Jump to Main Content

project descriptions

  • Chronicle/DeYoung Building
  • Spreckels Temple of Music
  • St. Francis Cathedral
A Short History
Built in San Francisco in 1890, this building was the home of the San Francisco Chronicle from 1890 until 1924. It was designed by the Chicago architects Burnham & Root. Named in honor of the founder of the San Francisco Chronicle, Charles DeYoung, it was a grand showpiece with a beautifully carved Romanesque archway at the main entrance and decorative brickwork. Damaged in the 1906 earthquake, it was rebuilt by architect Willis Polk.

In the 1962, in a effort to create a “modern” look, the building was covered with a steel and glass skin. In the process, some of the original stonework was damaged. In 2005, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company began a renovation project, which would update the interior and add eight stories above for residential units. The glass and steel skin would be removed, and the stone façade restored to its original splendor.

Our Part in the Renovation

It began with the phone call from stonecarver Shawn Tibbs, who had worked on many buildings in San Francisco over the years. He asked if we could match a dark reddish-purple sandstone for a building in downtown San Francisco. He explained that they needed some material for replacements and missing stone. We started researching the source for the original stone, and found that it was called Sespe Sandstone, and came from a quarry near Los Angeles that had been active in the late 1800's. During a visit to the area, we were able to purchase some large boulders from a private landowner.

The restoration contractor, the general contractor, the engineer, and a representative of one of the owners all agreed that the Sespe Sandstone would be the best choice for the stone restoration work. After splitting the large boulders into manageable blocks, ranging from 10,000 to 20,000 pounds apiece, we had them shipped back to our New Mexico facility.

It was a privilege to be part of the team restoring this beautiful and historic building, and to be given the opportunity to use the original stone for replacements and repairs. We wish to thank the following people for making it possible: Shawn Tibbs (Restoration Stone), Restoration Contractor Mike Courtney (Giampolini/Courtney), General Contractor Plant Construction, Architect Charles Bloszies, Engineer Dan Eilbeck, the Ritz-Carlton owners, and the property owners for providing the stone.

Please view the Gallery page to see examples of the fabrication process, the installation, and the finished work. Some photos by Steve Rhodes.
Early San Francisco building material: Colusa Sandstone
With its classical columns, bandshell, and tree-shaded concourse, the Spreckels Temple is a favorite gathering place for San Francisco residents. Built of Colusa Sandstone, the structure has detailed carvings.

In the early 1900's, many buildings in California were constructed using Colusa Sandstone. It has a unique blue-green color when cut and a uniformly fine texture, making it ideal for carving. Over time, it oxidizes to a tan or light brown, and is known locally as a “Brownstone.” In 2008, repairs were made to the main cornice, approximately 10 feet below the top. We were able to obtain blocks of this sandstone from one of the original quarries, so that fabricated elements would match the existing stonework.

Using drawings, models, and templates produced by Shawn Tibbs and the Giampolini Group, we made the replacement cornice sections, corners, and coffered elements. Using the originals as a model, twenty-two rosette units were hand-carved and installed.

We were able to use of the original stone for this project. Original stone is a "perfect" match in color and texture, and if available, can be an attractive option in restoration work. We encourage preservationists to consider using natural stone for historic projects, instead of using cast stone, consolidants, and engineered patching materials.

Please view the Gallery page to see some examples of the elements needing repair/replacement, as well as the fabrication process and some pictures of the finished work. We also fabricated custom wall caps and replacement sills in Colusa Sandstone for the Disney Family Museum (Presidio Post Building) in San Francisco, as well as other projects in this area.
About the Cathedral...
The cathedral was built by Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy between 1869 and 1886 on the site of an older adobe church. Saint Francis Cathedral was built in the style of the Romanesque churches of France familiar to Lamy (Wikipedia). Skilled Italian masons, stone carvers, and builders were recruited in order to hasten the construction. These included the Digneo brothers, Carlo, Michelangelo, and Genaro, along with the Palladino and Berardinelli families. (Historic Santa Fe Foundation Bulletin).

In 2008-2009, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe began renovation work on the Cathedral (the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi since 2005). The stonework of the entire cathedral was cleaned, repaired and repointed by Abstract Masonry Restoration (John Lambert, owner). For deteriorated areas, replacement stones from one of the original quarries (in nearby Lamy, New Mexico), were used. We transported the stone to our facility and fabricated pieces that were needed.

Carving the Cross
During the project, the old cross at the apex was discovered to be deteriorated and in need of replacement. We recommended using the durable Berea Sandstone from Ohio, as the available blocks at the Lamy quarry were too small. The old cross was carefully taken down, packed, and delivered to us at our previous location in Bernalillo, New Mexico, where we created the new one.
The attention to detail on the new cross is extraordinary. The same finishes (faded and worn by many years on the old cross) are replicated by hand on the replacement. “It’s not the fastest way, but it is the most accurate,” said Kino [Kopelov], speaking of the hand chiseling. (—L.A. Williams, Sandoval Signpost)
We also designed a special element not found in the original—we inlayed a piece of the original stone from the church in the back of the cross, carved with the date 1886—and then added the date 2009 below.

Carving the Capitals
When the Cathedral was completed in 1886, two faces of the capitals at the entryway were left blank—to be finished at a later time by another Archbishop. In August 2009, we were asked to carve the two remaining faces with the Basilica coat of arms, and the coat of arms of the Archbishop Sheehan. We are honored to have had the opportunity to complete the carving 123 years later and to participate in the history of the Cathedral.

Please view the Gallery page to see more of this project: the fabrication of the new cross, and the modeling and carving of the capital.