Transcripts

D.C. Gigs: Building (And Rebuilding) The National Cathedral

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
So this week's theme is, of course, traditions. And the man we'll meet next has one of the most traditional professions there is and one that's quite fitting here in this city of grand monument and buildings. Joe Alonso has been a stonemason with the National Cathedral for 27 years. He's one of the guys helping to rebuild parts of the Cathedral damaged in last year's earthquake. In the latest edition of our series, D.C. Gigs, Alonso explains what it's like to construct and reconstruct some of our city's most iconic structures.

MR. JOE ALONSO

00:00:37
A mason is, I guess, one of the oldest professions on earth, right? The second oldest profession, you know. You know what the first oldest was. My name is Joe Alonso. I'm the head stonemason here at the National Cathedral. Every one of these pieces of stone that you see here is pretty much hand-cut, handmade, fitted together by hand. I'm always amazed by it.

MR. JOE ALONSO

00:01:07
All these arches and columns and just this incredible work all around me. And just a tremendous amount of skill and effort goes into building something like this. You know, everywhere you look there's, you know, American history everywhere. You walk by a couple interesting things. Of course, this is the tomb of President Woodrow Wilson. He's the only president of the United States buried in the District of Columbia. And then up above here, this is probably the most famous stained-glass window in the Cathedral. We call it the Space Window. It looks like outer space and the heavens. And you see that big red circle up there and the little dark disc in the center? That's a sliver of moon rock, actually, that was brought down by the Apollo 11 astronauts and presented to the Cathedral.

MR. JOE ALONSO

00:02:01
My dad was a mason. As a kid, I would go around with him and help him on his side jobs. So I've been around, you know, brick work, stonework, mortar, all that stuff since I was a kid. Right out of high school I was fortunate enough to get an apprenticeship in the Stonemason's Union here in Washington, D.C. D.C., of course, is a great stone town. All the magnificent structures, monuments, buildings, you know, block by block.

MR. JOE ALONSO

00:02:32
You see, every one of these steps is an individually cut block of stone. And you see how it forms the spiral as we're going up. For a stonemason, at least in my opinion, the Washington National Cathedral is the ultimate. Late 1984, early '85, the west towers were still being built. So it was the opportunity to be a part of the final phase of construction of the Cathedral. And Sept. 29, 1990 President George H. W. Bush was here. I was up on the scaffold lowering that huge finial onto the base there, setting the final stone on the Cathedral, 83 years to the day, I think to the hour, that the first stone was laid.

MR. JOE ALONSO

00:03:19
But we're going up to the highest point in D.C. One more padlock to go. A little breezy up here. This Cathedral is in such a prominent spot in the skyline of D.C. I mean, look, what do you see when you're up here, sticking out the most? You see the Cathedral, the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol. When you look up at these pinnacles now, what's missing is about 16 feet of stone. Pieces that were shaken so badly in the quake it was unbelievable.

MR. JOE ALONSO

00:03:57
And now the Cathedral has this massive scaffold around the top of its tower. Then this pinnacle rotated tremendously in the earthquake, as if a giant hand just took it and rotated it counter-clockwise several degrees, all these chunks coming out. And we've got to rebuild. You know, this building is such an important part of the city and of the nation. I've been on it now for 27 years and it's a part of me.

MR. JOE ALONSO

00:04:24
I mean, look, we're almost 300 feet up in the air and look at all the beautifully carved little angels. I mean, look at their little noses and eyelids and all of that. Every one of these pieces of stone was hand-carved. You know, we want to put it back the way it was and we will.

SHEIR

00:04:45
That was Joe Alonso, head stonemason at the National Cathedral, speaking with reporter Jocelyn Frank.

SHEIR

00:04:53
If you have a distinctively D.C. gig you think we should feature on the show, let us know. Send an email to metro@wamu.org or tweet us. Our handle is @wamumetro.
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