by Andrea Kutsenkow, Archival Consultant, AFS Intercultural Programs

The headquarters of AFS Intercultural Programs, which coordinates and leads the work of our global network, has started calling a new office space at 5 Hanover Sq in New York City home. Although it wasn’t easy for AFS staff to leave their previous office (home since 1996) in walking distance of New York’s iconic Flatiron Building and Madison Square Park, they are already paying homage to AFS’ own rich history in their new home in lower Manhattan. The new office space will contain archival displays, including awards and artifacts that decorated AFS’ various headquarters in the past. 

Read the story of how AFS developed and transformed since our founding through the lens of different locations we called our headquarters.

Starting out as a humanitarian organization in Paris

AFS’ headquarters has moved many times over the years, which is evident through the ever-changing letterhead, logos, rubber stamps, and branded memorabilia within the AFS Archives. AFS has maintained strong ties to the East Coast of the United States, especially New York City, during much of the organization’s existence, although AFS’ activities initially began in France during World War I. 

AFS originated as the Transportation Department of the American Ambulance Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, which was an extension of the nearby American Hospital of Paris. Abram Piatt Andrew drove an ambulance during World War I and created the “American Ambulance Field Service.” The American Ambulance Field Service became a separate entity from the American Hospital in 1916 and established a home base 21 Rue Raynouard in Paris that summer. Beginning in 1917, there was also an office in Chicago, which handled recruitment in the western states.

Use of 21 Rue Raynouard was generously provided by the estate’s heredity owners – La Comtesse de la Villestreux and members of the Hottinguer Family. The location was ideal, and nearly 150 ambulances could be parked on the chateau’s extensive grounds. Views of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower from the terrace were enjoyed by over 2,000 members of the American Field Service who passed through the estate’s doors between 1916 and 1919, when the Paris headquarters closed. Find out more here.

AFS staff in the garden of 21 Rue Raynouard, Paris, circa 1916. Photographer unknown.

Launching the first intercultural exchanges from a new home in New York City

The American Field Service Fellowships for French Universities was a scholarship program founded in December 1919 in order to continue peaceful ties between the United States and France. The program allowed graduate students to travel to and from France for advanced study. Brochures within the AFS Archives indicate this program was supported by offices located at 522 Fifth Avenue and 525 West 120th Street in New York City.

The humanitarian effort transforms into intercultural exchange after WWII

Stephen Galatti, who had served as Assistant General Inspector during World War I, became Director General of AFS in 1936 after Andrew’s death. He reactivated AFS’ ambulance corps in 1939 at the start of the Second World War. Stephen Galatti relied upon his staff at the New York headquarters (which relocated from 120 Broadway to 60 Beaver Street around 1941), local committees, and regional representatives around the country to assist foreign forces overseas.  

Staff at the AFS New York headquarters, circa 1941-1942. Photograph by Edward Ozern.

Following the war, AFS purchased a building at 113 East 30th Street. The space acted as a clubhouse for AFS veterans as well as held offices for the American Field Service International Scholarships (AFSIS) program and acted as a dormitory for students. Galatti maintained a disorderly desk there, one complete with gifts from students, wartime mementos, and correspondence baskets, both “in” and “out.” Galatti penned hundreds of personal letters to corporations and individuals in the space and even kept a large piggy bank on his desk so visitors could contribute their pocket change to AFS’ scholarships. The piggy bank, a reminder of Galatti putting students first, now rests in AFS President and CEO Daniel Obst’s office at AFS International.

Christmas party at the AFS Headquarters at 113 East 30th Street, New York City, December 1950.

Finding a new home and launching AFS Archives

AFS had outgrown the 30th Street office by the end of the 1950s, and the old building, a far cry from the beautiful grounds of Rue Raynouard, wasn’t aging well, with a failing furnace and leaky roof.  Plans for a new space at 313 East 43rd Street, one with adequate office space as well as an international center complete with housing and recreational facilities, were featured in the June 1959 issue of Our Little World, a publication produced for AFS International Scholarship Students since the summer of 1949. AFS staff moved from 113 East 30th Street to 313 East 43rd Street on September 16, 1960. The building was formally dedicated on February 8, 1961.

Between 1985 and 1987, AFS received grant money from the National Historical Publications and Record Commission of the National Archives of the United States to hire professional staff to acquire, organize, persevere, and make accessible archival materials relevant to AFS’ history. By the early 1990s, staff of the “AFS Archives and Museum” were carefully curating exhibitions on the ground floor of AFS Intercultural’s home at 43rd Street. Images of one of their comprehensive exhibitions as well as the reading room they designed for researchers can be found in the August 1992 issue of the AFS Janus, a newsletter that was initially produced by the Archives for drivers and their families.

Stephen Galatti and other AFS staff members outside of 313 East 43rd Street, New York City, undated.

Ready to make history from a new location

In early October 1993, after a long period of negotiations, AFS Intercultural Programs sold the AFS International / AFS-USA headquarters to a non-governmental organization from South East Asia, and both offices moved into the New York Daily News Building, home of the New York Daily News newspaper, at 220 East 42nd Street. The AFS Archives & Museum remained with the AFS International administration. This move occurred during the same year the AFS Partnership structure was established in all national units.

In 1996, AFS Intercultural Programs and AFS-USA move to two new locations in New York City, completing the process of separating the two entities. AFS International administrative staff relocated to 71 West 23rd Street, occupying the 17th floor (where in-house exhibitions continued) before settling on the 6th. The move took place shortly before the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Student Programs in 1997.

For a period in the 2010s, the AFS Archives occupied a separate office at 20 West 22nd Street. Archival collections were donated, stored and cared for in the space, researchers were welcomed, and tours were given. These special collections were relocated to climate-controlled, offsite storage in July 2018, although some materials, especially new acquisitions, remained at 71 West 23rd Street until the move to 5 Hanover Square.

Head Archivist and Historical Publications Editor Nicole Milano leads a tour at 20 West 22nd Street, New York City, in February 2017.

Not only is AFS International’s current home in downtown Manhattan close to the organization’s former headquarters at 60 Beaver Street, but staff have also reunited with AFS-USA colleagues who are only a short walk away at 120 Wall Street. AFS-INT staff fondly remember their roots but are equally excited to create a new chapter in the organization’s history as AFS celebrates 75 years of student exchanges this year.

AFS International staff gathered for a retreat in October 2022