Today was another sad day for the family at replicabuildings.
We lost a friend, advisor, unpaid expert, travel companion, and confidant. “Big Al” Wilhelmi was not large in stature but he was enormous in heart, knowledge, and compassion. He was an expert in many fields but the one that stood out to this old school building maker was his knowledge of the history of Architecture. He supplied advice and reference to many hard to find building pictures and documents. An early conundrum that we had to resolve was the rear window pattern of the World (Pulitzer) building in New York. We could not find that detail in our library or online. Al sent me a pencil drawing that he sketched from a photo in his massive collection. That building is still in our portfolio!
Al started out as a customer of ours in 2005 and we quickly became best friends. My wife and I visited and traveled regularly with Al and his partner Chris. We rode the waves at Niagara Falls, enjoyed the pinnacles of the Boston Custom House, One Liberty in Philly, and 70 Pine in NY. We enjoyed discovering the grand Architecture of Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse on another road trip. Al and I had a common love for the art of Architecture.
I never had a better friend than Al Wilhelmi.
Here is a beautiful tribute to Al from a dear friend and renowned author of over 100 books, that Al introduced to me – Bill Miller
I haven’t counted exactly, but nearly a dozen dear and longtime friends have passed in the last five or so years. Such losses – like great, bright bulbs extinguished in what might be called the “chandelier of life & living”. They are all but impossible to replace. Once onboard a ship, none other than the legendary Art Linkletter, himself then 98, advised us in a lecture: “When your golden friends pass away, replace them with new friends – call them your silver friends!” But today another truly golden friend has gone.
While he did not attend World Ship Society’s monthly meetings, he was, however, a longtime fixture at the Society’s annual Ocean Liner Bazaar. Al Wilhelmi (and his partner Chris) always maintained three or four tables of keepsakes and treasures. And they always seemed to be on the far left side of the room. Happily, everything was offered for sale (and at reasonable prices) – from Cunard Line ashtrays to Holland America spoons, from oversized menus to those miniature Triang ship models. Al was also a friend for over forty years. Sadly, he passed away on July 15th at age 88 and after a long illness (and valiant struggle). “Like some ships, I’ve had not just a good run, but a very good run,” he said in his last days.
A native of Philadelphia but living (for some fifty years) in suburban southwestern New Jersey, Al loved ocean liners (and also had deep interests in skyscrapers, cars, art, vintage Hollywood movies, British royalty, TV murder mysteries, opera and classical music) and altogether amassed a huge collection. It was all maintained in the most organized and especially immaculate order. Every last piece was in precise, handpicked position. Luncheon and cocktail parties were organized around sofas, chairs and a long centered table – and all surrounded by neatly placed, collected treasures. And these spilled over to the lower floor of the house. It was diverse, enormous to eye and joyful to the soul, but somehow it was never, ever overwhelming. Al was the classic, almost specially trained “curator”.
An architect by profession (with the Philadelphia Electric Company), Al (and Chris) also took to traveling by ship. Their earliest trips included crossings on the likes of the Hanseatic, Rotterdam and Statendam. Many, many crossings and cruises followed. In between, he’d travel up to New York and wander over to the City’s West Side, to Luxury Liner Row, and visit almost all of the great liners that came and went. The French Line’s Liberte and the Dutch Nieuw Amsterdam were his favorites, he often told me. In later years, in happy retirement, Al also enjoyed his Cadillac cars, afternoon concerts in nearby Philadelphia and those chatty get-togethers with other ship buffs.
A dear friend, an expert in several areas, an absolute world class collector and always a keen supporter of World Ship’s annual bazaar, Al Wilhelmi will be greatly missed.
- The Life of a Skyscraper
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