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Paths to Restoration

by Neale Nickels, Director of Preservation

“Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.” [Genesis 11:3]

Good materials and hard work yield strong results. Recently, the PRO Team has been working to restore a long brick pathway in the Jewish Flats section, the original having been damaged during the installation of irrigation piping many years ago and patched with concrete and rubble. The damage was such that we chose to remove the entire path, salvage as many bricks that we could, and lay new bricks in their place. We chose two different bricks that closely match the color and characteristics of Oakland’s historic bricks (and are fired thoroughly, of course). We were also able to retain a majority of the original bricks that border the pathway, which is a nice feature.

Tools of the Trade: [L to R] 1. a margin trowel, 2. a well-worn brick trowel, 3. a homemade mortar scraper, made from a bent butter knife, and 4. a brass bristle brush used to clean mortar residue off bricks (we use this on new bricks only)

Tools of the Trade: [L to R] 1. a margin trowel, 2. a well-worn brick trowel, 3. a homemade mortar scraper, made from a bent butter knife, and 4. a brass bristle brush used to clean mortar residue off bricks (we use this on new bricks only)

After fighting bad weather and other obstacles, we have been graced with clear skies and warm temperatures long enough to make significant progress toward the completion of this project. As our backs and knees remind us, we have been mortaring the joints between the bricks using a buff-colored mortar that matches the original. The process involves mixing a batch in a wheelbarrow, filling grout bags (very similar to the icing bags used on cakes), and squeezing the mortar between the joints. We overfill them, and use a pointed trowel to press the mortar down, ensuring good contact on all sides. After some time to cure – but not too long – we then return and use a few other tools to remove the excess mortar. Again, a little waiting, and then finally we brush the surface on a diagonal to the joints, which gives them their finished appearance.
It can be a tedious process, but it yields good results and is done in a manner very similar to how it was done historically. With any hope, it will be in great shape for another 100 years. Completing the walkway will allow us to focus on leveling and squaring the coping that abuts the walkway and forms the borders for burial lots, which will really make the restoration “pop,” so to say.
Freshly mortared brick walkway in Jewish Flats.

Freshly mortared brick walkway in Jewish Flats.

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