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Ambassador's Palace

Ambassador's Palace

GRHC - October 31st, 2012

Ambassador Thomas J. O"Brien servered in Denmark, Japan, and Rome where the position of the United States required he find a proper residence.


Thomas J. O’Brien, a prominent attorney, had been a resident of Grand Rapids since he married Delia Howard in the mid-1870s. His beautiful home still stands today, at 28 N. Lafayette.

Appointed ambassador to Denmark in 1905 by President Theodore Roosevelt, O’Brien served there for two years; in 1907 Roosevelt appointed him ambassador to Japan where he served for four years; finally, President William Howard Taft sent him to Italy where he remained until 1913.

In Rome the ambassador of a great country could hardly live in a modern house or villa without losing some prestige. The French Ambassador occupied the Palazzo Farnese, a national monument. The Japanese Ambassador lived in the historic Palazzo Altiere, erected in 1670.

Ambassador O’Brien, understood that the position of the United States required that he find a proper residence, which for a time seemed impossible. Eventually a contract was signed for elegant apartments in the Palazzo Barberini, a beautiful Renaissance structure, begun by the great architect Maderna in 1624, and finished by Bernini, whose works are everywhere in Rome. O’Brien also transferred the American Embassy to the palace, which was surrounded by one of the most magnificent gardens in the city.

At the end of his tour in Rome he left government service and returned to Grand Rapids where he resumed his successful law practice.

Thomas O’Brien died in 1933 and is buried with his wife, Delia, in Oakhill Cemetery.

Full Details

TitleAmbassador's Palace
KeywordsWYCE; radio; Grand Rapids; Historical Commission; history; Thomas J. Obrien; ambassador; Rome
Pubdate StringOctober 31st, 2012

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