Andy Del Gallo is leaving his mark on Minneapolis City Hall.
The 45-year-old stone carver from Manassas, Va., is helping the city and Hennepin County take care of some unfinished business on the building they built jointly more than a century ago.
Above the building's S. 4th Street entrance, Del Gallo, co-worker Hernan Caceres and a local contractor are carving an inscription that was contained in the original Long & Kees architectural plans for the building. It adds the name ("City Hall•Court House") and the year construction began ("MDCCCLXXXIX," or 1889). They were left off the building's facade for lack of money.
The job will cost about $150,000, but the bill is not being footed by taxpayers. The money is coming from the historic preservation fund of the Municipal Building Commission, which approved the project in 2006. The fund is financed mostly from renting the building for special events, but money also comes from vending machines, a small cafe and sale of building memorabilia. It's the first time the fund has been tapped.
Del Gallo is stoked to be working on a project that features 2-foot-high letters. That's the largest scale he's worked in granite, one of the hardest surfaces after diamonds. He also feels a kinship with the original artisans who carved the building's stonework.
"I am in awe of the building. It's an amazing building," he said. One of the benefits of the work is that he'll get to leave his name and the date of the work in a small inscription in the red-tinged Ortonville granite.
Del Gallo is planning to tour the building before leaving town after about 10 days of carving. "I love the sculpture, all the appointments in the building," he said.
Meanwhile, he and Caceres are working eight hours a day on a scaffold about 30 feet over the building's entrance. They spread a stencil generated in their workshop over the stone to serve as a guide for cutting and to protect the granite from any oil sprayed by their pneumatic tools. They use saws of various sizes to rough the letter into the stone, then employ air-powered 3-inch chisels to finely work the cut to the right degree of finish to help the letters stand out.
It's a matter of a carver's taste to know when the letter is right.
"Each carver kind of has a subtle look," Del Gallo said.
Until that point, it's a matter of standing in place for hours at a time, maintaining the right leverage to carve.
Music to work by
No wonder Del Gallo plugs in an MP3 player while he's chiseling and sawing -- rock tunes for the rough cuts and classical music for the detail work. "It blocks out the annoying sound of the tools," he said.
The air-powered tools allow the crew of three to accomplish in 10 days what Del Gallo estimates would have taken vintage carvers three months to do by hand. It's also a break from the more common cemetery monuments he spends most of the year carving as co-owner of Eastern Memorials. He likes to take on one or two larger projects each year. Perhaps most notable in his monument work to date was carving an inscription atop the steps of the Lincoln Memorial commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech.
Del Gallo is working as a subcontractor to Minneapolis-based Building Restoration Corp., which erected scaffolding and supplied foreman/stonemason Kay Owen to work on the project. The lettering they're applying is based on a 1,900-year-old typeface from a column in Rome honoring the emperor Trajan.
The project is part of a series of historic renovations at the building that have been interspersed with installing modern mechanical systems in a structure nominally completed in 1906. The most notable has been a period reworking of the City Council chambers.
Planned historic renovations include repairs and backlighting of the four faces of the clock atop the building's tower, and restoration of the building's ornate reception room, said José Cervantes, the commission's director.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438