“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

“Life is ever-changing.”

“Things just aren’t what they used to be.”


These are some of the common cliché phrases we hear day-in, day-out without really paying attention to the real meaning. It is not just those sayings but we tend to go through life and pass over a lot things; we miss comments, expressions and even buildings that we should take more notice of.

My wife and I recently went out to dinner and decided to try something new. We went into the old part of town for dinner and a stroll. The old part of our town, called The Plaza, was initially built at the turn-of-the-century and has plenty of historic buildings (and history). Being close to Hollywood, there is even cinematic history in this historic plaza.

The plaza has been used in many movies over the years for its “old-time” look. The reason is the plaza easily passes for almost any small town USA Main St. more than the trappings of southern California. The first notable movie filmed here was the 1945 film noir picture by the infamous Otto Preminger titled Fallen Angel. The most recent filming was an episode of the television sitcom Parks and Recreation starring Amy Poehler and has yet to be aired. The NBC comedy television show is about the city government workers in the fictitious town of Pawnee, Ind. I told you it passes just fine for Middle America.



As we walked in the circular plaza, we passed a unique-looking Starbucks. The structure was built in 1911 and was the First National Bank. It still looks how one would imagine a bank from the turn-of-the-century with large stone columns and granite. I grew up here, so I have seen it many times. We walked in to get a coffee and I noticed it was now a combination bank and Starbucks. While that was surprising, my attention quickly turned to all the incredible interior plaster work and at almost the same time my memory banks started kicking in. I suddenly remembered I once had an account at this bank, not this particular branch, but I had been in this lobby when I was a very young man to drop off a deposit or something for my family’s plastering business. I suddenly felt small; small to the stature of the building, small that I had forgotten such beauty and smaller yet that I never really noticed how truly amazing all this plaster work was. I was feeling guilty as we ordered our double shot grande lattes and when I was sure I could not feel any more guilty, the barista, noticing me staring at the walls and ceiling said, “Nice building isn’t it? I never get tired of working here.”

Now I sank even lower. I, who was from a local plastering family, with an office only four blocks away, never truly appreciated the splendor of this building but a 20-year-old college girl gets it.



The ornamentation and attention to detail was amazing. I was looking at a blend of run plaster moulds with dentils and some obvious stuck on casts. I could imagine that in 1911 the plasterers showed up for work and possibly tied their horses up outside and then changed into their white complete with bow ties. Yes, plasterers at the turn-of-the-century wore bow ties as part of the standard work attire. The pride they had in their work was clearly evident.

Several books have been written about interior plaster in attempts to spread knowledge of the means and methods of executing all kinds of work in plaster, and cause greater appreciation of it, and desire for its wider use. For several decades, it was fairly wide spread and craftsmen were plentiful across North America. Today, they still exist, but far fewer in number and even fewer training schools that have the ability to teach the fine craft. It makes me just a bit sad.

I was silently apologizing to all the old-timers for my lack of observation back in the 1970s to appreciate the best of our industry. I was still feeling guilty as I sipped my coffee. The price for this cup of coffee was far more inflated in price from 1911 to 2011 when compared to the price of plaster. This is today’s market. This is what is important to us, trendy coffee, while we let a true trade slip away in appreciation, and I was no better than anyone else in letting it happen.

I was now depressed and needed the coffee pick me up, but I was about to reach a new low. The outside of the grand old bank, is, after closer examination, cement stucco—not stone, granite or concrete—but cement plaster with scarifying ridges which were popular around this time in the United States. We need to pay attention to our surroundings more and appreciate these old buildings and the craftsmanship exhibited in them. We need to try to inspire owners and architects to keep the interior plaster alive, and we wall and ceiling contractors need to be willing to work with the architects who respect the trade.


 Too often I hear contractors trying to dissuade architects who want to preserve in-place old plaster to tear it out and let them put up something fast and easy. Life is not always supposed to be fast and easy. Take some time to do it right. We can find another cliché to fit this, can’t we? W&C