Revivals Done Right
Mara Restoration gives new life to historic structures
When the masonry craftsmen of Mara Restoration set to work on St. Agatha-St. James Church in Philadelphia, there couldn’t have been a more distinct contrast between old and new. Directly next door, a private developer was fast at work on a new high-rise that would eclipse the 133-year-old church. In contrast to the all-glass apartment complex, the stone facade of the church building appeared dingy and worn, says Vice President Steve Stoughton.
But the team of Mara Restoration soon proved that beauty isn’t just reserved for the young, or the new. The craftsmen carefully cleaned the church’s facade, repaired mortar joints between stones (known as repointing), replaced crumbling stones, and rebuilt areas of displaced stone on the historic church.
The result showcases the complementary beauty of both buildings. The glass facade of the new apartment complex rises above St. Agatha-St. James, while the newly restored church maintains the city’s connection with its historic past. “The beauty of this restored historic building is something everyone can enjoy,” Steve says.
Not many people can say they’ve had a hand in giving new life to an old building. But the team of craftsmen from Mara Restoration have provided many hands in carefully restoring aging facades and helping to preserve important historic structures, many of which are located in Philadelphia’s iconic Center City.
Headquartered in Oreland, Pennsylvania, the company provides masonry restoration and preservation services for commercial, industrial and government facilities as well as public and private universities and schools. The company serves general contractors, building owners and engineers throughout the tri-state area of New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania, as well as Maryland and Virginia. In addition to working on old and historic structures, the company also provides services on new construction projects, including caulking, sealing, expansion joints and weatherproof coatings.
Mara Restoration’s quality craftsmanship has been recognized time and again by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. The company earned a Grand Jury Award for its work on St. Agatha-St. James, as well as projects for The First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Bartram’s Garden (Bartram House property, a National Historic Landmark), the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (Stone Arch Bridge Rehabilitation and historic viaducts along the Media/Elwyn Line), Bryn Mawr College (M. Carey Thomas Library) and the University of Pennsylvania (Walnut 32 parking garage).
“Our craftsmen take great pride in their work,” says President and Owner Stephen Weihing. “If one of our tradesmen is not comfortable doing something the way it was originally planned, we trust their expertise and readjust. We welcome our crewmen’s input, opinions and expertise on projects. We don’t cut corners at Mara Restoration. We are committed to ensuring our craftsmen have the support they need to get projects done right. It’s part of our company culture.”
Cost-Effective, Long-Lasting Solutions
That commitment to doing the job right is why Mara Restoration is a contractor of choice for challenging projects, says Stephen. The company’s award-winning project at The First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia involved rebuilding the crumbling brownstone facade of the 148-year-old building.
“Brownstone was a trendy stone in the late 1800s. It’s beautiful, but it’s not a strong stone and deteriorates over time,” Stephen says. “The scope of the project included many types of brownstone restoration, including retooling, stone patching, stone replacements with custom-cut brownstone and 100% repointing of the mortar joints.”
Steve notes that the six-month project was impressive to watch unfold. “The building occupies a good portion of a city block, and we had the entire facade shrouded in scaffolding,” he says.
Merging Old and New
Another high-profile, award-winning project was for the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “The University of Pennsylvania spends millions of dollars each year maintaining and restoring its new and historic buildings on campus,” Stephen says.
The company’s first project for the Ivy League university involved restoring its Walnut 32 parking garage. Mara Restoration repaired, restored and sealed concrete surfaces, replacing rebar as needed—all during the summer months while students were off campus. “We had to get the project completed under a tight deadline since the university needed the garage when students returned for the fall semester,” Steve says.
The company’s quality workmanship led to additional projects, most recently at the university’s Meeting and Guest House and its McNeil Building. For the Meeting and Guest House, masonry craftsmen repointed brickwork using a butter joint, which is a century-old style of pointing. To stabilize the existing facade, the crew anchored it to the substrate with Helifix wall ties. “New engineering technologies like helical ties structurally support old-style masonry. In many applications, this technology helps to limit the rebuilding of masonry walls required, providing for a cost-effective solution for all forms of masonry stabilization,” Steve says.
The McNeil Building, a more modern building on campus, required the removal and reinstallation of brick and coping stones in order to replace deteriorated flashing underneath the stonework. “This large project was done in a very tight timeframe during the summer months and met the goal of not looking like any work had ever been done,” he adds.
“As a private institution, the University of Pennsylvania can hire whoever they want. They chose us,” Stephen says. “These projects definitely show what Mara is capable of.”
Building the Business
Mara Restoration was founded by Patricia Anne “Patty” (Jamison) McNamara in 2008. Patty’s brothers, Frank and Jim Jamison, started the family’s first masonry business in 1989. When the two brothers needed help managing the business, they recruited Patty in 1991. “Frank handled the overall management of the business. Jim did estimating and project management, while Patty managed the office,” Stephen says. In 2001, the family sold the company, but later after finding the new owner had mismanaged the company, the family bought the business back in 2004. At that point, the company managed projects primarily in the suburbs of Philadelphia. With dreams of expanding the business into the city, Patty formed Mara Restoration to focus on this new market.
“I started working with the Jamisons in 2007 and was with Mara Restoration from the start,” Stephen says. Patty and Frank viewed Stephen, who has a background in business management, as their heir apparent. “I entered into what was essentially a 10-year apprenticeship,” he says. In those years, Stephen wore many hats, managing human resources, benefits, marketing and even serving as Safety Manager.
When Mara Restoration started, the company had just 12 field employees. Today, there are 50 field employees and the team has doubled its project volume since Stephen assumed the helm in 2018.
Steve joined the company in 2017 and spends his days generating business and developing client relationships. “My job is to keep our bucket full—to make sure we have plenty of work—and to help Stephen grow the business,” he says.
Although Patty and Frank retired in 2018, Stephen still considers Mara Restoration a family business first and foremost. “As a family business, I feel a responsibility to those who work for me, and I want to make sure they can provide for their families. That’s the most important thing to me,” he says.
Stephen is also committed to bringing along a new generation of masonry craftsmen and participates in and sponsors activities at Williamson College of the Trades in Media, Pennsylvania. “The school produces very talented craftsmen,” he says.
“When we’re looking to hire, we look for intelligence, energy and integrity first,” Steve says. “If they are also humble, hungry and smart, we find a spot for them.”
Stephen and Steve find a spot for young hires and work to make sure everyone at Mara Restoration is engaged in interesting, challenging projects. “My job is to make sure these guys have solid careers. I want them to enjoy what they do. When you can take an aging 200-year-old church and make it beautiful again, that’s something you can be proud of. Our craftsmen walk away from a project like that and they take great pride in knowing that they played a part in giving an old building new life,” Stephen says.