Liberty on the roof at Liberty Roofing


July 04, 1993|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Staff Writer

Drivers do a double take when they spot a Statue of Liberty replica reigning over the 21st Street rooftops at the southern extremity of the city's Remington neighborhood.

She seems properly tarnished and crowned, torch in hand and stands above a roofing company's sign. At 10 feet tall, this Miss Liberty also is lighted at night and has become something of a patriotic landmark along the Howard Street commercial corridor.

When you visit a parade in the nearby Hampden neighborhood, you'll hear a version of a Liberty Bell peal. It is also permanently quartered in the Liberty Roofing Co.

On this Fourth of July, understand that the owner of the statue and the bell, Nicholas Detorie Jr., the 70-year-old president of the business, has a thing for the word and symbolism of "liberty."

The statue on his roof, two more inside the building, a mural, numerous sets of Liberty nickels, quarters, half-dollars and silver dollars, book ends, desk ornaments, a clear plastic toilet seat inset with Liberty coins, stained-glass panels and photographs are part of what might be called his "liberty inventory."

Some of this stuff came as gifts from friends. Other pieces were costly. Some just "spoke" to him -- and were bought on impulse.

"The statue [on the roof] came from a going-out-of-business sale Hecht's in Northwood," he said. "It was a store prop. That's all, but it was wellmade and stands up to the weather. It's fiberglass and has tarnished like the real statue."

It was in 1932 that his father, another Nicholas Detorie, stopped working for other contractors and bought a Chevrolet truck with wooden sides. He went into business for himself and selected the name "Liberty" because the goddess of liberty was once on a nickel coin.

The family-operated roofing business was small at first. Roofing was a trade of smoking kettles, ladders, heights and hard labor.

"My father did mostly residential work. I didn't want to go into roofing. I wanted to get away from hot tar and ladders. I came back from World War II in 1945 and got married," said Mr. Detorie, the collector.

"I begged my father to let me get off the truck and start selling. He did. I eventually bought my brothers out and for a while was the largest roofer in Baltimore," he said.

The man also has an affection for history.

"We put 40 tons of copper on the Basilica [of the Assumption] roof. I did Davidge Hall at the University of Maryland. I did the Fort McHenry barracks and the Carroll Mansion. I was a consultant to Jackie Kennedy for the restoration of the houses facing Lafayette Square," he said of the metal-roof specialty work that Liberty does.

Maybe his other best-known (and heard) Liberty trademark is the Liberty Bell he often hauls to neighborhood parades. Mr. Detorie likes nothing better than to outfit his flatbed trucks, painted with a Liberty Bell symbol, with a sizable ringer.

"My father was working for a roofer about 1918 who was making repairs after a church fire. The roofer bought the bell from the priest. Years and years later, the roofer sold it to me," Mr. Detorie said.

That bell is now fitted on its own platform and is regularly rung at neighborhood festivals. True to its religious origin, it bears the inscription, "Ad majorem dei gloriam et in honorem sanctae Mariae Virginis." It is stamped "1815," as well as with a cross and angels.

He has a back-up bell, one with direct historic connections to the Jones Falls Valley. In 1983, he traded his roofing services for a massive bell housed in the Italianate tower of the old Druid Mill on Union Avenue in Hampden, the neighborhood about a mile north of Remington along the Jones Falls Valley.

"The old bell was up in the mill tower. It was covered with pounds of pigeon droppings. I sent a man up in a crane, and we harnessed it. It lifted right out. Then I fixed the roof," Mr. Detorie said.

The bell had sentimental value. Some of his female ancestors worked in the old Mount Vernon Mills, once the largest cotton duck (sailcloth) loom in the country. The mill's bell called the workers to work. The bronze bell, dipped in silver to give a more strident tone, weighs about a ton and is marked, "West Troy, New York 1866 Meneely's."

In these parts, the name Detorie is synonymous with roofing and Remington.

"My father and grandfather brought over the immigrants. They got them jobs either on the railroad, the old M&P [Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad] or in the roofing business. My father made a pilot school for roofers. The men came first. Once they were established, their wives followed," said Mr. Detorie.

His father was from the Calabria region at the toe of the Italian boot. His mother, the late Teresa DeLuca, was an Italian living in Albania. Her family long operated a popular Remington restaurant and tavern.

"It was my mother who came over in a boat and saw the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor," he said, repeating an old family story.

During the early years of this century his family became one of the best-known in Remington's small Italian enclave. The Detories lived in the 2200 block of Huntingdon Ave. Everyone knew one another. A few doors away were people named Vicchio, Buccheri, Posidenti, Lopreato, Esposito, Capperella, Crispino, Pollutra, Piccione, Dusico and Cortezi. Many married one another. A number still live on the same blocks.

"The one thing I couldn't make myself do after the war was live in a rowhouse," Mr. Detorie said. "I spent three years living in a tent with six guys on Attu in the Aleutian Islands. I went out and bought a piece of land on Grand View Avenue above Hampden. I still live there.

"I like the neighborhood, being able to walk across 36th Street in Hampden and wave and say hello to everybody I know," he said. "They know me, I know them. That's the way to live."

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