Caretakers sweeping drive in front of existing buildings (Photo: Richard Metler, 1978)
When the project began in 1978, the site was on the outer edge of the city in a transition zone that was suburban and semi-rural.
The site was a former working estate called “Quinta do Pinheiro,” which meant something like Farm or Estate of the Pines. It was a 12-acre former monastery and later estate that occupied the top of a hill, overlooking formal gardens and the city to the south, and a tree-covered slope to the north. The previous owners, the Espírito Santo family, were bankers who left the country during the Portuguese economic revolution in 1974-5. The buildings had fallen into disrepair, and when the U.S. purchased the property only the caretakers remained.
The site was reached via a narrow historic road, the Travessa do Espírito Santo, which meandered up the hill between the walls of other quintas, reaching a gate that gave access to the south-facing gardens in front of the existing buildings.
The majority of the site, however, was behind the existing buildings, on the hillside that sloped gently down to the north, with a dirt farm road winding up through pine and eucalyptus groves. Just outside the north and east sides of the site were large, recent highways which were not connected to the site.
There were four existing buildings: manor house, chapel, stable, and caretaker’s dwelling. The gardens and buildings were historic and very picturesque, but were in various states of serious decay. The chapel had several gravestones in the floor, which remained undisturbed by our project. The caretakers had “squatter’s rights” to their dwelling under Portuguese law.
This description is from the State Department Portugal Embassy website:
“The U.S. Embassy in Lisbon represents an example of the historic Portuguese-American friendship dating back to 1791, when the first American Resident Minister in Portugal was officially appointed.
“Located on the site of the former “Quinta do Pinheiro” (Travessa do Espírito Santo, 8) the building faces the Avenida das Forças Armadas.
“In designing the new building – which was built by the Portuguese construction firm Ilídio Monteiro – the leading American architectural firm Fred Bassetti and Company was particularly careful in keeping the new construction in harmony with the prevailing landscaping of the “Quinta do Pinheiro.” The building’s most striking features are the roof’s eaves which are in the Antiga Portuguesa style and the concrete facades and marble finishings.
“During the first two centuries of its existence, the American Legation, which became an Embassy in 1944, was located in several places including the residence of the Count of Olivais (now the American Ambassador’s official residence), and in the building of the former Superior Colonial School. From 1922 to 1983 it was first located at Rua Santana à Lapa, and later at Avenida Duque de Loulé. The Embassy moved to its present location on July 18, 1983.
“Quinta do Pinheiro”
“The existing buildings on the property date back to the XVII century and were used as a monastery before being acquired by the Dukes of Cadaval in the early XVIII century. The tiles in the chapel- which were transferred to the Chancery's main entrance- date from the XVIII century and are still well preserved. The buildings were partially destroyed by the 1755 earthquake and remained in that condition for almost a century. Nonetheless, the Quinta do Pinheiro was the stage for the first performance of Almeida Garrett's play Frei Luís de Sousa on the 4th of July, 1843. At the time the name "little theater" appeared in many documents and literary works to describe the property. In 1850 the estate was purchased and partially restored by Jorge O'Neil. Hans Christian Andersen, who spent some time with the O'Neils, described the manor house as a "low two-storied building, charming, if somewhat decadent.
“The Espírito Santo Silva family purchased the estate in 1910 and had it thoroughly restored. A third story was added to the main house, the ceilings and the floors of which were decorated with Brazilian wood, especially purchased for this purpose.”