We’ve all felt pangs of disappointment upon first entering Lerner Party Space–instead of the marble floors, shimmering candelabras, and comically large wire dress forms that we thought would come with our admissions letters, we are treated to a turn of the century science fiction film set. To see to it that you are never again hard-pressed for a party venue, senior editor Eliza Shapiro has suggested a few suitable alternatives in this winter’s edition of The Blue and White.
In a previous incarnation, Buell Hall’s Maison Française housed part of the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. It is currently home to two non-working fireplaces, comely crown moldings, and at least three purple orchids. Columbians may also opt for the pristine yet decidedly antique upstairs parlors, which include two smaller rooms for fraternizing. The reading room is equipped with a large, antique walnut table, an antediluvian Foucault clock, and rows of hardbound leather books.
On the evening of Oct. 28, 2009, French and Romance Philology Professor Antoine Compagnon and New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik drew a crowd of at least one hundred guests into the larger downstairs East Gallery for a discussion about the work of Marcel Proust. A reception followed in the upstairs parlors, and gussied-up invitees enjoyed quiche and, in customary Proustian fashion, les petites madeleines.
For the somewhat more propertied Columbian, the Casa Italiana offers the “Teatro,” a grandiose red velvet-lined hall. Crests of stately Italian families line the walls, impressing the party-goer with the Old World charms of the Continent. Floor-to-ceiling French windows, adorned with red velvet curtains, can be opened in the spring and summer seasons, allowing guests to hob-nob atop a small terrace. Although the Casa Italiana was commissioned by His Excellency Benito Mussolini—and, indeed, the money for the building was donated by the man himself—the building offers warm touches that distance it from its uncouth past. Six chandeliers illuminate the Teatro’s gleaming turquoise and gold ceiling. During the New York Opera’s annual ball, the eighteen bulbs of the six chandeliers were affixed with a red lampshade, sheathing the room in a crimson glow.
A jelly bean-themed bat mitzvah party was also recently held in the Teatro. Rick Whitaker, Events Director at Casa Italiana, confessed that the coming-of-age ceremony was the first time he had ever seen primary-colored tablecloths at the Academy. “This isn’t supposed to be here,” he noted, scraping the amorphous remains of a jelly bean from the fabric. There is, come dicono, come si dice, a first time for everything.
Prominent Casa Italiana guests through the years have included Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, Governor David Paterson, Russell Simmons, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand, Isabella Rosellini, and Uma Thurman. Ms. Thurman reportedly refused to stand in the elevator with anyone else during her visit, and stepped out of the elevator whenever another person boarded. And not long ago, Martin Filler, the architecture critic at the New York Review of Books, hosted a lunchtime birthday party in the Teatro for 40 people, although the room can hold nearly four times that many guests. Lobster and champagne were served in abundance.
An anonymous undergraduate group held a somewhat less savory event in the Teatro that included several genres of intoxicants. One young reveler found his way to the fifth floor and propelled a Canaletto drawing out of a window. It smashed outside on the terrace, where other party-goers were enjoying the springtime air. Another youngster suffered head trauma from a slip down the marble staircase. Someone fetched an ambulance. A third attendee removed all of his clothing and was pinned down by security guards. A regretful onlooker reported that the dishabille student “wasn’t bad looking, either.”