NYU Secures Ownership of Villa La Pietra

One of the gardens of Villa La Pietra

After three decades of legal battles, New York University (NYU) will retain its study abroad campus on Via Bolognese, Florence. This decision was reached by the civil court of Florence following a dispute initiated by Liana Beacci and carried forward by her children, who claimed hereditary rights over Villa Pietra and its art collection, along with four other villas, the surrounding land, and garden. The international law firm Hogan Lovells represented NYU in the institution’s mission to retain full ownership of all contested assets.

This unique villa and its art collection were bequeathed to NYU by Sir Harold Acton upon his death in 1994. The donated assets include Villa La Pietra, four additional villas, 37 acres of land, and a collection of over 6,000 pieces of art, valued at several hundred million dollars.

Villa La Pietra was originally purchased by Hortense Acton, an American heiress, wife of Arthur Acton (1873 – 1953), a British citizen; their son was Harold Acton, who never married and did not have any children of his own. However, it turned out that Arthur Acton had an illegitimate daughter, Liana Beacci (1917 – 2002), by Ersilia Beacci, his secretary, who subsequently established the Beacci Tornabuoni hotel (now the Tornabuoni Hotel, owned by Hyatt) on via Tornabuoni. Liana Beacci’s paternity, thanks to a DNA test, was recognized by the Italian court in 2019. Despite court cases from the Beacci heirs, all attempts to reclaim part of Acton’s estate have been rejected.

The Florentine judge ruled that Liana Beacci’s purported hereditary rights should be evaluated under English law, as Arthur and Harold Acton were British citizens. English law does not guarantee inheritance rights to natural children and, furthermore, stipulates a 12-year window for such claims to be pursued.  Italian law stipulates that an heir born outside of marriage has a right to 25% of an estate.

The resolution of the long-standing legal dispute over Villa La Pietra and its accompanying assets marks a significant milestone for New York University. With the civil court of Florence affirming NYU’s full ownership rights, the university can now continue to steward this historic property and its invaluable art collection for generations to come. (Sophia Koch)