Pictured: Hector Arellano (right) with guests at the Tuckpointers Promotional Trust table at LI’s 2017 Legendary Landmarks Celebration. (Credit: Diane Alexander White Photography.)
Hector Arellano is the Director of Pointing, Cleaning and Caulking with the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, Administrative District Council 1 of Illinois. During his nearly 30 years in the union, Hector has served as a foreman and assistant superintendent and was a part- and full-time apprenticeship & training instructor for 18 years before becoming a Business Representative for the union in 2014. Hector is a supporter of Landmarks Illinois, as well, sponsoring and attending our Legendary Landmarks Celebration in March. Below, Hector talks about why he enjoys tuckpointing and restoring historic building in Chicagoland.
Landmarks Illinois: What led you to becoming a tuckpointer?
Hector Arellano: There was a slowdown in construction activity when I was working in the industry in the late ‘70s, so I took an opportunity to work for a tuckpointing outfit, and I fell in love with the trade. Initially, what fascinated me about the trade was hanging off the scaffolding. The level of skill required to do the work also impressed me.
LI: Tuckpointing can be dangerous and nerve-wracking – you mentioned having to hang off the side of buildings. It is also detailed-oriented. What motivates you to do this challenging work?
HA: You are either very afraid of it, or you get almost a euphoric sensation. You are aware you are in danger, and it increases your adrenaline. Also, it’s one thing to see the major stone or brick work on buildings from the street level, but when you are up close to it, it’s just fascinating. You get to see the detailed work and how everything is pinned and held into place.
LI: What do you find most rewarding about working on historic buildings?
HA: Walking around downtown Chicago, you see people admiring beautiful, old buildings and you get a sense of pride knowing that you worked on that building and were a part of keeping it around for generations to come. Sometimes, too, when we are dismantling or restoring older buildings, you find memorabilia like old union cards, calling cards or messages written on walls. That is something most people will never see.
LI: What are the challenges associated with repairing historic buildings?
HA: One challenge is learning to work with the new materials to make it fit or match with the older materials on the building. Obviously, you won’t have materials that exactly match the old stone or masonry because of age and wear, so you have to learn to tweak or fit it in so when people look at it, they do not see major differences. Also, when you are installing new materials, you have to make sure it is done properly so that it stays in place and does not deteriorate. Tuckpointers have a kind of code, too, when working on buildings – if we see something that is lose on a building or are concerned about, we remove it or shore it up so it is no longer unsafe. We not only feel responsible for our own safety, but we don’t want to cause anyone else harm.
LI: Has there been a favorite historic building you have worked on in your career?
HA: The Carson Pirie Scott building in Chicago. The job included very satisfying, beautiful detailed work, cleaning and preserving parts and reinstalling others. It is amazing to be able to see famous architecture up close and see how pieces were fastened to the buildings so they stay in place.
LI: What do you think about the way buildings are built today compared to how they were in the past?
HA: Obviously, now with the newer technology, they are built totally different. In the past, it was a lot of masonry work. Nowadays, it’s mostly steel and glass. The simplicity of these glass boxes, I don’t see the value in that. I think the value is in restoring the older buildings that have this beautiful work – you just can’t compare it to the newer type of buildings out there.
LI: How do the younger, apprentice tuckpointers respond to working on buildings constructed five generations before them? What do you hear them say?
HA: To be truthful, they do not realize the significance of these buildings until we start explaining it to them and they begin working on them. For many, they go back to their own homes. They may live in a Chicago bungalow, for instance, and start taking notice of the materials, the stone and brickwork, arches and other details. Then, they start to notice the differences with newer buildings. As they grow in their knowledge in the craft, they begin to appreciate the older buildings and the history they have. We try to stress this to them from the beginning, but it takes a bit of their own willingness to discover it for themselves. Even if they move on to another trade, they take this appreciation, or even love affair, of older buildings with them. We do look forward to continuing bringing in younger generations to the trade. BAC offers a three-and-a-half-year apprentice program that teaches new apprentices in the trade how to restore historic buildings, much of which focuses on safety. Tuckpointing is a rewarding career that will last a lifetime.
LI: What is the building or buildings that will outlast all of us? And, why?
HA: The masonry structures. They have shown they can last for centuries. Take the thousand-year-old castles around the world, or even the pyramids – those are masonry structures.
LI: Why do you support Landmarks Illinois?
HA: I support Landmarks Illinois because of the education the organization brings to the public. LI brings attention to our older buildings around us and helps communities understand their historical significance and value. The organization has done a great job spreading this awareness to the public.
(This is an extended version of an article originally published in our February 2018 issue of our quarterly newsletter, The Arch)