Anthony A. Verzella, 84, the construction superintendent for L.F. Driscoll Co., the firm that built One Liberty Place for Rouse & Associates, died of complications of Parkinson's disease Tuesday at home in Bellmawr, N.J.
One Liberty Place, completed in 1987, broke the gentlemen's agreement that no building in Philadelphia be taller than the statue of William Penn atop City Hall.
Born in Midland, near Pittsburgh, the son of Italian immigrants, Mr. Verzella got a taste of working in the steel mills with his father after graduating in 1939 from high school.
He soon learned to be a carpenter by working on jobs in Midland, and in 1942, Mr. Verzella joined the Navy. He was wounded in combat in the Pacific on the USS St. Louis, where he was a machinist's mate.
He married his high school sweetheart, Elizabeth Vohar, in 1944, one year before being discharged. The couple moved to South Jersey, eventually raising eight children in Bellmawr.
Ed Driscoll, who retired as CEO of the construction company 10 years ago, was 14 when he met Mr. Verzella. Driscoll's father hired Mr. Verzella in 1945 to work for L.F. Driscoll Co. "This big husky carpenter asked if he could unload his tools at the job site. My father and I watched in amazement. We had never seen one person with so many tools."
Mr. Verzella, who could read blueprints, quickly rose through the ranks to project superintendent as Driscoll grew into one of the region's largest construction companies.
Driscoll buildings for which Mr. Verzella supervised construction include the Rittenhouse Towers; Pennwalt Building; Episcopal Academy in Merion; GlaxoSmithKline in Conshohocken; and Doubletree Hotel at Broad and Locust Streets.
"Driscoll hopes to break the 'curse of William Penn' - the city's lack of a major pro sports championship since plans were drawn up for Liberty One - with the Comcast Center, which will be the tallest building in Philadelphia," said son James, project executive of the Comcast Center, and one of three of Mr. Verzella's sons who are managers on the Comcast building.
As his family grew, Mr. Verzella transformed his home into a 2,500-square-foot two-story workshop that housed hundreds of tools and machines. He built a new home next door on his one-acre property in Bellmawr, said grandson Mike Verzella.
"Everybody, including the women, in the family are handy," said Mike. "My grandfather's garage was the center for everyone to borrow tools."
In addition to his wife and son James, Mr. Verzella is survived by sons Anthony, Robert, James and Samuel; daughters Margaret, Mary Miller and Elizabeth Verzella-Cooper; 25 grandchildren; one great-grandchild; two brothers; and a sister. Another son, Timothy, died in 1988.
Friends may visit at 8:15 this morning at Gardner Funeral Home, 126 S. Black Horse Pike, Runnemede, N.J. A Funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. at Annunciation Catholic Church, 601 W. Browning Rd., Bellmawr. Burial will be in St. John Neumann Cemetery, Chalfont, Pa.
Donations may be made to Veterans Administration Parkinson's Disease Research, 3900 Woodland Ave., No. 127, Philadelphia 19104.