The Norman Transcript

November 10, 2012

Workshop to focus on saving Norman history one brick at a time

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Bricks are one of the oldest known building materials dating back to ancient civilizations.

Ancient Egyptians used sun dried mud bricks, some of which can still be seen at ruins such as Harappa Buhen and Mohenjo-daro, according to

You don’t have to go that far back to see historic bricks, however. The Downtown Norman Historic District has several brick edifaces that help tell the story of Norman’s past. While bricks are one of the most enduring building materials, maintaining and repairing old bricks is vital to preserving that history.

The Norman Historic District Commission is sponsoring a restoration workshop on Nov. 17 and 18 on repairing historic masonry.  This is the 5th hands-on preservation workshop and will be led by nationally recognized historic preservation expert, Bob Yapp.

“Oklahoma has become my second home and I truly love coming back to Norman,” Yapp said. “Norman is one of my favorite places in the country. There’s a great preservation ethic and a great understanding of why preservation is so important to the community from an economic development standpoint.”

Yapp will lead participants in the art and science of repairing deteriorated brick and mortar at two demonstration buildings in historic Downtown Norman.

“We’ll re-point some failing motar joints and talk about how to mix proper motars so that homeowners and property owners can do some basic brick and motar maintenance on their homes.”

Yapp is a preservationist and an educator. He founded the Belvedere School for Historic Preservation Trades and Technology in Hannibal, Mo. in 2008, whe he trains artisans in the preservation trades.

“This year we’re excited to be working on a couple of historic commercial buildings Downtown,” said Neil Robinson, chairman of the Norman Historic District Commission.

 The 100 and 200 blocks of East Main Street in the Downtown District were named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. In March, that area was expanded to include 13 additional blocks.

“As the core of the central business district, this area has been the center of commercial development in Norman from shortly after its founding in 1889 to the present,” said Michael Dean, public relations director for the Oklahoma Historical Society.

The National Register lisitng means businesses can qualify for tax credit for improving buildings in the designated downtown area. The history of downtown makes it perfect as a demonstration ground for the Historic Commission’s masonry workshop, but anyone interested in repairing historic masonry can attend.

The two, day masonry workshops will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Registration is required and the $15-per -person workshop fee includes lunch. 

Registration is limited to 12 participants per session, but observers are welcome if space allows.   

Workshop participants will use Yapp’s techniques to repair brick walls on two buildings in the 300-block of East Main Street.

“We are so pleased to have Bob Yapp back in Norman,” Robinson said.  “He has a great deal of restoration expertise and experience to impart. In the past, his workshops have been very popular with property owners.”

Yapp will demonstrate various repair techniques for historic bricks and mortar.

“Over the weekend, we’re going to be doing what I call the basic masonry workshop,” Yapp said.

While this workshop features historic preservation, your home or business doesn’t have to have a historic designation to benefit from the workshop.

“It absolutely can help anyone who has a brick or masonry home,” Yapp said. “Whatever kind of home they have, they all have mortar joints.”

While masonry is a durable building material water damage can occur and needs to be repaired.

“It’s better to repair than restore,” Yapp said. “When we say the word preservation, we mean preserve or maintain. In my dream, we would be more like Europe where they maintain things instead of having to do major restoration work.”

Yapp travels the country conducting hands-on preservation workshops and helps organizations and communities set up preservation schools and training programs. Yapp has been involved in the rehab of over 150 endangered, historic properties.

Each of the Norman workship sessions will begin with a talk on masonry tools, materials and techniques, then students will learn how to mix mortar, remove damaged material, and re-point  mortar.

More than two dozen people participated in Yapp’s 2011 window restoration workshop, also sponsored by the Norman Historic District Commission. Robinson said the primary mission of the Commission is to identify and protect historic resources and to educate the public about the value of preservation. 

The masonry workshop is made possible by a grant from the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, through the Oklahoma Historic Preservation Office Certified Local Governmentprogram. 

Reservations for the workshop will be accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis. To register, email  or call 405-366-5392.


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