Casa Italiana – Italian Cultural Center Keeps Traditions Alive

After six decades, Puget Sound’s Italian American community once again has a place to call home. At a time when breaking through isolation to make meaningful connections is even more valued, Casa Italiana – Italian Cultural Center pushed through the challenges of the pandemic to open its doors to the community.

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After six decades, Puget Sound’s Italian American community once again has a place to call home. At a time when breaking through isolation to make meaningful connections is even more valued, Casa Italiana – Italian Cultural Center pushed through the challenges of the pandemic to open its doors to the community. While operating a new business and community space during an extended public health crisis is not easy, their first year proved to be a success.

The first Casa Italiana operated out of a building in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood from the 1930s through 1960s. The organization served as a place where Italian American immigrants living in Rainier Valley (“Garlic Gulch”), Beacon Hill, Georgetown, South Park, and Highline neighborhoods gathered to share food, traditions, and language. It dissolved in the 1960s but the dream to find a new home for the Italian American community was kept alive by Italian American community leaders and local Italian clubs.

Sisters Phynix and Maya Kresly serve sandwiches, coffee, and authentic Italian pastries from the café. Pizzelles, a thin waffle-like cookie featuring anise flavoring, are made on-site. Credit: City of Burien.

That dream finally became a reality when the former London House beauty salon shuttered their doors and put up for sale one acre of land along 1st Ave S in Burien. Casa Italiana bought the property in October 2020, renovating the building and opening a café featuring authentic Italian pastries and sandwiches a short six months later. The organization continues to renovate the building so they can open an event space on the upper floor. They also hope to continue to expand, eventually building a museum and bocce court.

The building is also the location of the Honorary Italian Consul who holds office hours on Fridays. Casa Italiana is a home away from home for many Italian expats living in the Puget Sound area. Their goal is to preserve, educate, and celebrate Italian traditions and culture in the Seattle area.

Three people sit at table.
Pino Rogano, Tony Chiado, and Tom Misciagna help prepare for the Christmas chestnut roast. Roasted chestnut festivals are held across Italy in the late fall and early winter. Credit: Casa Italiana – Italian Cultural Center.

There have been several lively events celebrated at Casa Italiana, starting with their grand opening celebration. In 2022, they plan to bring those events back if public health guidelines allow. This includes a repeat of the popular Vespa Festa, Ferrari show, Ferragusto, bake sales featuring authentic Italian pastries, and in December, a chestnut roast. They also have plans to host movie nights, dances, and soccer watch parties (rooting for the Italian national futbol team, of course!).

“We want everyone to know that our goal is to be welcoming and inclusive,” says Therese Bianchi, a local real estate broker who serves on the board of Casa Italiana. “This space is for anyone who is of Italian descent or interested in Italian culture. All are welcome.”

Person standing near shelf full of food.
Therese Bianchi is a local real estate broker who serves on the board of Casa Italiana. Her grandfather Mario Bianchi, pictured to her right, was a race car driver and a participant in the original Casa Italiana, active in the 1930s through 1960s out of their Capitol Hill location. Historical photos donated by local families are on display throughout the building. The store at Casa Italiana features foods made by local Italian American producers and imported goods. Credit: City of Burien.

About Casa Italiana – Italian Cultural Center

The Casa Italiana – Italian Cultural Center is a permanent ongoing physical space dedicated to embracing and renewing the joy and vibrant diversity of the soul and spirit of Italy, including its historical, linguistic, and culinary significance.

Emily Inlow-Hood
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