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Friday, April 22, 2016

The "Remembering Formstone? Story

This city home has Formstone on the front of
it.  The side of the home still remains stucco.
The home next to it on the right is painted white
while the home to the left is red brick. Click on
photos to enlarge them.
It was an ordinary day.  Driving south on Prince Street, Rt. 222/272, thru center city Lancaster, PA and mentioned to my wife about all the homes in the city that still have Formstone on them.  I can remember when I was a child and the rooming house/local bar at the other end of our block on North Queen Street covered their brick walls with Formstone.  At the time it was a popular way to make you home stick out from the rest of brick homes in the block.  Many also added Formstone because of home additions whose brick didn't match the original home brick.  And, if you didn't look too hard, it did look similar to real stone.  Mom and dad talked about doing it to our semi-detached home, but finally decided the cost didn't justify having it done and Deb and Bob, the owners of the other half of the semi didn't plan on having it done.  For those who have no idea what Formstone might be or what it might look like, it was patented by Albert Knight of nearby Baltimore, MD in 1937.  
The boarding house/bar still stands at the
south corner of the last block of North Queen
Street.  The old building's Formstone is beginning
to break away in some places.  An old phone
booth still stands in front of it. Still looks like
a structure in the 1950s or 1960s. 
There were four other very similar products on the market at the time, but around our area, Formstone was the big fad.  Formstone was applied in three layers, much like stucco, anchored by a metal lath which was attached to the brick underneath it.  The layer that you see contains the coloration used to imitate stone and is textured using waxed paper and an aluminum roller.  Simulated motar joints were scored into the Formstone to give it the "real stone" look.  In 1997 a 30-minute documentary was filmed about the practice of applying Formstone.  The coproducer of the documentary, Lillian Bowers, got the idea for the film after dreaming that her father's gravestone was being covered with Formstone.  
You can see the depth of the Formstone and how it is
coming loose from the original building in this photograph.
For those who purchased a house with Formstone and hated it, it could be removed from a three-story building in a weekend, but repairing the damage the metal lath did would take much longer.  Restoring old buildings and old neighborhoods along the east coast with many houses that had Formstone, or something similar, are being done by communities who are trying to restore all homes to their original condition.  As for my old home on North Queen Street, it still remains the old stucco that it used to be.  Years ago the home owner enclosed the front porch to add a room which looked terrible when finished.  That was recently removed and now the house looks like it did when I lived there.  That is except for the huge pine tree standing in the front yard that totally ruins the look of the home.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. 

My childhood home, the last home on North Queen Street, with it's new front porch.  Years ago the porch, on which I played throughout my childhood,  was enclosed to make another room.  It was recently torn down and the porch refurbished.

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