Wednesday, February 05, 2014

5609 32nd Street: Proof that every house has a history!

You never know what might be discovered when you are researching an older house in Washington, DC, and we had quite a surprise when we researched one recently in Chevy Chase DC at 5609 32nd Street for the current owners (left).  I think they were surprised as well!  

Construction began in September of 1931, and the house was built for an estimated cost of just $8,000.  It was designed by prolific architect George T. Santmyers.  It was sold to a government accountant named Frank Read.  The Read’s may have been a typical DC homeowner of the era, but it was who they sold the house to, and when, that was the real interesting story – along with their tragic demise.    

They sold the house on June 6, 1963 to Tran Van Chuong, who had resigned as the South Vietnam Ambassador to the United States shortly before the purchase (right).  Trần Văn Chương (c. 1898 — 24 July 1986) was the father of the country's de facto first lady, Madame Nhu (1924-2011). They would own the house for three years. 

He had married Thân Thị Nam Trân, who was a member of the extended Vietnamese royal family (left). Her father was Thân Trọng Huề, who became Vietnam's minister for national education, and her mother was a daughter of Emperor Đồng Khánh. They had a son Trần Văn Khiêm and three daughters, including Lệ Xuân, who became the wife of Ngô Ðình Nhu, the brother of South Vietnam's first President, Ngô Ðình Diệm. 

Chương's family alliances enabled him to rise from being a member of a small law practice in the Cochin-Chinese (South Vietnamese) town of Bạc Liêu in the 1920s to become Vietnam's first Foreign Secretary under his wife's cousin Emperor Bảo Đại, while Japan occupied Vietnam during World War II. 

As stated in the LA Times: “Chuong and his wife were near the center of a movement to create a new Vietnam, free of French rule. Their lives and the lives of their children were always part of the roiling pot that was the politics of Vietnam, forever filled with intrigue."

In 1945, when many believed that the way to independence was through Japanese support, Chuong was vice premier in a short-lived Japanese puppet government. Later that year, when the communist Viet Minh took control of the government, Chuong was arrested. His wife, whom the Viet Minh were willing to leave behind, insisted on going with her husband. 

The couple escaped, taking refuge in the south, and in 1947 they made their way to Paris. When Diem became prime minister in 1954 and then the nation's president, Chuong was named Vietnam's ambassador to the United States. His wife became Vietnam's permanent observer at the United Nations. He eventually became South Vietnam's ambassador to the United States, but resigned in protest in 1963, denouncing his government's anti-Buddhist policies. 

On November 1, 1963, Chuong's son-in-law Ngô Ðình Nhu and Nhu's brother, President Ngô Ðình Diệm were assassinated in a coup d'état led by General Dương Văn Minh. Chuong's daughter, Ngô Ðình Nhu's wife, the rather famous Madame Nhu (1924-2011), was in Beverly Hills, California at the time of the coup. 

Chương and his wife remained in the United States in Washington, D.C.  On July 24, 1986, they were found strangled to death at their home on Western Avenue NW.  Their son Trần Văn Khiêm (left), was accused but found unfit for trial.  The remains of Chương and his wife were interred at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C.  

Copyright Paul K. Williams: Pictures courtesy The Washington Post