Early Tuesday evening, the Rockland Fire Department confirmed to The Enterprise that the Liberace piano was removed from the Piano Mill building undamaged.
PHOTO/ GARY HIGGINS/THE PATRIOT LEDGER
Rob Norris, Piano Mill operator, stands with a Baldwin piano formerly owned by Liberace. Despite a caved-in roof, the piano is safe. Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012.
ROCKLAND – A bejeweled piano once owned by famed pianist Liberace was recovered unharmed Tuesday after the roof collapsed at a music store where it is housed.
The latest snowstorm to slam the region caved in the pitched roof of the Piano Mill, at 217 Centre Ave., leaving a gaping hole in the building about 100-feet-by-100-feet, Rockland Fire Chief Scott Duffey said Tuesday morning. No one was in the building at the time.
The store’s claim to fame is that it is home to one of Liberace’s famous pianos – one encrusted with 88,888 Swarovski rhinestones and worth about $500,000. Early Tuesday evening, the Rockland Fire Department confirmed to The Enterprise that the Liberace piano was removed undamaged from the building.
The Piano Mill serves as showroom that sells pianos and other instruments. They also offer lessons and host performances.
As of Tuesday afternoon it was unclear if the piano was damaged in the collapse and it may be days until that can be determined, Duffey said.
“I haven’t seen it yet but there’s a piano that was once owned by Liberace. Unfortunately I think it is in the collapse zone,” Duffey said. “Either the whole building will need to be torn down with the product inside or they’re going to have to sure portions of it up.”
Officials believe the collapse happened about 1:30 a.m., Tuesday. The fire department was called about 6:30 a.m.
Bill Walls, whose house is next to The Piano Mill said he was woken up by a loud noise Tuesday morning.
“It was like 1:30 in the morning and we woke up because we heard a loud noise, almost like a plow truck coming down our driveway. But we looked out the window and we didn’t see anything,” Walls, 50, of Rockland said.
Susan Costagliola also thought she heard a plow. Her house is across the street from the music store.
“I heard it but I thought it was just a snow plow going by. It was one of those things where I woke up and said ‘What’s that noise?’ but I just fell back asleep,” Costagliola, 37, of Rockland said. “It sounded like a rumbling of sorts. I didn’t really expect it. I opened up my door this morning and saw that. It was crazy.”
Duffey said the town got over 27 inches of snow from the storm Monday, which contributed to the roof’s collapse. The building was up to code.
“The damage was mostly done to the middle part of the building. The roof caved in into the middle of the building,” Duffey said. “The owner is going to have to get a demolition crew and a structural engineer to assess the stability of the building to see if they can go in and get some product out.”
Store owner Robert Norris had been eagerly waiting to find out the fate of the famed piano. As had Jonathan Warren, the chairman of the Las Vegas-based Liberace Foundation.
“It was one of his favorite pianos, which was saying something because he played a lot of pianos,” Warren told The Enterprise.
Born Wladziu Valentino Liberace, the renowned pianist and entertainer was known for his gaudy, glittering outfits and his stage presence. The height of his popularity was between the 1950s and 1970s when he performed in Las Vegas and toured worldwide.
“It’s not just a piano. This man was a huge influence on music culture,” Warren said. “It’s worth about $500,000. I think there are thousands of fans who would tell you it’s priceless. There’s only a few of these things and there’s only one Liberace. He’s the reason why the signs in Las Vegas look like they do.”
Norris came in possession of the 9-foot Baldwin concert grand piano from the Baldwin Piano Company. Norris restores old pianos, both for resale at the store and for clients around the country.
Norris said he considers himself a foster parent of the piano.
Warren reached out to Norris Tuesday morning to offer any help he can. The Liberace Foundation is in possession of many of Liberace’s belongings, including a “sister” piano that is almost identical to the piano in Rockland.
The non-profit group, which raises scholarship money for music and performing arts students, has over 10,000 cubic feet of Liberace-related materials.
“We’ve contacted them and sent some emails and some messages to The Piano Mill to let them know that if we can be of any assistance,” Warren said. “We have some expertise in repairing and restoring Swarovski encrusted items. We have his Swarovski-encrusted roadster, costumes and the one other piano.”
“It is a big piece of Americana,” Warren said. “Hopefully maybe some part of it can be restored and If we can help with that in any way we will.”
The roof collapse was one of several in the region on Monday and Tuesday. Rockland had four incidents where roofs collapsed or buckled under the weight of the snow. West Bridgewater and Bridgewater also dealt with collapses.
“This isn’t something that we always anticipate but what’s happened is we’ve gotten a lot of snow really quick and that’s created a large heavy load on these roofs,” Duffey said. “The only thing that we suggest is to get that snow off your roof. Either hire a contractor to do it safely or if you have a roof rake, start scraping the snow off. It’s something you don’t want to avoid because more snow is just adding to that weight on the roof.”
Benjamin Paulin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.