Stucco is found on many historic homes throughout South Florida and along the Treasure Coast. Stucco is a two- or three-part exterior plaster coating applied directly onto masonry, or applied over wood or metal lath to a wood frame or even log structure, and is primarily used on residential buildings and relatively small-scale commercial structures. Stucco is actually so common that it frequently goes unnoticed, and is often disguised or used to imitate another material.
Stucco has traditionally been popular for a variety of reasons. It was an inexpensive material that could simulate finely dressed stonework, especially when “scored” or “lined” in the European tradition. As a weather-repellent coating, stucco protected the building from wind and rain penetration, and also offered a certain amount of fire protection.
The introduction of the many revival styles of architecture in the United States around the turn of the twentieth century, combined with the improvement and increased availability of portland cement, resulted in a “craze” for stucco as a building material.
After about 1900, most stucco was composed primarily of portland cement, mixed with some lime. With the addition of portland cement, stucco became even more versatile and durable. No longer used just as a coating for a substantial material like masonry or log, stucco could now be applied over wood or metal lath attached to a light wood frame. With this increased strength, stucco ceased to be just a veneer and became a more integral part of the building structure.
Although stucco buildings were especially prevalent in South Florida, ostensibly because of their Spanish heritage, this period also spawned stucco-coated, revival-style buildings all over the United States and Canada. The popularity of stucco as a cheap, and readily available material meant that by the 1920s it was used for an increasing variety of building types.
Age and lack of maintenance hasten the deterioration of many historic stucco buildings. Like most older building materials, stucco is at the mercy of the elements, and even though it is a protective coating, it is also particularly susceptible to water damage. It is also sometimes incorrectly viewed as a sacrificial coating, and consequently removed to reveal stone, brick, or logs that were originally never intended to be exposed.
Stucco on historic buildings is especially vulnerable not only to the wear of time and exposure to the elements, but also at the hands of well-intentioned “restorers,” who may want to remove stucco from eighteenth and nineteenth century structures, to expose what they believe to be the original or more “historic” brick, stone or log underneath.
A material of deceptive simplicity, stucco in most cases should not be repaired by a property owner unfamiliar with the art of plastering. Successful stucco repair requires the skill and experience of a professional plasterer.
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This article is sourced from Preservation Brief 22 of the U.S. National Park Service.