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Joe Caltagirone smiles as he peers from a third-floor ballroom window at the Italian Club. "I can see my grandmother's house from here," he says.

His mother, he adds, was born across the street in a little wooden house in 1904.

Just 10 years earlier, Tampa's first Italian-American society formed. The club - rebuilt in 1918 after a fire destroyed the original nearby in 1894 - helped members with cultural, educational, health and financial needs.

As a little boy, Caltagirone's grandmother would jokingly tell him that his grandfather was at "church." That really meant grandpa was at the Italian Club.

"He was at 'church' and I thought grandpa was the most religious man in the world," said Caltagirone, 85. "Then I learned this was his church."

The light would dim through the neoclassical windows as his grandfather and other gentlemen spent evenings playing chess or cards.

Those same windows have seen enough wind and rain through the years that most have rotted and must be replaced with versions that are energy-efficient, yet historically accurate.

Former club president Joe Capitano says water damage has been the main problem.

About three years ago, the club started a renovation project including the windows, as well as new exterior paint and brick and concrete improvements. The estimated cost, according to Capitano, is $350,000 to $425,000. Money for the project comes from grants, private donations and the club's main fundraiser, the "Festa Italiana" celebration in April. The project should be done in a few months.

The main ballroom is still used for large family gatherings, as it was generations ago. Weddings and receptions are often held here. The room's charm is heightened by architectural details like rosettes and cove decor in a precast plaster, as well as recently retouched murals of containers full of fruit and vines.

"When this grand ballroom is all set up, it looks like a Hollywood production," said Caltagirone.