Foundry Square, at First and Howard, is a complex of office buildings with large, inviting granite patios. The patio at Foundry Building III is comprised of about 1,500 magnificent black granite pavers that can weigh several hundred pounds each and require 6 men to put in place.
Setting those behemoth blocks is no simple task, and requires both the individual skills of each mason as well as cooperation from the entire crew. For marble masons, teamwork is everything, along with the camaraderie and pride that comes with building something beautiful that will last for generations.
On this project, workers used a new system of pedestal pavers. Instead of setting paving stones in a mortar bed, stones are set on plastic pedestals, raising them above the sub floor. The gaps between the stones are left open and ungrouted, allowing water to drain down between the stones and flow out through this open space between the stones and subfloor.
On The Job Site visited the marble masons, members of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 3, working for Carrara Marble Company at Foundry Building III, as they were finishing up the project.
–Voices From the Union–
I’ve been a marble mason all my life. I liked marble, and when I got out of high school a friend of mine was a helper and said they’re looking for guys, so I got in. I have been here ever since.
That was 30 years ago, and it’s been great. I get to work in different places, at different job sites, meeting different people. Just about anywhere I walk in San Francisco I can say, “I worked on that job.” A lot of times when I see a slab of marble, I can remember who set that stone, and all the other guys working on that job. It’s such a great feeling. I met beautiful people. And not just marble masons, but guys in all the other trades as well. It’s been a great experience.
When you’re working on a good job with the right crew, it’s more like having fun than work. When you leave work on Friday you are like, I can’t wait for Monday to get back to working with the guys and do what I’m doing. When you feel that way you know you have a great job.
A lot of the old-timers are gone, and now I’m an old-timer. Some of the ways we do things have changed, but everybody still gives it 110%, and that’s all you can ask for. I’m glad to say I’m a marble mason.
I started working as a marble mason in 1980. My father was a marble mason and my son is a marble mason and we’re all in BAC Local 3. I worked with my father when I started out, traveling together on out-of-town jobs. My father is 94 years old. He’s a great man, and it was a wonderful experience working with him. I worked with my son when he started out as a marble finisher, and now he’s an apprentice marble mason.
Working with stone is hard, dirty work. It can be pretty messy. When we cut stones, sometimes we’ll use a tin coffee can with a nail hole in the bottom on the side and fill it with water. The finisher keeps the water squirting on the saw blade or grinder to make a cleaner cut and keep the dust down. By the end of the day, you’re both soaked.
It can take a fork lift to move some of these stones, they are so heavy. One mason will set everything up. Then you’ll call over a bunch of guys and work together to set it in place. It can take six guys to place some of these stones. You get used to helping each other out. It’s a real shared sense of accomplishment. We’ll tap knuckles together when we’re done. When you work together in a situation like that you get a real feeling of camaraderie and accomplishment when you’re done.
My most memorable job was the monument to the Lone Sailor on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge, a monument to maritime workers.
It’s nice being a foreman on a job like this. You’re working with a great bunch of guys. I’ve been working for Carrara for 30 years, and they’re great.
I started in a high school work program and have been in the trade ever since. I like working with my hands and creating things. I made surfboards when I was a kid. My father was a woodworker and my grandfather’s an iron worker. I have a lot of ironworkers in the family, and they said, “Why do you want to be a brickie?” But I liked working with the big blocks of stones, and it just went from there. I’ve traveled all over the place. I worked in LA, Las Vegas, Seattle, Portland. I’ve worked on jobs from Hawaii to Washington DC and everywhere in between. My family now appreciates marble masons.
What is the secret of the trade? Communicating with others. You go through your process and come up with a game plan that everyone agrees to and feels is safe, so no one gets hurt. To do this for a long time and have all your fingers, there’s something to be said for that. And that takes communication.
I’ve got a cast of characters working here, so being a people person is the most important thing. Sometimes they give me a headache here and there, but in general I’m working with a bunch of good guys and feel lucky to be working with them.
Marble Mason, Steward
I like being a steward. Sometimes men are afraid to speak up to management. They need to see somebody do it, and I’m that guy. Whether it’s a payroll problem or a little discrepancy with another employee, you need somebody to help work it out. It makes everything go a lot smoother.
You have to remind everyone to put on their hard hats and glasses and make sure they are working safe. This can be a dangerous job. You cut your fingers, smash your hands. People’s knees or hands or backs can go out. There’s always a hazard if you slip or of something falling. We just got to look out for each other.
I’ve worked on and off with these guys over the years, for different companies and on different jobs. You might not see somebody for years and all of a sudden you’re back on the same job together, and it’s like it was yesterday. And then you realize that was 15 years ago. A lot of us worked on the San Francisco City Hall, and that was in ‘95 or ‘96. There was a lot of stone in that building. That was a big, big job. I’d like to see a few more like that.
I’m in with the big heavy stuff, and I like a good workout. Being a helper, I’m getting a workout every day, even when it’s cold and freezing. And now I don’t have to go to the gym.
I’m an artist and a musician, and before this I was working as a bouncer in clubs, but it wasn’t very steady or exactly what I wanted. I told my pop, “I’m done with the bouncing gigs. I need to get on something right.” And he said, “Hey, you might want to join the union.” And I said, “Yeah, now that’s exactly what I’m going to do.” So I hopped right in. My uncles were in the trade.
I like helping the masons and learning from what they are doing. Next month I start school. I’m looking forward to being a setter. They say it takes a couple of years, but I’m going to see if I can get in there real quick and beat the record.
The hardest thing to learn is to stay safe. You get comfortable, and a lot of these things can hurt you. I pinched my hand a couple weeks ago and it’s barely feeling good yet. To be safe, you need to be careful and patient.
The best part is being able to do good work, which means having the time and the materials to do a good job. These pedestal pavers are okay. You have to put them in, in a certain manner, and follow the do’s and don’ts. You just have to have a lot of patience. I think mud set is firmer. The pedestals move around a little more and you got to make sure they are locked in and tight.
What I’ll remember most about today is how cold it is. It’s been unseasonably cold this year. It has a real bite. I could use some warm weather right now. I like working with the guys on the job, but the commute is difficult. The trains are just so damned packed, and even with the new bridge you can spend an hour in traffic getting into San Francisco.
What’s it like working here? Every day is like a day in paradise. I’ve been doing this for 13 years, and every day I’m learning something new about putting down stone. I get to learn from different journeymen stone masons. I like stone and marble, but it’s a little heavier than tile. You got to be more cautious, always thinking safety. Every time you pick up something, you got to think about your back and shoulders and make sure you’re lifting up with your feet.