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Volunteers make 2,500 bricks from dirt, water and straw for Castro Adobe

Modified: Friday, Aug 31st, 2007

In a dusty, sun-baked field in rural Watsonville, 2,500 adobe bricks sit side by side like dominoes, slowly curing in the heat.

Immediately next door, through an ivy-choked picket fence, stands the Castro Adobe building. Surrounded by overgrown trees and shrubs, its walls are slowly crumbling after 160 years of scorching summers and wet winters.

Soon, a team of state experts adept in restoring historic buildings will take the bricks and begin the process of restoring the structure.

The 75-pound adobe bricks were made the old fashioned way — by mixing dirt, water and straw, then shoveling the blend into rectangular wooden forms. The only nod to the present was the concrete mixer used to stir the ingredients.

A team of 150 volunteers led by Friends of California State Parks, along with workers from the California Conservation Corps, made the bricks over a three-week period. Organizers began recruiting volunteers earlier this summer.

“The group just worked like beavers,” said Jim Toney, a volunteer with Friends of California State Parks.

Still unknown is whether the state restoration crew will be able to start work before winter sets in. Likely, the project may have to be shelved until April or March, said Kirk Lingenfelter, superintendent of the local state park system.

The crew needed 2,000 bricks, but knowing that adobe can break if made incorrectly, they made 500 more, just in case. Amazingly, few were lost during the curing process.

This is thanks in part to Tim Aguilar, an adobe expert who also helped restore the San Miguel Mission and helped make more than 100,000 bricks for the Santa Barbara Presidio. Aguilar made sure the mixture of straw, sand and mud was just right, and perfected drying times.

‘There’s a lot to it,” said Randy Widera, executive director of Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks. “The bricks can’t dry too fast, and they can’t dry too slow. It’s really an art.”

The bricks are expected to be ready by Sept. 17.

The Castro Adobe was originally built in 1848 and boasted the only fandango room for miles. It was known for dances that drew neighbors and workers alike to parties that lasted for days, according to Charlie Kieffer, whose great-great-grandmother, Maria de los Angels, once lived in the house.

After the structure was damaged in the1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, owner Edna Kimbro tried for years to get it restored before selling it to the state in 2002. It’s now a National Historic Site and a California State Landmark. State plans now call for its complete restoration.

“It was one of the most successful volunteer efforts I’ve seen,” said Lingenfelter. “It’s almost hard to get a handle on the totality of the project.”

For information about the Castro Adobe, go to www.CastroAdobe.org.


(Published 8/31/07)

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