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Headed for New York

Owen County company is providing limestone facade for the new Yankee Stadium
By Andy Graham 331-4346 |
February 5, 2008

SPENCER — The House That Ruth Built will soon give way to The House That Indiana Limestone Fabricators Helped Build. The company, just east of Spencer on Ind. 43, is supplying 93,000 square feet of limestone for the new Yankee Stadium under construction in the Bronx.

Trucks Leaving for Yankee Stadium
limestone ready to ship to New York. Indiana Limestone Fabricators is supplying the limestone for the new Yankee Stadium rising in the Bronx, just opposite the old “House That Ruth Built,” which will be torn down after the 2008 season. David Snodgress | Herald-Times

The stone was quarried at Empire Quarry in Oolitic, just a few hundred yards from where the same deposit provided the stone for the Empire State Building in 1931. Indiana limestone adorns buildings all over New York City.

The new $800 million park, set to open for the 2009 season, is adjacent to the current stadium, which debuted April 18, 1923 — with Babe Ruth hitting the first home run in a win over the Boston Red Sox. The Yankees went on to win the first of their 26 World Series titles that season.
“There is so much heritage with Indiana limestone, and doing something connected with a legendary name like Yankee Stadium is just pretty neat,” said Karen Freeman, Owen County Clay Township trustee. “It’s a point of pride. I’m sure it will look great. Limestone is such a beautiful, versatile stone.”
The company has already provided between 600 and 700 limestone panels, each 5 feet by 3 feet at the surface and 2 inches in depth, for the bulk of the new stadium’s outer facade. Three entrances are adorned with limestone facades embellished by the words YANKEE STADIUM carved in letters 4 feet high, embossed in gold leaf.

The letters are not carved by hand. A computer drives a machine tool that carves by selective removal of material. “With the software instructions, the tool can calculate the angle and depth it needs,” said project manager Scott Martindale, who did the computer programming.
“It’s become common in the furniture industry but, so far as I know, this is the first time this sort of machine has been employed to do this sort of carving,” Indiana Limestone Fabricators president Brad Mobley said, viewing the machine while standing almost ankle deep in limestone dust at his shop. “The letters are cleaned up and finished by hand, but this process has saved a ton of manual labor hours.”
Mobley’s shop routinely handles 20 or more projects at a time, and has more than 30 employees on site when a major project is at hand. Business is good. That’s a welcome change from 30 or 40 years ago when Mobley’s father and uncle were in the industry.

“My dad, Kenny Mobley, worked for Matthews Brothers, which was where Bybee (Stone, in Ellettsville) is today,” Mobley said. “In the mid-1970s, the limestone industry began to fade as architects more often used glass and pre-cast concrete in construction. The industry basically died, actually, and guys such as my dad and my uncle Vernon, who’d been a stone carver, had to take up different trades.
“Vernon became a carpenter. Dad bought the downtown tavern in Ellettsville, so it became Kenny’s Tavern after having been known as Homer’s and Dinah’s and Piggy’s in previous years. It’s been a tavern there, I imagine, since prohibition ended.

A worker helps set one of the pieces of Indiana limestone that will be part of the new Yankee Stadium. Indiana Limestone Fabricators is providing much of the stone for the stadium’s exterior, including three carved and gilded entryways.

“But those glass and concrete buildings didn’t end up performing as well as the architects had hoped. There were leaks and structural problems. And they’d look across the street and see the older limestone buildings doing just fine. Architects were using a lot of synthetic materials back in the 1970s. But people want natural materials, now — people want to build ‘green,’ which is great.”
Mobley’s company just finished a job replacing stones at Indiana University’s Herman B Wells Library, built in the late 1960s, which Mobley said “were stuck on with epoxy. There were no mechanical supports at all. I think people have learned some lessons, now, about that sort of thing. “A great thing for us, when architects come in from the East Coast or elsewhere to see what we’re about, is to take them on a tour of the IU campus. The campus is a real showcase for our industry, and we’re very proud of it.”

Mobley started his company at Bedford in 1995 and built the Owen County facility in 1999. The company isn’t the only limestone company expanding these days.
Jim Owens, executive director of the Bedford-based Indiana Limestone Institute of America Inc., feels business is on the upswing for most of the approximately 90 members of his organization.
“We don’t keep numbers that would quantify it, but I think business is pretty good,” Owens said. “There is always a slowdown in the winter, for obvious weather-related reasons. But one of our main strong points has been and is the education market. Just at IU, relatively recently, you’ve had construction at the School of Business, the psychology building, the new Simon Hall and another science building going up right now, the new theater complex and the education building.

“I’ve been paying visits on a number of campuses, including Harvard and Yale. Duke just did a big project with their divinity school. And we’re also seeing a lot of business in housing, despite the current overall slowdown in that market, with high-end residential building using limestone, a lot of it out East and down South.”
The Yankee Stadium job will exceed $1 million for Indiana Limestone Fabricators, which has worked in tandem with the Quebec company Beton Fabrique, which applies hooks and mounts to the panels before they are shipped for mounting at the site. Project architects HOK Sport, based in Kansas City, also contracted to have Limestone Fabricators do some on-site work in the stadium’s Legends Suites.

Mobley, born and raised in Bloomington and a 1980 Edgewood High School graduate, grew up a Reds fan and later began following the Cubs when they appeared on cable television. Now, however, he says, “I’m going to have to root for the Yankees, too.”