Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
The Italian embassy held its first big party at Firenze House Wednesday night, and several hundred Italians. Italian-Americans and first-administration Washingtonians who attended seemed to think that "Firenze" referred to some city in Italy.
There were also about a hundred real Washingtonians there - the kind who still call the Soviet embassy "the Pullman mansion," even if some czar in a previous Russian government did buy it away from the sleeping car family - who knew that "Firenze" was a cute way of referring to Florence Guggenheim.
Firenze House, a 22-acre estate in the middle of Rock Creek Park, was the main attraction at the reception given by Italian Ambassador and Mrs. Roberto Gaja. It's true that everyone wanted to shake hands with the Italian prime minister, Giulio Andreotti, who was th guest of honor; and that an awful lot of people grabbed Vice President Mondale and then asked to have their pictures taken.
But Andreotti has been seen around official Washingotn before, and so has Mondale, while the inside of Firenze House hasn't been seen by more than a few people since the Italians bought it from Polly Logan, whose previous husband was Florence's son.
The Gajas only moved in a few weeks ago. They gave a barbecue on the grounds for the Children's Hearing and Speech Center, and a lot of noses were pressed against the window then. But no one was allowed inside to see what changes had been made in that great Tudorish house.
So there was some close inspection work being done by those guests who also dated from the parties and dances of the Logan and/or Guggenheim eras.
The Italians seemed to prefer to have their own paintings on the wall in place of the ones Polly Logan had painted herself and hung there. (A guest who had followed the Italians more closely might have noted that the picture got a good cleaning since they used to hang up high in the 16th Street embassy, where no one could see them very well, anyway, so they didn't have to be so clean.)
Someone noticed the absence of the late Col. Guggenheim's collection of glass paperweights, and someone else noted that the bird he had taught to make rude noises wasn't there, either.
Mrs. Gaja said she had been working steadily on the place since March, and never had time to swim in the pool until 6p.m. She had had the house air-conditioned and painted and had bought and reupholstered the Logan's dining room furniture, she said, but otherwise just moved everything over from 16th Street. "All I had to buy was three sofas and four armchairs," she said.
The plan is to build a chancery somewhere on the grounds "where it can't be seen from the residence," said one person who will work there, and move everybody out of 16th Street, where they have subdivided the living quarters and dining room for office space.
It was Andreotti's government who voted the $4.5 million to buy the estate,a nd an additional sum to fix it up. More funds, possibly $2 million, will be required to build the chancery.
"I don't know if we'll ever dare ask for money to fix up the swimming pool, which is old and looks murky," said a diplomat who preferred not to be named. "Governments don't like to vote money for swimming pools."
"I'd like to fix the organ for concerts," said Mrs. Gaja, waving at a great set of pipes overhead in the balcony above the receiving line. "But I don't know if we can get money for something like that."