The White House Preservation Fund's controversial public quest for $24.5 million is being temporarily shelved until after the November elections. Edward Stone, the fund's executive director, said the group's meeting, which had been scheduled for last month, was canceled "simply because we couldn't get a quorum. By November we hope to bring the membership to its full 35." Each member is expected either to contribute or raise $250,000 to retain a place on the board--a figure that raised some eyebrows when it was disclosed.

But how things play in Peoria doesn't seem to be a concern of a new foundation set to raise upwards of a half-million dollars from tax-deductible contributions to refurbish the U.S. Embassy's chancery and permanent residence in Rome.

The guiding light behind the Villa Taverna Foundation, which is being launched tomorrow at a State Department reception, is a dynamic New Yorker, Iris G. Rossi, who with her husband, Raymond W. Rossi III of Pizza Hut money, recently bought an apartment in Georgetown where they'll live part-time.

The Rossis discovered Villa Taverna, the official residence of America's ambassadors, when they were entertained there last summer by Ambassador Maxwell Rabb and his wife, Ruth. After Ruth Rabb took her guests on a tour, Iris Rossi realized just how many things the 17-room villa needed--things like "little statuary, ashtrays, some extra chairs, a silver tea set, sofas, new upholstery on the dining room chairs, damask for the walls, exterior paint," and so on.

"I just said 'naughty, naughty, we've got to do something about this,' " Rossi remembers telling her hostess.

First mentioned in papal decrees in the 10th century, the villa actually dates back to 598 A.D., according to Iris Rossi, who has become something of an expert on the subject. Located in a seven-acre park near Rome's ancient walls, the villa's other lives have been as a monastery, a seminary, a home of Roman nobility and a World War II hospital.

"It is just darling. If you're a little princess growing up to be a big princess, that's where you would like to live," says Rossi, who decided to do something about its deficiencies though she is prohibited by Italian law from making structural renovations.

She found a sympathetic ear at the State Department, which has funds to manage and staff U.S. embassies abroad, according to Richard T. Kennedy, under secretary for management, in a statement prepared for him and released by the Villa Taverna Foundation, but "virtually" none at all for restoration or refurbishing its buildings or their contents. But a state department official said last night while that was a slightly exaggerated assessment, "obviously there is a much greater demand for [appropriated] funds for government buildings overseas than there are funds for this kind of project."

According to the foundation's statement, Kennedy calls the project "most important to the perception of the United States in other countries" since it will serve as a pilot for similar projects involving other U.S. embassy properties abroad.

Among the members of Iris Rossi's board of directors and advisory board will be Carol Laxalt, wife of Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.); Walter Mondale; oil magnate Baron Enrico di Portanova; and former U.S. ambassadors to Italy John Volpe and Clare Boothe Luce.

"If it works," says Rossi enthusiastically, "we are going to help our other embassies."