Thomas J. D'Anna, 82, longtime owner, host of Palmer House Restaurant in Baltimore

June 19, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Thomas J. D'Anna, for nearly 40 years the genial owner and host of Palmer House Restaurant in downtown Baltimore, where customers could bump into politicians or have their fortunes read, died Sunday of complications of diabetes at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. He was 82.

Since 1959, Mr. D'Anna had been associated with the restaurant, in the 100 block of N. Eutaw St., that was established by his brother, Larry, in the late 1940s.

The restaurant has been popular with politicians, newspaper reporters, the after-theater crowd and other denizens of the night. It is known for its Italian cuisine, steaks and seafood and Tom's Tomatoes, a dish Mr. D'Anna created -- a large tomato bathed in red wine vinegar and topped with ricotta cheese. Seldom did he go a day without eating a serving of his creation.

The restaurant also is known for its collection of 2,000 celebrity photos that line the walls. The subjects range from Joe Louis to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Another celebrated feature of the Palmer House is the card reader. "It was his idea to have a card reader in the restaurant but, as far as I know, he never had a card reading," said a grandson, Mark Hopkins of Mount Washington, who worked in the restaurant while attending college and now is a hospital administrator.

"He was the kind of man who didn't care what walk of life you came from. He just wanted to be your friend. He remembered his customers' names and always greeted them with a big smile."

Betty Lee, restaurant manager the past seven years, said, "He really cared about other people. If someone who was needy came in off the street, he'd say, 'Give that person something to eat.' "

Mr. D'Anna was born and raised on Mulberry Street. Family members had owned stalls at nearby Lexington Market for nearly 100 years. He graduated from City College high school in 1934 and worked in the market for his father, who owned and operated Salvatore F. D'Anna & Sons Produce, until he went into the restaurant business.

Mr. D'Anna, who worked at the restaurant until recently, and his wife, the former Leona Liberto, whom he married in 1934, lived in an apartment above the Palmer House.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9 a.m. today at St. Jude's Roman Catholic Shrine, 308 N. Paca St.

In addition to his wife and grandson, survivors include two sons, Thomas S. D'Anna of Catonsville and S. John D'Anna of Marriottsville; a daughter, Marian L. D'Anna of Catonsville; five other grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Pub date: 06/19/96

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