PaperCity Magazine

April 2017 - Houston

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Page 83 of 103

82 molds that are more fl exible and last longer. "Plaster is a highly skilled art, and when people buy from us, they get art," says Marynick. G iovanni Primo Casci, an Italian immigrant who founded Casci Plaster company in 1930, traveled from city to city, creating ornamental plaster for some of Texas' most prestigious homes, banks, and municipal buildings. Royce Renfro bought the fi rm from Casci in 1972, and the founder stayed on for a year to teach him the business. But in the last few years, the Renfros fl oated the idea of selling it, and even considered closing it. Casci's doors might have shut for good if Marynick and Fuqua hadn't stepped in. Marynick, who has degrees in business and economics from Southern Methodist University and Harvard and has worked in private equity, says the acquisition wasn't so much about making money, as it was a perfect fi t. "It's not a startup, but a restart," adds Fuqua. A newly minted architect with his father's fi rm, J. Wilson Fuqua & Associates, he remembers visiting Casci as a child, looking on as his father sorted through plaster samples with clients. Decades later, Casci was still profi table — but stagnant. "It was on autopilot when we bought it," Fuqua says. I n the United States, Marynick and Fuqua know of fewer than a half-dozen companies that still specialize in ornamental plasterwork: Casci and Arlington- based American Masonry Supply, which was founded 15 years ago formed with former Casci employees, and a smattering of others in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Texas society decorator John Astin Perkins and highly regarded Dallas architects Wilson McClure and Hal Thompson who designed homes in the 1920s and '30s, kept the momentum going for decades, employing Casci for many of their jobs. Esteemed Houston architects John Staub and Birdsall P. Briscoe also used ornamental plaster in their projects in the YEARS. But the last of the ornamental plasterers in Houston vanished decades ago, so architects such as Russell Windham of the classical architecture fi rm, Curtis & Windham Architects, now look to other cities to get the work done. It's an Old World art "I CAN SKETCH A LEAF, BUT IF I WANT IT TO LOOK LIKE A LEAF BLOWING IN THE WIND, IT TAKES SOMEONE WITH THE ABILITY OF A SCULPTOR." — Russell Windham Ceiling medallions, cornices, and corbels inside Casci Plaster's warehouse that is fading fast. "I can sketch a leaf," says Windham, "but if I want it to look like a leaf blowing in the wind, it takes someone with the ability of a sculptor — and that's the part that is a dying art." Houston architectural historian Stephen Fox describes the '20s and '30s as the great age of ornamental plaster and says Briscoe was especially fond of using it in his early work, including a residence with an elliptical dining room on Longfellow Lane in Shady Side, which features polychrome painted plaster detail. A handful of notable buildings with spectacular plasterwork built during the era still stand and have been carefully restored, such as the Rice University Faculty Club at the Cohen House; South Main Baptist Church; and the Houston Public Library downtown. With the advent of air conditioning in the 1950s, much of the plaster inside many of Texas' grand courthouses was either ripped out or covered up — including the 1910-built Harris County courthouse, which was restored to its original glory in 2011. Marynick says a dozen or more fi ne old homes in River Oaks from the early 20th century that feature Casci handiwork still stand, and Windham estimates his fi rm (continued on page 83)

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