Hard Rock Performance
Stone mason Baldo Vultaggio sculpts a special market.
Thursday, June 2, 2005
Maybe it’s his many years of experience that allow him to spot just the right stone to turn walls, fountains and fireplaces into a special kind of rock show. Or perhaps it’s in his blood; his father worked at the craft for years to support his family. Whatever the reason, stone mason Baldo Vultaggio was born to build.
When Vultaggio and his family left Sicily, Italy, for Monterey 28 years ago, he hoped for the opportunity to carve out a path of his own. Vultaggio, now 37, is the proud, hands-on owner of Cornerstone Masonry, Inc., a Salinas-based stone masonry business that specializes in the unique construction and delicate renovation of buildings and homes along Monterey Bay.
When Vultaggio was a child, his father lived and worked in Germany while the rest of his family remained in Sicily. When his father suggested a move to a small coastal California city, his family was on board.
“We had an aunt that lived in Monterey, so it wasn’t that unfamiliar,” Vultaggio says.
Vultaggio started working as a dishwasher at the age of 12, and became a cook on Cannery Row when he was in high school. When his 19th birthday rolled around, he got married, contemplated a career change and decided to work with stone.
“It was very tough starting out,” he says. “My partner and I worked out of a garage and put in a lot of long days.” Built from the ground up, his small, two-man business has flourished into a large and respected 54-man operation.
Vultaggio feels his company is doing important work in preserving the craftsmanship of the generations of stone masons who labored before them.
“There are a lot of people around here that say they’re masons, but they don’t provide the quality we do and they can’t lay stone like we do,” he says. “If it’s different, we’re into it. We’ve done some really neat stuff, like big fountains and fireplaces imported from Europe.”
Vultaggio points to the tall, swirling and curving stone walls of the Laguna Seca Business Park as one of his most prized projects. “You either love it or you hate it,” he says. “We did it wild.
I think we’ll get ‘Mason of the Year’ for that.”
These new projects have yielded some nice returns as well. He says he has landed projects estimated at over $700,000.
Vultaggio and his crew can be seen working on the columns on the façade of the newly-constructed building on the corner of Fremont and Abrego Streets in Monterey. After only a few minutes of observation, it’s easy to see why stone masons are artists in their own right. The masons pick and choose their next piece of stone from a large selection of raw rectangular pieces in a wheelbarrow, chisel away at the piece, giving it a unique shape and character adequate for an ambiguous and subjective pattern of stone. Finally, they apply white mortar on four sides to keep it secure, and place it firmly on the previous row within the wall.
Santa Rita stone is the most requested stone for projects in the Monterey Bay, says Vultaggio. The stone looks similar to Carmel stone, the material used to create and maintain the character and charm of Carmel. Vultaggio says that actual Carmel stone supplies are depleted and can no longer be quarried from the ground.
“Everyone calls [Santa Rita stone] Carmel stone because it looks so much like it, but it actually comes from King City,” he says. Like Carmel stone, Santa Rita stone is cream-colored with gold and rust faces but softer and easier to work with. It’s just as expensive too. A ton of raw Santa Rita stone can cost upwards of $500.
Vultaggio points to his employees as to the reason for his business’ success.
“If you have the right men, this can be a very profitable business,” says Vultaggio. “I’d say we’re in the top 10, as far as stone workers in the County.”
Some of Vultaggio’s workers have been victorious in bricklaying contests around the United States. All masons are part of the California Allied Craft Workers Union, where they learn the ins and outs of the trade through an intense four-year apprenticeship-training program.
“We learn how to do this through union school but more importantly, by watching other masons at work,” Vultaggio says.
Cornerstone Masonry is busy working on 11 jobs around the
County and averages nearly 200 jobs a year. Business is just
fine, says Vultaggio. Like their forefathers in the Middle
Ages, Vultaggio and his crew of dedicated masons continue to
be architects of history.