The history of Villa Firenze began in 1925, when Mrs. Blanche Estabrook Roebling O’Brien, and her husband, Col. Arthur O’Brien, purchased 22 acres in the heart of Washington, DC’s Rock Creek Park. The couple hired architect Russell O. Kluge and designer H.F. Huber to build a mansion on the site and the Tudor-style structure in gray fieldstone was completed in 1927 and christened Estabrook. It immediately became a meeting place for Washington’s high society and hosted some of the city’s most prestigious events, from the societal debut of Mrs. O’Brien’s eldest daughter to receptions with prominent guests, including then-President Hoover.
In 1930, the property became the Residence of Ambassador John Peleny heralding the villa’s diplomatic future.
In 1941, the mansion was sold to Col. Robert Guggenheim and his wife Polly. A devotee of Italian art, Col. Guggenheim rechristened the villa with the name of his mother, Florence. Villa Firenze was born.
The Guggenheims undertook a massive renovation of the mansion that left it very similar to today’s Villa Firenze. No modifications were made to the exterior, but the interior spaces were dramatically transformed to make them lighter, airier, and more in keeping with the tastes of the new owners. Thanks to Polly Guggenheim’s keen and sophisticated eye and the Guggenheims’ community involvement, the mansion remained one of the most sought-after venues of the city’s social scene. A good part of the furnishings, as well as two priceless portraits by Titian, were destroyed in a fire in the winter of 1946 while the owners were abroad. Architect Michael Rosenaur was quickly hired to oversee a restoration that lasted several months.
After the death of Col. Guggenheim in 1959, Polly married John Logan and the couple remained in the mansion for 17 more years.
The refinement of the events held at Villa Firenze was duly noted by the press and a March 21, 1994 article in The Washington Post wrote this about Polly Guggenheim Logan: “Everything about her dinners was perfect, down to the number of valets behind the chairs of the guests.” In 1976, Polly Guggenheim Logan sold the property to the Government of Italy.
In 1977, Villa Firenze became the official Residence of the Ambassador of Italy to the United States of America. It was inaugurated by Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti. Since then, it has been among the most prestigious diplomatic residences in the city.