Solid as a Rock: A Chat with Preservation Pro Kate Lostracco
As the president and founder of Dominion Traditional Building Group (DTBG) in Marshall, Virginia, Kate Lostracco (pictured above) believes in strategic delegation. “Each person has to play to their strengths,” she says. “You have to be able to try not to do it all yourself.” She started the historic masonry restoration company in 2012, hiring expert masons Mike Ondrick and Tim Winther (now her husband). Today DTBG’s 15 employees work all over the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic. We chatted with Lostracco recently about her job.
How did you become interested in masonry restoration?
I just love old buildings. The older they are and in the worse shape they are, the more I love them. From the time I was 9 I grew up outside Concord, Massachusetts, and I think that’s where it all started. You have places like Salem, Plymouth Plantation, and the whole wealth of Boston right there. I went to Boston University and lived in both the North End and the Back Bay. Living there had a really big influence on my appreciation for historic buildings and bringing something back from ruin.
What is your role at the company?
I’m like the mortar that holds it all together. I don’t do the physical masonry work. But I have my hand in pretty much everything else. I manage the logistics and figuring out what materials a job needs, and help with the bidding, estimating, and business management. Most of our jobs are considered travel jobs. Part of my role is finding places for our team to stay, whether it’s an Airbnb, hotel, or short-term apartment. We get to work in some cool places!
What are some examples of those places?
St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Roanoke, Virginia. We just finished our work there, and it’s the biggest job we’ve ever done at one time. The most recent phase involved the repair of 24,000 square feet of that church. In 2014, for the first phase, we took down and helped rebuild the failing steeples. After that, we went to a rededication at the church. Seeing so many people involved and being able to deliver it successfully—that’s what makes it special.
We’re working at Menokin in Warsaw, Virginia, restoring the stone there. That’s been in process for years, too. A lot of these projects take a long time!
We’ve also been working for years at James Madison’s Montpelier [a National Trust Historic Site]. We installed earthen floors inside the main house, in the basement. The floors almost look like leather. They don’t scratch or scrape or break up easily. We added goat hair into the clay so when it’s laid down it all comes together as a fiber. Then we applied layers of linseed oil and citrus thinner to make it hard enough. We also made a brickyard at Montpelier where we fire bricks for the summer kitchen, which is being reconstructed, and other projects.
What is the team at DTBG like?
I truly believe the masonry restoration we do is the best you can get. Our team members are so highly knowledgeable. We’ve also been fortunate to be able to bring on some younger talent to keep it going, and make sure they’re properly trained.
So much of restoration work involves undoing past work that had incompatible materials that failed. If you don’t have people doing the work the right way, it will fail eventually. Historic brick needs to breathe.
What is your dream project?
Swannanoa, a marble mansion on top of a mountain in Afton, Virginia. I would love to see that place returned to its glory. Also, Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida. It has undergone stabilization over the years; working there has been a little fantasy of mine.
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