Building the Casa Italiana

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The design and construction of the "Italian House" moved ahead in the early 1920s with effort from Columbia's President, the students, Judge Freschi, the Paterno family, and other philanthropists. The architecture firm responsible for the layout of Columbia's campus—McKim, Mead & White—created an impressive neo-Renaissance design for the Casa Italiana.

The Site

Photograph of the Hotel La Porte on 117th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.

The building that was demolished to make way for the Casa Italiana was the Hotel La Porte, which had a narrow southern façade on 117th Street and a wide western expanse facing the Columbia buildings on Amsterdam Avenue (St. Paul's Chapel and Fayerweather Hall).

The Location

Photograph of Amsterdam Avenue, north from 117th Street, near Columbia University.

In this view northward up Amsterdam Avenue from 117th Street, the Hotel La Porte is at the right edge, with its distinctive round medallions decorating the fifth floor. At the left edge of the photo is Fayerweather Hall.

Building Permit

Original New York City building permit to allow the creation of the Italian "club".

According to the original permit application, the building was planned as a "club" with no one in residence, but the Casa Italiana did eventually have apartments.

William Mitchell Kendall

Portrait sketch of William Mitchell Kendall, the architect of the Casa Italiana.

The architect of the Casa Italiana, William Mitchell Kendall, used limestone cladding all over the Casa, setting it apart from all other buildings on campus except for the imposing Low Library.

Architects McKim, Mead & White

Photograph of McKim, Mead & White, owners of the architectural design firm that built the Casa.

William Mitchell Kendall worked for the prestigious architecture firm of McKim, Mead & White, which created the master plan for Columbia's campus starting in 1894. The trio of founders is seen here.

Architect's Sketch

Architect William Mitchell Kendall's original sketch of the Casa exterior.

Architect William Mitchell Kendall's plans for the Casa drew upon Columbia's master plan for the Morningside campus.

Laying the Cornerstone

Photograph of the cornerstone ceremony from a distance.

On August 5, 1926, a crowd gathered to observe dignitaries laying the cornerstone of the Casa Italiana. Beyond the construction stretched the long row of houses on 117th Street.


Italian Ambassador Giacomo de Martino with Columbia President Butler at the cornerstone ceremony.

Italian Ambassador Giacomo de Martino (left) gave a speech, as did President Butler (at right, with the silver trowel that was used in Columbia ceremonies over three decades).

Making History


Photograph Judge John J. Freschi poses with a mallet at the cornerstone ceremony for the Casa Italiana at Columbia University.

Judge John J. Freschi handled a mallet during the placing of the cornerstone, which held within it a zinc box with Latin inscriptions and publications about the building's development.

Judge Freschi's Speech

Photograph of the Cornerstone Ceremony, Judge John J. Freschi speaking on the right; Joseph Paterno, the Casa's developer, and President Butler on the left.

As Judge Freschi spoke, developer Joseph Paterno stood with him (at far left, alongside President Butler). Weeks later, Paterno came forward to seek board seats for himself, his brother, and his brother-in-law.