A dying breed: Skilled fourth-generation plasterers repair J.E. Halvorson House in Cedar Rapids
Note: The J.E. Halvorson House will be dedicated Oct. 15, 2021, with tours of the home and neighborhood walking tours led by Cedar Rapids Historian Mark Stoffer Hunter both Oct. 15 and 16. The public is invited to attend. See more on Save CR Heritage’s Facebook page.
By Cindy Hadish/Save CR Heritage
CEDAR RAPIDS – Richard Haverland calls himself “a dinosaur.”
“All my competition, they’re all gone,” Haverland, 78, said of skilled plasterers who use time-honored techniques as he does. “There’s nobody left. I’m a dying breed.”
Haverland, his brother, Terry, and two of Richard’s sons are carrying on the family legacy as fourth- and fifth-generation plasterers.
Their business, Haverland Plastering, based in Bellevue, Iowa, near Dubuque, has been in the family since the late 1800s.
The brothers learned the trade from their father, who started in his father’s business in the 1930s, and worked for 50 years. His father, in turn, had followed in his own father’s footsteps.
“It’s all I know,” Richard said of plaster work, which he’s done since 1964.
Plaster was used in building construction for centuries before essentially being replaced by less expensive and quicker-to-install drywall by the 1950s.
According to the National Parks Service, three-coat plaster is unmatched in strength and durability; resists fire and reduces sound transmission.
Original plaster also is part of a building’s historic fabric, evoking the presence of earlier craftsmen, which contributes to the historic character of a building’s interior, the Parks Service notes in its plaster preservation brief.
In repairing the early 1900s J.E. Halvorson House, Save CR Heritage turned to Precision Drywall of Cedar Rapids, which subcontracted with Haverland Plastering to repair walls and ceilings in the two-story home.
The home, at 606 Fifth Ave. SE, was being prepared for demolition, which involved removal of asbestos. Large gaps were left in the walls as ductwork was removed.
With the help of a preservation grant through the Linn County Historic Preservation Commission and the Linn County Board of Supervisors, those gaps throughout the home were repaired this summer by the Haverlands.
Smaller holes could be filled in with plaster, while larger ones first required metal lath, a steel mesh that decades ago replaced wooden lath – narrow strips of wood used as a plaster base and reinforcement – for walls and ceilings.
A “scratch” coat serves as the plaster base, followed by a second rough coat and then the smooth finish coat. A full day generally is needed for each coat to dry.
While the Haverlands make the work look easy, the technique take years of experience, and the end result, Richard Haverland said, is worth it.
“It will last forever,” he said, noting homes he built with plaster more than 50 years ago still look like new. “The same house in drywall isn’t standing anymore.”