Welder, architect design memorial for fallen officers
October 4, 2002
Welder Bill Capozzoli owns and operates a small specialty fabrication company. He works with architect Phillip Conte to fabricate a memorial made of stainless steel to honor fallen Delaware County, Pa. law enforcement officers.
Not every welding artist can say his work honors police officers who have given their lives in the line of duty.
This is exactly the project that Bill Capozzoli tackled: a memorial for the 34 fallen Delaware County, Pa., police officers who have died on the job since 1902.
Capozzoli works with iron and blacksmithing and specializes in metals that are more difficult to weld, such as stainless, brass, bronze, and aluminum.
"I try to do a little bit of everything," Capozzoli said.
Capozzoli was hired as a specialty combination welder in the Navy; he worked for about six years at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard until it closed 10 years ago. He's been a welder for 20 years.
Although he typically focuses on creative metal fabrication, Capozzoli said this is the first time he has ever taken on a project that involves abstract figures.
The memorial, located at Rosetree Park in Upper Providence Township, Pa., was dedicated in May and is made of 34 abstract stainless steel shapes, each of which was dedicated by a symbolic presentation of hats and the unveiling of 34 plaques by a representative of each department that lost an officer.
The monument wall bears the name, rank, department, and date of death of each fallen officer.
The memorial was funded by donations the Delaware County Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation collected over the last five years. Every year the foundation honors fallen officers in a ceremony, in which the presentation of hats is an inspiring part.
This special presentation is what inspired the memorial's designer, Philip Conte, an architect at the Architect Studio in Wilmington, Del.
A procession begins each ceremony, in which a representative from each police department that has lost an officer walks up the aisle of a church carrying a hat that symbolizes the officer who died. When each official reaches the front of the church, he turns around, hat in hand, states the name of the officer and the date he or she died, and places the hat at the front of the church.
At last year's service, Conte's wife, Michelle--the daughter of a policeman who died on the job in 1986 in Delaware County and a police officer herself--prompted him to design the memorial.
"As architects, we love architectural problems, so I began thinking about it right away, even though I knew that I would have a year until it was completed," Philip Conte said. "They said they wanted something more unique than a plaque with the officers' names on it, like you usually see--something more interactive than a stoic place like a cemetery."
Conte began thinking of how he wanted to draw up plans for the memorial. Like Capozzoli, Conte found this job to be more personal than his typical larger structural undertakings.
"I worked a lot with the survivors and other officers," he said.
Conte first considered using cast bronze for the sculptures; but it was too costly for the memorial's budget, so he decided to use stainless steel.
At that point he knew he needed to find metal specialists to help him with the fabrication details.
"I don't know anything about welding or metallurgy, so I looked up metal specialty contractors and came up with 27 in the Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey region," he said.
His wife called all 27 of them, and 14 showed interest. Conte faxed sketches to the 14, and three responded with estimates. Capozzoli, who was in the final three, called him persistently and showed interest.
"He took a personal interest, and he's good to work with. And he likes what he does," Conte said.
From there Conte and Capozzoli refined the details of the memorial, and Conte was able to generate computer drawings.
Finally each profile for the statues was waterjet-cut, roll-formed, and seam-welded using gas tungsten arc welding without filler metal.
Capozzoli said forming the odd shapes and curves for the memorial and the finishing were his biggest challenges. Otherwise, he felt that the project came together more easily than a lot of other jobs he's had.
"This job seems really blessed, because it's come together so well," he said. "It was amazing at the dedication. There were uniformed police officers from all over northeastern United States. I was filled with pride to be a part of this project; I hope to do many more like it all over the U.S."
Part of the reason the memorial was so easily created might be because of everyone's coincidental ties to law enforcement: Not only is Conte's wife a police officer and the daughter of a police officer who died in the line of duty, but Conte's brother also is a police officer.
"I've been out there every weekend volunteering," Conte said. "It's important to be there for my wife; she assumes that responsibility every day, and so does my brother. It's important for me to show them my interest in what they do."
Because of their success, Conte and Capozzoli plan to work together again on another memorial in Delaware County's Concord Township. It will honor American heroes from the armed forces, law enforcement, and rescue teams.
"I think it's important now more than ever to show our gratitude for the few brave individuals who stand between us and crime," Capozzoli said, "especially after Sept. 11, when it became painfully obvious the risks these men and women take every day to keep our cities safe."
For more information on the memorial, visit www.delcoheroes.org.
Bill Capozzoli can be reached at 2701 Tioga St. A, Philadelphia, PA 19134, phone 215-739-0712, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Philip Conte can be reached at Architect Studio Inc., 117 N. Market St., Wilmington, DE 19801, phone 302-652-3576, e-mail email@example.com.