Lorenz Jefferson, 91, co-owned awning company

August 24, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Lorenz E. Jefferson, a semi-retired owner of L.E. Jefferson & Son Awning Co., one of the oldest manufacturers of custom-made awnings in Baltimore, died of leukemia Sunday at Union Memorial Hospital. He was 91 and lived in Towson.

Born and raised in Waverly, he was the son of Leonidas E. Jefferson. Before air-conditioning, and when seemingly every Baltimore front porch or home sported awnings, the elder Mr. Jefferson decided to establish his awning firm.

In 1917, he established L.E. Jefferson & Son Awning Co. in the 3300 block of Greenmount Ave., where he specialized in the dark-green striped or terracotta-colored heat-beaters that helped keep porches and interior spaces dark and cool.

FOR THE RECORD - The credit for the photograph of Lorenz Jefferson that accompanied his obituary in yesterday's editions of The Sun was inadvertently omitted. The photo was taken by Edwin Remsberg.
The Sun regrets the errors.

After a fire in 1939 destroyed the business, he moved it to East 31st Street, and then in 1950 to its present home, a cavernous brick building on Federal Street. The structure, which in earlier years was used for the treatment and care of dray horses, offered the needed space for laying out, sewing, and storing awnings.

After graduating from City College in 1928, Mr. Jefferson joined his father in the business, eventually becoming president and co-owner of the company with his sister, Virginia Jefferson.

The only time he left the family-owned business was during World War II, when he helped to assemble airplanes at Eastern Aircraft in Baltimore.

Even though he retired as president in 1976, he continued working several days a week, calling on customers, measuring and selling awnings, and working in the factory, sewing on an old Singer machine.

For many years, the company, which has seven employees, also made draperies and upholstered furniture. It now makes only awnings, while providing installation, removal and storage for some 500 customers who have gotten used to its old-fashioned personal service

"After we take them down at the home, we also examine them carefully for any needed repairs. We look upon our customers as old friends and treat them and their awning as such. They expect this attention," he told John Sherwood, author of Maryland's Vanishing Lives, published by the Johns Hopkins University Press.

Customers ranged from Macy's department store in New York to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which selected the company to make awnings for its Decorator Show House.

"He had the best personality in the world. Everyone loved him, and he ran the company on the principle that the customer is always right," said his sister, Miss Jefferson, president of the company, who also manages the office.

"He loved his work and always took great pride in what he did. He worked until June 20, and I guess you could say that he died with his boots on," she said.

"He was a master craftsman and had one of the foremost awning companies in the city. He did fantastic work," said Carla R. Mandley, owner of Hoffman Canvas Products Inc., which also makes awnings.

"He's helped us for over 50 years. If we had new help, he'd come over here and show them how to sew, thread a pipe or weld a frame. If we were short-handed and needed help with a job, he'd come over and work with us. Anyone else would have tried to take the customer away from us," she said.

"He died with a pair of scissors in his pocket. On his deathbed, he talked so much about how he loved to sew," she said.

Chuck Wright, sales manager for Ryan Homes, hired the company to manufacture dark blue awnings with the company's white logo, which were installed on model homes.

"There was never any paper or contracts. It was his word," said Mr. Wright.

Mr. Jefferson had been a member of the now-defunct Waverly Presbyterian Church.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete yesterday.

In addition to his sister, Mr. Jefferson is survived by his wife of 67 years, the former Dorothy Cuneo; a daughter, Janet Ottenritter of Glenwood; four grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

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