Rudy Martínez describes adobe as "gold dust."
The former landscaper, construction worker, miner and welder saw a future in adobe, and he learned how to restore it through research, tips from experts and trial and error.
Martínez, a native of Mexico City who was raised in Sahuarita, is the founder and president of Adobe Specialists Inc., a Southwest Side company he and his wife, Marianne, formed 22 years ago. One of the company's trade secrets is an adobe-patching material Rudy developed to repair burnt-adobe and mud-adobe bricks.
The formula came about after several years of experimentation with adobe and mixing materials.
Burnt adobe is imported from Mexico. Sasabe adobe is orange; San Luis adobe is more decorative and has a mixture of orange, yellow and black; and Querobabi adobe is red with black spots.
"There is plenty of work in this area," said Martínez, explaining that among the oldest buildings he has restored is one that was built in 1860 Downtown. The building was converted into art studios.
The company also does restoration work for the city of Tucson at Camp Lowell, a calvary outpost that operated from the 1870s to the 1890s just west of Fort Lowell Park, and adobe repair at the historic St. Philip's in the Hills Episcopal Church at 4440 N. Campbell Ave.
Much of the adobe restoration includes houses built from the 1940s to the 1980s. The company also specializes in waterproofing adobes and applying a white, gray or rustic wash on the bricks. Jobs can cost anywhere from $375 to $20,000.
Last week, Martínez worked with a crew on a Southwest Territorial style house constructed out of burnt adobe and built in 1972 by artist Tom Hill. The house is tucked into a neighborhood near North Swan and East River roads.
Homeowner Gary Martin, a retired executive for an international manufacturer, said Martínez first started working on his home in 1991 after being referred by a neighbor.
Work crews scraped the adobe bricks and restored them with the patching material developed by Martínez. They applied the material by hand onto the brick and then used tools to smooth it out. The edges were wiped with a wet sponge and then the brick was stamped with a mold to give it a texture.
"We are considered mud artists," said Martínez, laughing. "Our customers tell us we are not masons, we are artists."
After the bricks dried to their original color, they received a gray wash and then were waterproofed.
Burnt-adobe bricks need to be resealed every three to five years depending on the weather. When moisture seeps into the bricks, it causes erosion, Martínez said.
"There are very few people who we find as qualified as Rudy in adobe restoration," said Earl Wilford, co-owner and president of Wilford Construction Co., which began operation in 1949. "He may be a bit higher in price, but he does quality work and stands behind his work."
While Rudy, 53, works outdoors, Marianne, 52, makes sure contracts are prepared, payroll is complete and finances are in order back at the couple's office, which is at their home.
The couple married 32 years ago, and Marianne describes Rudy as her "best friend" — a fact that both say helps the business survive.
It took 10 years, recalled Marianne, before Rudy stopped working seven days a week.
"Now business is strong and we are making money. We are always busy," he said.
To find out more
Rudy and Marianne Martínez started their Southwest Side business, Adobe Specialists Inc., in 1985 and the company restores about 200 adobe houses in the Tucson area a year. For more information, call 883-8883.