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Western Specialty Contractors Restores, Protects Historic Mazza Castle for Next 100 Years

restoring historic concrete structures Photos courtesy of Western Specialty Contractors
Photos courtesy of Western Specialty Contractors

Emily McCloskey, the young wife of attorney and Irish immigrant Henry Harrison McCloskey, had grown deathly afraid of earthquakes after the “great earthquake” of San Francisco and the subsequent fire that killed 500 people and left 220,000 homeless in 1906. She insisted that her new home, to be built on the craggy bluffs of what is now the Sharp Park District of Pacifica, California, be earthquake- and fire-proof to appease her fears.

historic concrete reconstruction - Mazza Castle after window header repairs but prior to building wash and seal.
Mazza Castle after window header repairs but prior to building wash and seal.

Her husband, who worked for the Ocean Shore Land Co. and Railroad, hired renowned local architect Charles C. McDougall in 1907 to design their new home based on his wife’s strict specifications. The design solution was a fortress-like structure, modeled after Bendemier Castle in Scotland, and made of 90-pound steel-reinforced concrete blocks chiseled to look like stone. The structure would be built on a plot of solid rock off Highway 1 about 15 miles from San Francisco.

concrete restorationIn 1908, the McCloskey family moved into the structure, although construction was not complete, and remained there until 1915, a year after Henry died. The home hosted a series of interesting owners following the McCloskeys, including Dr. Galen Richard Hickok and his son, Max, who performed illegal abortions on under-aged girls there. M.L. Hewitt used it as a restaurant and speakeasy named Chateau LaFayette.

Clarence and Annie Eakin hosted Red Cross events at the castle to raise money for the war effort. The U.S. Coast Guard used it as a communications center, followed by the O’Brien family, who used it as an art studio.

damaged concrete on window sills.
damaged concrete on window sills.

Finally, San Francisco painter and interior decorator Sam Mazza made much-needed repairs to the structure and used it to entertain and showcase his eclectic collection of objects and art from California and other locations, although he never officially resided at the castle. Mazza also hosted a number of fundraisers and community events there from 1959 to 2002, at which time he died and left the estate to the Sam Mazza Foundation, which currently uses it as its headquarters.

In 2010, members of the Sam Mazza Foundation hired masonry and concrete experts Western Specialty Contractors, formerly known as Western Waterproofing, to restore the unique castle to its original splendor. The structure incorporates views of the ocean, turrets and towers. Harsh coastal exposure to rain, wind, sun and salt over the decades had left the castle with numerous leaks and in dire need of general repairs.

casting new concrete stone
Work in progress; casting new stone to match existing profile

An initial survey of the structure by Western revealed that it had suffered an extensive number of cracks in its concrete stones, the mortar had deteriorated due to long-term water intrusion and its steel reinforcing was severely rusted. Several years earlier, Western had been a part of the restoration team for the San Francisco Cliff House and was chosen to do the masonry and stonework for San Francisco’s North Beach Porziuncola replication project.

Western crews began the extensive Mazza Castle restoration project by first repairing or recasting any damaged cast-stone blocks and replacing concrete headers and sills with a custom-blend of three patch mixes. Crews identified and worked with six different stone patterns.

At one time, the front elevation of the castle facing the ocean was pink. Crews also found residuals of white and gray paint in different areas that had been burnt by UV rays at different rates. When making a repair, Western crews had the tedious task of replicating those colors on the repaired block so they would match the rest of the blocks in that area. Crews also replaced, reinforced and repaired mortar joints between the nonstandard-sized concrete blocks using a custom-made jointing tool, making sure to match the color variations in the mortar.

After the repairs were complete, the entire exterior was cleaned and a masonry sealer applied to protect the historic structure from the elements for the next 100 years. The entire restoration project took about six months.

replacing historic concrete buildings
Replacing damaged or missing parapet caps, which prevent water from infiltrating wall systems by shedding water off the building.

Public events and tours of Mazza Castle and its 24 renovated rooms are held regularly. Some even claim the castle is haunted by ghosts. But that’s another story.

Having grown up in a family of stone masons, Tony Lieder Jr. joined Western Construction Group in 2005 and quickly worked his way up to become branch manager of the Northern California office. Contact Tony at tlieder@westerngroup.com or (510) 875-2109, ext. 1602.

Western Specialty Contractors, founded in 1915 in St. Louis, Missouri, by Ben Many and his brother-in-law, George Bishop Sr., is commemorating its centennial this year. Originally named Western Waterproofing Co., it is now owned and operated by third-generation family members and is the nation’s largest specialty contractor in building restoration and preservation.

Custom Methods Essential on Any
Historical Restoration Project
by Tony Lieder Jr.

When tackling any historical restoration like the Mazza Castle project, I recommend surveying the structure thoroughly prior to construction, like a doctor would examine an ailing patient before making a diagnosis. Just like every person responds differently to treatment, so does the structure undergoing restoration.

Every building has its own set of unique challenges that require custom-tailored restoration methods. The materials and methods used during the restoration depend on the structure itself. Using modern materials and methods to restore a historic structure is necessary to protect the structure from future damage, but having it restored with a one-method, cure-all process is not recommended.

When surveying a concrete structure for restoration, be sure to take into account the following:

Nearly every building has customized coloring. Take note of the variations in coloring, no matter how slight, that have resulted from paint changes throughout the years, natural weathering and trends from one decade to the next. A building’s past will affect its color today.

Look at texture variations. Not every concrete block was formed or chiseled the same way. You may be able to identify a series of patterns you can work from, but maintaining the authenticity of the exterior is vital to a successful restoration.

Joint size and configuration. Examine the pattern used for the masonry units, the level of mortar deterioration, signs of cracking or movement, and the type of joint used such as a struck joint, tooled joint, rope joint or other.

Custom mix mortar and patching materials. Consider the ingredients: namely the size of aggregate, color pigment, texture and cement ratio to establish the strength of the mix.

All of these points must be taken into consideration before work starts. The mock-up stage prior to construction is extremely important as it will establish the means and the methods used for the restoration project going forward. Because this is such a critical step, we have a policy at Western Specialty Contractors that no project begins without an approved mock-up. Knowing how you are going to proceed before you proceed is key.

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