The Lafayette Flats building is a beautiful example of early twentieth century cut stone construction. It is not stone veneer; the walls are over a foot thick and made of only stone and cement. This more than anything else is what drew me to the building.
Stone is in my blood. Almost literally. Probably literally. I have probably ingested enough stone dust and rock chips in my life that there probably are some minute stone particles coursing through my veins.
My father was a stone mason as was his father before him. My older brother and I were stone masons too until we decided that the work was too hard to do for very long, and one at a time we struck out to find our own way in the world that that didn’t involve lugging around two-hundred pound boulders and beating them into submission.
No really, I can’t overstate what a big role stone has played in my life. The birth announcements that my parents sent out actually read “Announcing the arrival of a new stone mason” and had a line art drawing of a baby holding a mason’s trowel.
So stone and I have a long history, and so do stone and Fayetteville. One of the most prominent features of Fayetteville is the huge stone retaining wall along Keller Avenue and N. Court Street which was built by Cieante Janutolo about the same time as Lafayette Flats was being built by Cinto Peraldo. Several other Italian stone masons lived in the area around this same time.
My father admired Italian stone masonry and even specialized in one pattern that he called “Florentine” because an old Italian mason in Charleston once told him that it was the way that the masons did it in his hometown of Florence. My father, never lacking self-confidence, always wanted to visit Florence to see if the masons there did stonework that was as good as his. He died in 1986 before he got the chance.
My brother who died two years ago also was a great stone mason but had a love/hate relationship with the art. On one hand he was never happier than he was after he completed a job and was able to stand back and admire his work, and he was never unhappier than struggling through the workless winters that go hand in hand with the business. This, along with his aching knees and bad back made him seek a career change in his late 30’s.
I didn’t last that long. My career in stone began in my 14th summer. I worked every summer after that and went full time for a couple of years before I left the business for good when I was 25. I certainly never achieved the proficiency of either my father or my brother, but I do carry forward a great admiration for the work that my father always called “Artistic Engineering.” He always said that a good stone mason had to be equal parts artist and engineer.
And so now when I look at good stonework, I see it through my father’s and brother’s critical eyes. I look for the uniformity of the mortar joints and the way the stone was faced by the mason as he selected each stone and made fine adjustments with a few skilled blows of his hammer. I imagine the pride in the mason’s eyes at the end of each day as he took one last glance over his shoulder at the fruits of his labor.
I think my father and brother would approve of the way Lafayette Flats was built.
I know that I do.