Mason uses “lost art form” on historic Frankie House
NOTE: Joe Luchtenburg will demonstrate historic masonry techniques on the Frankie House at noon Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, at the site at 1425 Fifth Ave. SE. The demonstration is free; attendees should dress appropriately for the weather.
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
CEDAR RAPIDS —The “Frankie House” is getting a facelift, in stone.
When the home, owned by Save CR Heritage, made its move to a new location this year, part of the structure did not make the trip.
The Frankie House left behind its limestone basement and while it has a new concrete foundation at its new site, attention to detail will help restore the building’s historic appearance.
Joe Luchtenburg, owner of A-1 Masonry of Cedar Rapids, is ensuring that the exterior of the Frankie House is in keeping with its era of origin from the late-1800s.
“I want it to look as close to the old as possible,” Luchtenburg said of the limestone he has been installing the past several weeks on the house, now at 1425 Fifth Ave. SE.
Originally at 1257 Third Ave. SE, the home, dubbed the Frankie House in honor of a young girl who died in the home in its early years, was moved in September. Though its exact construction date has not been determined, its first residents were living in the home by 1896. Westminster Presbyterian Church sold the home to Save CR Heritage to have it moved in lieu of demolishing it for green space.
Homes in its new surroundings, as well as its old neighborhood, were built with limestone foundations. Twenty-one tons of Anamosa limestone was trucked in to be used on the Frankie House.
Luchtenburg created a special mortar to use with the stone, and is using special techniques that stone masons would have used at the time the home was built.
He has hand-cut each piece, and uses a chisel and hammer to “face” or “pitch” the stone to give it a rough edge, as well as a striking iron to give the joints a convex, rather than concave, appearance.
“It matches the old stuff – that’s what we’re after,” Luchtenburg said. “It makes it unique.”
He studied the home’s old foundation to replicate the work.
Trained by “some good old stone masons” from Germany, Luchtenburg said masonry is becoming a lost art form. He was the masonry instructor at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids for 15 years before the program was discontinued and taught a historic masonry class at Kirkwood this fall.
During his time at Kirkwood, Luchtenburg’s students regularly achieved a 100 percent job placement immediately after graduation, due to the high demand for the skill.
One of those former students, Michael Douglas, has been assisting on the Frankie House work.
Douglas served in the U.S. Army in Iraq when he was injured by a roadside bomb in 2005. He spent one month in a wheelchair, due to his leg injuries, but was able to recover, and later worked at a number of jobs before taking classes at Kirkwood.
“I almost quit, but I switched to masonry and couldn’t be happier,” he said.
Luchtenburg said the Kirkwood program was discontinued because of low enrollment, adding that masonry requires a strong work ethic, which allowed dedicated students like Douglas to thrive.
He hopes to find a niche in historic masonry with A-1 Masonry, noting that new techniques can be more harmful than helpful on chimneys and foundations of older homes.
The old mortar, for example, was likely made from sand dredged from the nearby Cedar River, while new products don’t offer the same flexibility on old brick and stone.
Luchtenburg has been doing work on one of the largest stone buildings left standing in Cedar Rapids: a warehouse built in 1882 at the former Sinclair plant in southeast Cedar Rapids, and would like to continue the “old-school” techniques taught to him by the master craftsmen.
“They were a very well-respected trade,” he said. “I like the idea of keeping it alive.”
Luchtenburg can be reached at (319) 310-8290 or BigLux1962@hotmail.com