Restaurateur will renovate Glass House $600,000 in repairs planned for interior of historic building

'Little gem' in the rough

Owner says overhaul will help him succeed where others failed

March 03, 1997|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Salvatore Romeo knows that others have seen their dreams shattered by Westminster's distinctive but battered Glass House.

But Romeo's determination shines when he talks of his plans for an elegant Paradiso Italian Restaurant in the historic building with its hundreds of glass panes that once was part of the old Sherwood Distillery complex.

"I don't care if it takes five years or 10 years -- I'm going to do it," Romeo said last week, dressed in a white chef's coat and speaking in the tones of his birthplace in Naples.

He and brother Paolo Romeo run a Paradiso Italian Restaurant now, in leased space on Locust Lane. This casual dining room and carryout lies just across a city parking lot from the Glass House at 20 Distillery Lane.

Peeling plywood and broken windows give a daunting appearance to the outside of the Glass House, but the city of Westminster approved $600,000 in interior renovations last month.

"We're going to keep the same look -- but not the same glass," Romeo said with a laugh. "It's a lot of glass."

While he awaits final permits to begin work in earnest, his family and work crews have been scrubbing the interior.

"We got it all cleaned up inside; now we are just waiting for the final permits," he said.

Contributing to his happy-but-tired look: Romeo and his wife, June, became the parents of a daughter, Mia Danielle, Feb. 5.

The 29-year-old Westminster resident has worked in restaurants since he came to New York from Italy in 1985. After jobs in Philadelphia and New Jersey, he migrated to Baltimore in 1988, when he lived near Memorial Stadium and opened Mama Lucia's carryout at Greenmount Avenue and 33rd Street.

The Romeos bought the Glass House last year for $66,000 from Carroll County's Industrial Development Authority, outbidding one competitor. The state Department of Assessments and Taxation placed a $50,840 value on the 0.13-acre property that had been purchased by the county in 1991.

"The city has been very helpful to see the project get done," Romeo said. "Everything is moving along just fine -- but just very slow. But I won't give up."

Romeo said he wants to learn more about the building, and customers have been volunteering old photographs.

"People are coming in and telling stories about it -- but there are so many stories, it's hard to see which is actually the true story."

Architect's vision

His architect, Louis Battistone of Baltimore, raved about the project, but worries that "nobody's going to appreciate that building because they've looked at it for so long as a factory building -- and now it's a derelict factory building."

He visualizes the Glass House as "a little gem" -- after a power washing of glass and brick, glass replacement, and "some kind of neon in the third floor that could be a beacon."

The third floor is about one-quarter the size of the lower two and looks like a 14-foot glass cube. Battistone said the upper level has "strange holes in the floor that must have been for some kind of machinery -- a grain elevator or something that went up there."

"I don't know who the architect was, but he had lots of style," Battistone said. "All I know is, the building was done in the 1930s and followed very closely the International Bauhaus school of design -- less is more. He certainly must have had a patron to have built a building so stylish for utilitarian purposes."

After rattling off a list of distinctive features, he noted, "it was high-priced stuff even then." From the interior of the building, he said it appears "they were drying grain or finishing barrels or drying barrel staves, or something like that -- a factory building."

"It's just unique in how it's put together. I haven't seen anything like it."

'A matter of time'

Sal Romeo said he expects to succeed where others failed because he plans a complete overhaul of the interior. The city permit lists improvements estimated at $600,000 to create a restaurant inside the 32-by-82-foot building, including partitions, toilets, exits and seating.

"There were some businesses there in the past, but every business that was there, they didn't last too long," Romeo said, "even one or two trying to make a restaurant. But they didn't do much for the inside, and I'm redoing all of it -- the heating, the air conditioning.

"For me, it's just a matter of time: I'm going to finish this restaurant. You can count on it."

He plans to keep the Paradiso name for his new restaurant. "It saves on paperwork," he said with a smile.

But he doesn't know when the address will change.

"When I first bought the building, I was saying some numbers, some years, but now I don't know how long, so I say, 'Just wait' to myself and to people who ask me."

Pub Date: 3/03/97

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