Historical Background of the Consulate General in Amsterdam

For more than 200 years the bonds between the United States and The Netherlands have remained strong. Our diplomatic ties constitute one of the longest unbroken diplomatic relationships with any foreign country.

In 1782, John Adams, later to become second President of the United States, was America’s first Minister Plenipotentiary to Holland. In the same year came formal recognition by The Netherlands of the United States as a separate and independent nation, along with badly needed financial help that indicated faith in its future.

These loans from Friesland and the United Provinces, which have been called “The Marshall Plan in Reverse” were the first the new government received.

According to the available records the first consular officer representing the United States of America in The Netherlands was one Sylvanus Bourne, who was given a commission on the 29th day of May, 1794. In 1796, Mr. Bourne was appointed Consul General of the U.S.A. and the Consulate General was located in Amsterdam. At the same time a Jan Beeldermaker was appointed Consul of the United States of America in Rotterdam. On January 2, 1798, the National Assembly of the Batavian Republic as The Netherlands were known at the time, acknowledged Mr. Bourne as Consul General and Mr. Beeldermaker as Consul of the United States of America. Consul General Bourne performed the duties of his office for nineteen years. He died in Amsterdam on April 25, 1817. Once only, in 1802, was he absent from his post, during which his place was taken by Herman H. Damen as consular agent. Jan Beeldermaker, the Consul assigned to Rotterdam died on October 12, 1799, and no mention is made of a Consulate in Rotterdam again until 1804, when one Lawson Alexander was given the appointment as Consul at Rotterdam, Netherlands. From 1821, until after the civil war the United States had consular representatives also in Dordrecht, Harlingen, Den Helder and Zierikzee, all major ports in those days.

Keizersgracht 473-479

Keizersgracht 473-479, Amsterdam, Consulate General of the United States, 1927-1941

In March 1927, a lease, starting May 1, was signed by Consul Carl O. Spamer for the American Consulate General to be established at the  ‘Bel-Etage’ (first floor) of the premises Keizersgracht 473-479, Amsterdam.  To this day the holes made to hold the the Great Seal of the United States, as shown in the accompanying picture, can still be seen in the building on the Keizersgracht.

Important events in the consular district were duly recorded there in a hefty ledger, by hand, in pen and ink.  For instance the arrival of the first mail flight from the Dutch East Indies, January 22, 1929. The completion of the dike from North Holland to Friesland (Afsluitdijk), May 28, 1932, and the Ministerial Decree of August 29, 1934, meant to simplify the Netherlands language (spelling Marchant). That same year the Government of the Netherlands requested that the use of the adjective “Dutch” would be discontinued as it caused too much confusion with “Deutsch” (German in German).

In 1935, the Dutch National Socialist Movement (N.S.B.) and the Dutch Communist Party gained 44 seats in the election for the provincial councils and in September, the engagement of Princess Juliana with Prince Bernhard was duly noted as was the World Jamboree of Boy Scouts in 1937, where 800 Boy Scouts from the United States attended. In August 1938, Mr. Summer Welles, Under-Secretary of State, visited the Consulate and talked for a few minutes with Consul General Frank C. Lee.  Mr. Welles was on a five day visit to The Netherlands and stayed, in style, at the Amstel Hotel. U.S. Foreign Service Inspector O. Warren arrived in December that same year and paid special attention to the handling of refugee cases resulting from the political action of Germany. His next inspection would be in Cologne, Germany.

Then there’s the entry of May 10, 1940:
“Following a three day period of great tension, the German Government declared war on the Netherlands and the subsequent military operations against this country began at about 3 a.m. on the morning of Friday, May 10, 1940. The first obvious activity was by air.”
The last entries up to June 1, 1940, are on the American Consulate General in Amsterdam taking up representing the French and Belgian interests as Germany also had declared war on those countries. (Germany did not declare war on the United States until December 11, 1941).

Since the closure of the Consulate in Rotterdam in 1986, the only U.S. Consulate in The Netherlands is in Amsterdam.

More information on U.S. diplomats who served in Amsterdam, and elsewhere in The Netherlands, can be found at: http://politicalgraveyard.com/geo/ZZ/NL.html#CONSUL .

Museumplein 19 in about 1918.

Museumplein #19, in around 1918

The lot now known as Museumplein 19 was sold to Mr. Willem Frederik van Heukelom in 1912.  Mr. Van Heukelom, very successful in the trade with the then Dutch East Indies, had commissioned architects Th.G. Schill and D.H. Haverkamp to design and build a home for “one family”.  It was a spacious home for his family and personnel with a main entrance and service entrance, lobby, billiard room, sitting room, kitchen and pantry, laundry room, salon, living room, play room, dining room and servants room on the first and second floors alone. The mansion also had to house the Mr. Van Heukelom’s extensive collection of Chinese porcelain, the most valuable collection in The Netherlands, beautifully displayed in glass showcases. Mr. Van Heukelom had architect Johan Adam Pool (pronounced Pohl), (1872-1948), design the interior of his house. Architect Pool worked for the prestigious furniture firm Onder Den Sint Maarten of Haarlem, The Netherlands. So the house was lavishly furnished with Chippendale style furniture, lush curtains and carpets and all the modern comforts available at the time. Back in 1916, the interior was considered a sample of “modern Dutch interior” and as such warranted a publication published by the Onder De Sint Maarten firm, written, of course, by architect Pool.

Click here to get a PDF presentation on what the interior of the consular building looked like at that time. (PDF 3.4 MB)

Mr. Van Heukelom passed away February 24, 1937, age 78, and his widow, Mrs. Catharina Digna Peereboom Voller, was quick to auction off the porcelain collection at Sotheby Auctioneers in London, Great Britain, in June of 1937. She sold the property on the Museumplein to the German government in January 1938. In April 1938, the new owners obtained permission to use this former residence as the German Consulate General.

During World War II the Nazis commissioned Dr. Arthur Seys-Inquart as Reichskommissar for Occupied Holland.  May 26, 1941, his deputy for Amsterdam, Dr. Hans Böhmker, took up office in the German Consulate, indeed at nr. 19 Museumplein, the very building you may be about to visit for your American passport or American visa. The German army and police headquarters were housed in the adjacent buildings. Early in the war, in front of their occupied offices the Nazi authorities held frequent rallies on the Museumplein.  But in the spring of 1943, when the war was not going too well for the Germans, and bombers heading for Germany were flying over almost every day and night, the area was fortified and turned into ‘Sperrgebiet’, off limits to ordinary citizens.  It is perhaps hard to imagine today but slit trenches were dug and barbed wire and road blocks went up on the Museumplein, guarded by armed German soldiers.  Directly in front of the Consulate four concrete air raid shelters were built and covered with earth. These bunkers remained there until they were demolished in January 1953.

Having lost World War II the Nazis had to abandon the building in 1945.  It was taken over by the Dutch Committee for Former German Property, which rented it out to the U.S. Government. August 1, 1945, possession was taken of the building by Consul Albert M. Doyle, who on July 2, 1945, had reestablished consular operations in Amsterdam, in a temporary office at the Stadionweg.

On his way to Amsterdam Consul General Doyle picked up a Nash 1942 Sedan, from the American Embassy in Brussels, Belgium. Consul General Doyle was not new to Amsterdam. He had been serving in Amsterdam before, as Vice Consul and Consul from 1922, to 1926, when he proceeded to Rotterdam.

Now imagine an Amsterdam in 1945, with no street lights, no street cars or other public transport, no operating stores, except a few food shops with very limited supplies. There was no gas, no electricity, except a very limited amount for official buildings. This situation improved but very slowly as Consular officer Mary Seymour Olmsted, who served in Amsterdam from 1946 to 1949, remembered: “In some ways it was depressing. There was real suffering there (in The Netherlands) and we got little tastes of it. Our Consulate General building was taken over from the Germans—it had been the German headquarters in Amsterdam—and it was quite cold, and our local employees would come to work and you saw they were just shivering, and every time the wind changed half of them would be out with colds or the flu. In a small office like that, you get to know the locals pretty well, and we felt their suffering and that did have an impact on us.”

The Consulate in Amsterdam was lucky as it received supplies of food, coal and other necessities from the U.S. Army Quartermaster in Antwerp, Belgium. The Canadian Army, that used Amsterdam as a leave center for soldiers waiting for transport back to Canada, supplied oil and gasoline until it left in January 1946.

On September 6, 1945 the first notarials were provided, and the first visas issued in the new Museumplein premises. After having rented the building from the Dutch Committee for Former German Property since August 1945, the U.S. Government formally purchased the building on March 19, 1948, when the contract was signed at the American Embassy in The Hague.  It has been in use as American Consulate General continuously ever since.

Historic Structures Report

One of the things we love about Amsterdam is the way Amsterdammers have preserved the historic and cultural identity of the city while still making sure that it’s an innovative, modern and interesting place to work. Here at the Consulate on the Museumplein, which we have called home since 1945, we are committed to do the same.

Therefore we commissioned a Amsterdam Historic Structures Report (PDF 9 MB). The report we presented November 14 2014 guides our planning as we engage in historic maintenance projects and other improvements and contains some fascinating and compelling facts, photographs and descriptions.


Below you find the our 10 day campaign illustrating tantalizing tidbit of this great building. You can now find the Historic Structures Report right here (PDF).

Day 1: The Door

Facing the Museumplein, the wood double doors and fanlight provided a suitably elegant first impression for visitors to the Van Heukelom home. Framed by a classically-inspired sandstone lintel and brackets, the entrance portico offers shelter from the elements for guests. The doors are scheduled for refurbishment as part of the Consulate General’s historic restoration work.

Day 2: Stairwell

The interior of the former Van Heukelom home is richly adorned with carved wooden architectural elements. One of the most elegant is this floral motif panel on the stairwell landing between the first and second floors. The post at the base of the stairs echoes the floral design. Overlooking the foyer where visitors were welcomed, the stairwell and stained glass window on the landing underscored the family’s wealth.

Day 3: Marble

Next to the woodwork, another indication of the van Heukelom family’s prosperity is the extensive use of marble. The foyer floor is made of marble, as is the wainscoting and the magnificent columns and lintel that frame the staircase. Other uses of marble include the family’s dining room and living room fireplaces on the second floor.

Day 4: A Painting in Glass

A stained glass version of Jacob van Ruisdael’s 1670 painting De Molen bij Wijk bij Duurstede (The Windmill at Wijk bij Duurstede) is the centerpiece of the stained glass window lighting the stairwell to the third floor. The three panels are framed in gold, with decorative elements at the top and bottom, while the center portion is clear glass, allowing maximum natural light. The stained glass manufacturer is unknown. Van Ruisdael’s painting can be seen at the Rijksmuseum, just steps away from the Consulate General.

Day 5: What’s that knocker doing there?

One of the two public spaces on the second floor, the family dining room now serves as the Consul General’s office. A magnificent wood and pink marble fireplace with carved wood festoons on the overmantel, flanked by glass-fronted wooden bookshelves, fills the west wall. On the east end, sliding glass-paneled doors, topped by stained glass panels, open onto a small conservatory. The original wood parquet floor is scheduled for a complete restoration.

Day 6: The Menagerie

From our lion’s head stone support brackets, to wood carvings of fish in the foyer door frame, to the caged bird and other animals in the kitchen tiles, animals are well-represented around the Consulate building. We’re particularly fond of the “grotesque” guarding the mail slot next to the main entrance doors

Day 7: The Waiting Room Fireplace

Familiar to all visa applicants, the fireplace in the van Heukelom family’s former sitting room features a wooden mantle, stone columns and painted tiles. The Dutch Renaissance-style figures carved into the mantle keep a stern eye on visitors, while the windmills, castles, rivers and boats of the tiles introduce a pastoral element into the otherwise formal space. A decorative metal screen covers the firebox.

Day 8: Delft Blue

An upper class Dutch home of the early 20th Century would hardly be complete without use of Delfts Blauw (Delft Blue) tiles. In the van Heukelom residence the most prominent usage of Delfts Blauw is on the kitchen fireplace, now part of the Citizen Services waiting room. The fireplace is flanked with columns filled with exotic birds and plants and topped with roundels of pastoral scenes. The caged yellow birds on the rear of the fireplace (see day 6) add a splash of color.

Day 9: That’s our number

Little remains of the original perimeter fence at Number 19. Like other residences on the Museumplein, it had a masonry base and iron fencing, in this case vertical pickets topped with spikes and adorned with decorative scrollwork. In addition to supporting the twin-leaves of the arched iron gate, the brick and stone piers also displayed the home’s address engraved in the stone.

Day 10: The Roof

Little-noticed, but evidence of the attention to detail lavished on luxury homes of this era, is the woodwork on the eaves and dormer windows. Dentils and carved brackets support the eaves which are, in turn, topped by the dormers and slate hipped roof. The front of the building features, of course, a gable, this one with a rounded top.

In November 2014, as part of our Historic Structures Report roll-out,  we introduced several of the most interesting and significant architectural elements of the Consulate General (see above), including our original Delfts Blauw tiles and beautiful woodwork. Today we are proud to announce that we have put the Historic Structures Report to good use!

We have refurbished our consular waiting rooms, the Van Heukelom family’s former billiard room and kitchen, restoring and cleaning all of the original woodwork, repairing and painting the walls, and installing new carpeting, energy efficient lighting, and new heating and cooling systems.  Our goal was to create a comfortable and attractive space for our visitors while honoring the historic nature of our historic building, a Dutch Rijksmonument. We thank all of our visitors for their patience during the construction work.

We used the Historic Structures Report to guide our efforts. It helped us chose appropriate finishes, select the decorations and respect the original style of the building whenever possible. We’d like to point out a few things that stand out.

The wooden ceiling of the visa waiting room is a gem; however, over the years, it became been cluttered with modern light fixtures, cables and other distracting elements. That is why we started by removing all the cables and lighting so that the ceiling could be seen as it was meant to be seen. We also made some repairs of the ceiling and gave it a thorough cleaning.

Less visible are the sliding wooden panels that serve as interior shutters for the waiting room windows. The panels are decorated in the same style with the other wooden elements of the room so they blended in flawlessly.

As anyone who has done a home remodeling project knows, construction work often bring surprises. In this case, we had a very welcome surprise: a Delfts Blauw tile tableau of a field being plowed. This charming image was previously hidden behind a wall panel in the American Citizen Services waiting room. We’ve left it uncovered and now you can see it above our newly-installed water fountain; we hope to do some restoration work on the tiles themselves in the near future.

For more information, please see the Historic Structures Report available right here! (PDF 9.408KB / 9MB)