Lawrence Basignani, 95, stonemason, firm owner

August 24, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Lawrence Basignani, a stonemason who established a Baltimore general contracting firm that specialized in commercial construction, renovation and restoration projects, died of a heart attack Thursday at his son's home in Butler. He was 95.

Mr. Basignani was born in Philadelphia, the son of an immigrant stonemason from Tuscany, and spent his early childhood years in Wilmington, Del. The family moved to Potomac Street in Highlandtown in 1924, and he attended city public schools until leaving to help support his family.

As a young man, he worked as an electrician while studying drafting at the Maryland Institute College of Art. After completing a stonemason apprenticeship, he began working in the construction industry, building houses, churches, the 29th Street Bridge and the stone highway bridge across the Western Maryland Railway tracks in Glyndon.

In 1942, he enlisted in the Navy and served with the Seabees in the South Pacific.

Mr. Basignani, who placed a high value on quality stone-craftsmanship, founded Lawrence Construction Co. in 1949 and remained active in the firm until its closing a half-century later.

He worked on projects on the campuses of Calvert Hall College High School, Loyola College, Towson State University, Morgan State University, Catonsville Community College and St. Mary's College in Southern Maryland.

He also oversaw the construction of 150 area churches, the Lacrosse Museum & National Hall of Fame in Baltimore and retirement communities at Fairhaven in Sykesville and Charlestown in Catonsville.

The company delved into adaptive reuse of buildings, such as the conversion of a 19th-century building with a cast-iron facade on West Pratt Street into offices for Marsh & McLennan Cos. The firm also worked on such historic structures as the Peabody Conservatory Concert Hall, Bank of Baltimore and Admiral Fell Inn in Fells Point.

"We earned many citations and awards for our work," said Garlin "Skip" Young, a longtime employee who retired in 1984 as general superintendent. "I was probably one of the few non-Italians in the company, and he treated me just like a son.

"When I took over as general superintendent, the only advice he gave to me was, `Make me some money.' While he was not an educated man, he was extremely intelligent. He knew where he wanted his company to go and took it there," Mr. Young said.

Another company specialty that Mr. Basignani developed and particularly enjoyed was moving large statues.

He oversaw the relocation of Orpheus at Fort McHenry, the Congressional Medal of Honor Monument at the 5th Regiment Armory, and the statue of Johns Hopkins on the Homewood campus of the Johns Hopkins University.

"He liked it because it was interesting work, and he had to figure how to disassemble and then put them back together once they were moved," said his son Bertero L. Basignani, company president in its latter years and now owner-operator of Basignani Winery Ltd. near Butler.

Mr. Basignani enjoyed spending four or five months a year at a second home he had built in Tuscany in central Italy. He was a charter member of Hillendale Country Club, where he enjoyed golfing.

An opera buff, he liked attending Metropolitan Opera Company performances in New York City, and prided himself on his knowledge on the subject.

Family members said he attributed his long life to a glass of red wine every day, pasta and olive oil.

His wife of 62 years, the former Adelia Bechini, died last month.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Basignani Winery, 15722 Falls Road.

In addition to his son, Mr. Basignani is survived by a daughter, Diana Manning of Pikesville; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

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