jan­uary 1, 1947. This CPB lease, al­though mod­i­fied some­what through the years, re­mains in ef­fect to­day.

Over the next six months, the house’s wiring, plumb­ing and struc­tural in­tegrity were re­stored. Floors were resur­faced and walls painted, en­hanc­ing the orig­i­nal el­e­ments of the house de­sign. The gallery sur­round­ing the house was en­closed, giv­ing the Stan­ton’s ad­di­tional liv­ing space.

The Stan­tons moved in and fell in love with 108 Wire­less. By April 1947, the Amer­i­can Le­ga­tion was up­graded to a full Em­bassy and Min­is­ter Stan­ton be­came Am­bas­sador Ex­tra­or­di­nary and Plenipo­ten­tiary Stan­ton. 108 Wire­less be­came the Chief of Mis­sion’s Res­i­dence, or the CMR.


To­day, the CMR is main­tained con­tin­u­ously by the Am­bas­sador, by the Am­bas­sador’s fam­ily and by ded­i­cated Em­bassy staff. In ad­di­tion to daily main­te­nance, the CMR reg­u­larly re­ceives fresh paint, new floor fin­ishes and me­chan­i­cal re­pairs. The heavy, dark in­te­rior walls and blue gallery have been bright­ened with white paints to match the still stylish over­head fret­work, giv­ing the in­te­rior a bright airi­ness that de­parts from the orig­i­nal heav­ier, Bri­tish mas­culin­ity. The rich teak floors, which still bounce ever so slightly un­der­foot, have been lov­ingly pre­served. The tiled re­cep­tion area first floor has been com­pletely en­closed with fold­ing glass doors, en­abling the space to be cooled and used for large events in hot­ter months.

For its con­tin­u­ing ef­forts and suc­cess to pre­serve the CMR, the Em­bassy was awarded the 1984 Ar­chi­tec­tural Con­ser­va­tion Award by the As­so­ci­a­tion of Si­amese Ar­chi­tects. This care and preser­va­tion also al­lows the CMR to con­tinue as not only as the invit­ing and re­fined home of the United States Am­bas­sador, but as a last­ing re­minder of the peo­ple and events as­so­ci­ated with the home that have shaped Bangkok.

Paul C. Jor­gensen is Prin­ci­pal at the Jor­gensen Law Firm PLLC. He can be con­tacted at: pcj@ jor­gensen­firm. com

The Am­bas­sador’s res­i­dence to­day

The Am­bas­sador’s res­i­dence in the 1960s

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