Monday, June 13, 2011

Washington Social Diary

Villa Firenze, home to the Italian ambassador.
by Carol Joynt

On one of the last evenings of spring, with sultry weather that was virtually summer, the gates of Villa Firenze were open to welcome guests for a Washington tradition: the annual “Country Barbecue” that benefits The Children’s Hearing and Speech Center.

Villa Firenze is home to the Italian ambassador. It’s an incredible estate in the Forest Hills neighborhood, with sweeping acres of lush green lawn, a 59-room Tudor mansion, that was assessed at $36 million in 2008. The neighbors include Sen. Jay Rockefeller and his wife, Sharon, and Hillwood, the fabulous museum house that was home to Marjorie Merriweather Post.

You may wonder: How can a country justify such grandeur? For one thing, it’s not uncommon in the nation’s capital. Some of the city’s choicest chunks of real estate belong to other nations. China has an amazing I.M. Pei-designed embassy. The Swedish ambassador has acreage to rival the spread that is Villa Firenze. But here’s the lowdown on the Italian mansion: the Italians didn’t build it. They bought it from the original owners, John and Polly Guggenheim Logan.

Polly Logan was a supporter of The Children’s Hearing and Speech Center and a member of the board. When she held her first fundraiser for the facility the President was Lyndon B. Johnson, who sent over authentic Texas barbecue, and thus a tradition was born. When Italy bought the estate, Guggenheim included in the sale a stipulation that the fundraiser would continue – as a barbecue, on the lawn – and so it has, the only non-state event that happens at Villa Firenze. The food no longer comes from Texas but from Washington’s beloved (and consistently delicious) Rocklands Barbecue and Grilling Company.

The Children's Hearing and Speech Center was founded in 1959 and is part of Children’s Hospital. According to the Center, last year their team of speech-language pathologists and audiologists provided therapy to 13,000 children and families in the Washington area.

The Italian Ambassador, currently Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata, was the evening’s patron. As guests arrived the organizing committee made sure to have an organ grinder and fresh Bellinis on hand, as well as the Eric Felten Jazz Orchestra for after-dinner dancing on a tented dance floor by the swimming pool.
The simple gates belied the splendor beyond when arriving at the Italian ambassador's incredible estate in the northwest section of Washington.
The occasion that opened the gates to Villa Firenze was "A Country Barbecue" to raise funds for The Children's Hearing and Speech Center, which is part of Children's Hospital and which "provides diagnostic and therapy services to over 10,000 children each year, providing them with more than 19,500 appointments yearly."
Adjacent to the large pool a tent was set up to cover tables and dance floor, where after the barbecue the guests danced to the Eric Felten Jazz Orchestra.

The committee members included Christopher Cannova, Charles T. Clark, Sweet and Ben Dupuy, Anderson Grennan, Christopher Jacobs, Charles Kehler, Stuart Prince, Nina Boggs, Katie Leasure, Jill Bruno, Lavinia Pitzer, Lizzy Conroy, Lucile Huber, Blair Sutton, Cameron Knight, Amy Gross, John Polis, Nels Olson, Victor Maddux, Anne Culley Wise, Cristina Richards, Shelley Rodgers, Jake Tarr, Adam Stifel, Honor Ingersoll, Burton C. Gray, Jr., Connor Faught, Natalie Longwell, Frances Stymes, Rawson Hart, Megal Gabriel, Julia Diaz, Jarrett Morrell, Richard Moroscak, Anne Brooks Rudzki.
Carol Joynt's new memoir, Innocent Spouse, can be ordered from Amazon, HERE.