Visiting the mason-fixin' line outside a downtown DC building – Washington Post

“I discovered Rome a metropolis of bricks,” Augustus Caesar supposedly boasted, “and left it a metropolis of marble.”

However even marble doesn’t final without end, which is why Samuel Gutierrez was sweating over a sheet cake-sized piece of it final week outside the Hotel Monaco on E Avenue NW. A contemporary Rome Washington could also be, however its buildings want the occasional contact-up.

In Samuel’s gloved palms was what seemed like a chunky, six-tined fork. When the building went up in 1839 — the first in the metropolis to be made from marble — a stone mason would have used a hammer to drive a comparable software throughout the face of the stone, dressing it with tiny parallel strains to present it texture. Samuel’s fashionable chisel was linked by a hose to an air compressor that blaated about 20 toes away.

“Your ear tells you the way a lot it’s providing you with,” Samuel mentioned, twisting a valve on the hose and elevating and decreasing the pitch. “If it’s giving extra, your ear tells you you’re giving an excessive amount of. . . . It’s by the sound.”

Sound and really feel is how Samuel — foreman of a crew of masons from Baltimore contractor Worcester Eisenbrandt Inc. — repairs the marble exterior of what began life as the General Post Office after which housed the U.S. Tariff Fee earlier than changing into a boutique resort in 2002.

In the practically 180 years since the neoclassical edifice went up, climate, air pollution and the inevitable settling that befalls buildings and people alike have taken their toll. Most weekdays you may stroll by and watch Samuel and the crew at work. They’re in the center of a roughly 10-year program to make fixes.

Earlier than work started, each sq. inch of the building was scrutinized for indicators of cracking and spalling by engineering consultants Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc. Now there are extra Dutchmen on the building than on a KLM flight from Amsterdam.

A Dutchman is what stone masons name a restore patch. The place the stone has deteriorated, employees use a energy noticed to shear away the floor layer of the offending part. A plug 2½ inches deep is reduce to the precise dimension and glued in, usually secured with chrome steel dowels.

“It seems like they’re simply gluing a sq. on however there’s a little extra to it,” mentioned Amy Hollis, the conservator/challenge supervisor with Worcester Eisenbrandt.

By no means has the expression “measure twice, reduce as soon as” been extra necessary. You don’t wish to spend hours making ready a Dutchman solely to find if you increase it in place that it’s too small. The truth is, the masons need it a little comfortable once they epoxy it in place.

“We don’t need it to seem like one other mortar joint,” Amy mentioned of the line between unique stone and patch. “This building has tight mortar joints, so making that distinction is absolutely troublesome.”

The building is the work of two famed architects. Robert Mills, designer of the Washington Monument, did the unique southern aspect. Thomas U. Walter, onetime architect of the Capitol, did the northern addition. White marble graces the outsides of many federal buildings, together with Treasury and the close by Patent Workplace Building, residence now to 2 Smithsonian artwork museums.

White marble positively screams eternity. However eternity may be laborious to take care of. A lot of the unique marble on this building was from the Beaver Dam quarry in Cockeysville, Md., which closed in the 1920s.

“We have now to search out it salvaged,” Amy mentioned. They repurpose marble stoops from demolished rowhouses. They pull marble from the landings of outdated staircases.

Recycled stone was what Samuel was working with. He scored it with the chisel then used a brush to brush away the stone mud.

Extra intricate work is finished again at the Worcester Eisenbrandt yard in Maryland, the place a sculptor named Pavel Kudelich crafts egg-and-dart molding and a sample referred to as lamb’s tongue. Resting on a stack of marble was a pineapple-sized part of lamb’s tongue stone destined to go above a Corinthian column excessive on the building’s south face.

Amy pointed as much as a comparable Pavel-hewn nook that had been put in place earlier. It was a bit lighter in colour than the close by stones, however in any other case it was indistinguishable from them. It was so excessive up — 4 tales — that I mentioned to Amy: “Did Pavel actually need to make it so detailed? I guess hardly anybody would have observed if he’d saved a while and simply roughed it out.”

Amy frowned. “Yeah, however we’d know,” she mentioned. “And each time we drove previous, it could bug us.”

Twitter: @johnkelly

For earlier columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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Visiting the mason-fixin' line outside a downtown DC building - Washington Post