Saturday, November 19, 2005

True Grit, Baltimore Style

Get a little closer.


There. Run your hand over it. Feel the different grain sizes as some of them rub off and fall to the sidewalk below. Like sandstone. Notice that it looks like it has been painted, or even colored by a dye mixed into the stuff when they were applying it to the house.

It is Formstone. I have seen some of the houses in Locust Point (and in other neighborhoods) covered with Permastone, but in Baltimore, Formstone seems to be the word of choice, no matter what brand the substance actually is.

Judging by the number of rowhouses aro
und town whose owners are electing to strip the Formstone off, the question "Why would anyone put that stuff over perfectly good brick?" is more than a rhetorical one. Apparently, the answer, in the 1930's, 40's and 50's was, "Because the bricks of these old rowhouses are poorly-made, porous things that let the rain soak in." I suppose that too much economy has moved through the marketplace for the people who made their fortunes slathering Formstone up to be the same now making fortunes stripping it off.

A crew of guys would show up, with a mixer, some buckets, big rolls of chicken wire or steel mesh, trowels and shaping tools, dye and some scaffolding. They'd nail the mesh to the bricks and apply coats of the Formstone mix. Into the final coat they would carve and shape rectangles with relief suggesting cut stone. Then they would paint these recta
ngles colors: gray-blue, gray-orange, gray, gray-yellow.

As with Medieval and Renaisance guilds and studios, the artisans are anonymous. They affixed this plate to the outside of what, in later years, would be our house for a time.

Are there archives of the Formstone Corporation? Is there, somewhere, an invoice for the work done at 1463 Towso
n Street? Are the names of the men (presumably) who did the work on the paper?

How long will it be until someone has this Formstone removed to expose the brick beneath?

Nature is already at work, with the accompanying half-assed efforts of man to counteract that work.


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