THERE IS NO Antonelli Building in Nick Antonelli's town, no large public monument to the man's wealth and power. But his hand is visible all over Washington to those who know where to look.
Dominic F. Antonelli Jr., who was indicted Thursday on charges of bribing D.C. mayoral aide Joseph Yeldell, runs a multimillion dollar parking, real estate and financial empire so large that it makes him one of this community's most powerful figures. Through his business deals, substantial contributions to charities and political campaigns, and his large network of influential friends, he has helped shape the physical dimensions and economic direction of the city.
A biography of Antonelli, who grew up poor but determined to become rich, is the classic American successtory of the self-made man. From parking other people's cars as a 14-year-old, he accumulated a personal fortune of perhaps $30 million and, with it, immeasurable power.
The red and black PMI logo of his firm, Parking Management Inc., can be found throughout the city on more than 100 parking lots and garages, many of them in or near Antonelli-owned offices and other buildings where masses of federal and city employes commute to work daily.
At age 55, Antonelli owns, with partners, more than $100 million worth of real estate in the Washington area alone. Beyond the city, his empire includes apartment buildings in the Midwest, a ship salvage firm on the Mexican border in Port of Brownsville, Tex,. and cooking oil and soft drink bottling companies in Panama.
In the beginning, there was just a small parking lot owned by someone else across from the Mayflower Hotel on DeSales Street NW, then a rundown back street between Connecticut Avenue and 17th Street, where Antonelli lived as a teen-ager near the end of the Depression.
He scraped by on very little money, working as a parking attendant. But while he was parking cars there, Antonelli took pains to get to know the owner of the lot, examining its potential for more than just tips.
"He knew what he wanted and he went after it tooth and nail," said Bedford Brown, a friend of Antonelli's from the early days on DeSales Street. "He was looking out for himself, looking ahead all the time."
It was on DeSales Street that Nick Antonelli fell in love with business and began building his fortune. He later bought the parking lot where he first worked, and in place of the roach and rat-infested rowhouses around it during his youth he built his nine-story corporate headquarters at 1725 DeSales Street.
Where the parking lot attendant dreamed of wealth, Antonelli, the corporate executive and millionaire, now parks his Mercedes and rides a special elevator to his ninth floor office suite. Down the block are two large PMI garages. Across the street is the Mayflower Hotel, in which Antonelli owns an interest and where he often lunches. Around the corner is the headquarters of the Madison National Bank, which Antonelli helped found and now helps run. A block away is St. Matthew's Cathedral, which Antonelli regularly attends. DeSales St. Headquarters
This is Antonelli country - the true center of his world, although he lives on a 10-acre estate in Potomac. From DeSales Street he presides over a complex of business ventures whose full dimensions are known to only a few people.
Antonelli doesn't discuss his business holdings publicly, including those that involve the expenditure of public money. He has repeatedly declined to be interviewed about his business activities or the events leading up to his indictment. He is just as guarded about his private life, and most of his close associates will say little, if anything, about him.
"He's an introvert," said one former associate who declined to quoted by name. "He doesn't like to be in the public eye. He builds his world from within."
Born in 1922, Dominic Frank Antonelli Jr. came to Washington as a small boy with his family from McAlester, Okla. As a teen-ager, he delivered newspapers and parked cars while living, away from his family on DeSales Street NW and sometimes eating only cornflakes and water each day.
The street was "a real rathole" then, according to Bedford Brown's brother Jim, who also lived in the block with Antonelli and now works for him. On Saturday mornings, it was a neighborhood ritual to "take up the mattresses and put kerosene on the springs and light it" to get rid of the bugs, Brown recalled. To get rid of the rats, they sometimes used guns.
"He told me when we were small that he was tired of eating cornflakes and drinking water," Brown said. "He said he was going to make something (of himself) or go to jail."
His mother had died when he "was just a baby," according to a friend, and his father had sold olive oil in Washington (and later operated a parking lot for his son). Antonelli's grandfather was a stonecutter who worked on the carvings at Union Station.
While his friends spent money as fast as they earned it, Antonelli put his in the bank - a dollar at a time - dreaming of investments.
Antonelli attended McKinley High School in the late 1930s but did not graduate. While delivering newspapers, he worked for both The Washington Star and The Washington Post, but it was The Post, he has said, that helped shape his life. By later denying him a promotion when he was a circulation branch manager, The Post forced him to turn his attention more firmly to parking, Antonelli has said. Many years and millions later, Antonelli still talked about being slighted by the Post.
Bedford Brown remembered that "Nick was a little more straight-laced than the other kids . . . he didn't do anything wrong or stupid." He tried to keep friends in check when they wanted to "raise hell" and was embarrased if they were "a bit rowdy" in public. Bedford Brown said.
Antonelli served in the Army in Germany during World War II. After his discharge, he went back to parking cars on DeSales Street and bought a house in Silver Spring. It was his first real estate deal. He never lived there, just rented it out.
Antonelli also took a job as a cab driver, using the cab company's taxi for his own transportation to scout real estate around town. 'Name of the Game'
"He got a real estate license early," said Bedford Brown. "He said long ago that real estate was what to get into. He was parking then and saw that real estate was the name of the game."
While Antonelli was putting distance between himself and the hard times of his youth, the city of Washington was changing, too, moving away from its small-town atmosphere and southern past as the federal government grew rapidly and drew many more people here. In the post-World War II real estate boom and through years of urban renewal and other changes since, Antonelli would help determine where and how the city would grow.
During the 1950s and early 1960s, he bought property around the city, tore down old buildings, used the land for parking lots and operated them profitably until he was ready to build even more profitable office buildings on the sites. Frequently the new buildings included PMI garages.
After going into the parking business as an owner in 1946, Antonelli founded his first parking firm. Federal Parking Services, in 1949. Later he merged it with numerous other parking firms he had acquired to form PMI.
That was in 1956. By then, Antonelli had teamed up with Kingdon Gould Jr., a wealthy heir of financier and railroad tycoon Jay Gould. Gould, who continues to be involved in most of Antonelli's ventures, including PMI, later became U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands. Gould had money, access to more money and could open doors to executive suites.
But it has been Antonelli's drive, hard work and ambition that has taken him through those doors and far beyond.
Meanwhile, Antonelli's personal life was going less smoothy. Like so much else, his first marriage began on DeSales Street, where he met Dorothy Lee Jones, who worked in the drugstore across from the Mayflower Hotel.
They married in 1950, became the parents of a baby girl, Dorothy Lee, a year and a half later and were divorced in 1953. Antonelli retained custody of his daughter and also took over the upbringing of his former wife's son, John, by her first marriage.
The daughter, known as Lee, is now in her late 20s and recently entered the family business. John, now 35, is also in business with Antonelli who has provided the financial backing for several of his stepson's independent ventures. Just before the birth of Dominic Frank Antonelli III, the first of Antonelli's two grandsons, John took Antonelli's last name as his own.
"Nick was good to his kids even if he was busy all the time," said Bedford Brown. "He used to come visit with his baby daughter, carrying a diaper bag over his shoulder."
In the late 1960s, he met Judith Gwenn Dolan, now 36, an airline stewardess who also worked as a hostess at the Gaslight Club on 16th Street NW. The two met there and were married in 1968.
Antonelli takes more time out for relaxation than he once did, but not much more, friends said. He and his wife live comfortably, surrounded by what money, which Antonelli carries in $100 bills, can buy. Affluence and Seclusion
Their secluded estate in Potomac includes an enormous three-story brick house, a swimming pool, lighted tennis courts, a stable with room for eight horses (built to accomodate his daughter's interest in riding), a pond and a gazebo.
The house has a large office for Antonelli, numerous guest rooms and servants' quarters over the garage. Inside the home is a large oil portrait of Antonelli given him by his wife; family photos; Chinese antiques and oriental art purchased when he accompanied one of the first U.S. tours to China; a pool table: an electric player piano, and card tables. (Antonelli's weekly gin games with old friends are his chief relaxation).
Other signs of Antonelli's affluence are his tan Mercedes sports car and his wife's matching silver Mercedes. Antonelli's car is equipped with a telephone for business calls and special mirrors to make up for the recurring eye problems that have limited his peripheral vision.
Antonelli has also seemed to strive to make up for ways in which he was demeaned in the past. When he worked as a parking attendant on DeSales Street, he used to go into Mayflower lobby to change money until the hotel management objected to his dirty clothes, recalled a colleague from those days. Years later, Antonelli and business associates bought the hotel.
In addition to building his corporate headquarters on exactly the same spot where he onced parked other people's cars, he purchased the building once owned by his former employer, The Washington Post on E Street NW, demolished it and opened a parking lot there.
Antonelli has told friends he does not subscribe to the paper, particularly since he and Gould were the subjects of a series of articles in the Post 11 years ago that angered him. Yet he keeps those articles at home in a scrapbook, which he occasionally shows to friends. Works 18-Hour Day
From the days on DeSales Street, Antonelli retains the energy and attention to detail that characterize his work and also his continuing desire to avoid calling attention to himself.
He still puts in an 18-hour day, six or seven days a week, according to a business associate, Robert Sokolsky. "The funny thing with people who become well-to-do, is they never realize it, Sokolsky said. "They never really look at themselves in the mirror and realize that they are what other people think of them."
Bedford Brown remembered a dinner invitation to Antonelli's home years ago. When the Browns arrived, no one was there. Antonelli had apparently been distracted by business. The next day a florist arrived with more flowers and their house could hold, and Antonelli called to apologize for his forgetfulness. Brown said it's the same today: "If there's a business deal, that's the only thing on his mind."
According to another story his friends tell Antonelli's passion for privacy also can be extreme. Once, on a vacation cruise in Europe, he found himself stranded on the dock when he left the ship to make business calls. Rather than take a special launch to rejoin the cruise, Antonelli instead hired a taxi and rushed overland to the next port, where he tried to slip back among the ship's passengers unnoticed. He went to all this trouble, friends said, because he didn't want to call attention to himself.
Now, following months of news stories about the relationship with city official Joseph Yeldell that culminated in last week's criminal indictment, Antonelli has been, and will continue to be, the subject of more publicity than ever.