Casa Italiana Renovation

Renovations Completed Summer 1996

This historic gem of a building was designed by William Kendall of McKim, Mead & White and opened on Columbus Day of 1927. It was paid for by the Italian-American community and much of the labor to build it was donated by the workers, who intended it to showcase Italian high culture as an antidote to the anti-Italian prejudice common at the time. It is now owned by the Italian government and is home of the Italian Academy of Advanced Studies in America.

During the 20's and 30's, this building was one of the major centers of Italian Fascist propaganda in the US, since Mussolini was in charge of the government back home. Political interference in its programs by the Italian government continues to be a vexed point with Columbia.

When the Italian government bought the building itself for $6 million a few years ago, they proposed a radical postmodern gut rehab. Local preservationists felt the proposal, which included a garishly colored outdoor staircase, would mutilate the building.

Thanks to community pressure, plans were changed and the exterior has been left unharmed. The library and theatre inside received sensitive historical restorations. The rest of the interior is in a cutting-edge postmodern style fresh from the ateliers of Milan, producing a startling juxtaposition of old and new suggestive of modern Italian culture. The main inside staircase, however, is an atrocity of glitzy white marble and brass worthy of a Trump Tower bathroom.

The architects for this project were the famous Italo Rota of Milan and Samuel White of Butrick, White & Burtis of New York. Mr. White is the great-grandson of the original White of McKim, Mead & White, the firm that designed Columbia's campus. A news story on Columbia's web site about this renovation.

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