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All that glitters is not steel

Unfolding blossom, billowing sails, or Disneyesque landscape in stainless steel, architect Frank O. Gehry's $274 million Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles is anything but traditional.

Opened in October 2003, the 293,000 square-foot home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic is covered in 165,000 square feet of curving, swooping sheets, planes and panels of stainless steel. The extensive use of metal is perhaps not surprising from an architect whose own Santa Monica home is swathed in corrugated metal and chain link fencing.

Though shiny steel gets the attention, part of the site's beauty comes from its 30,000 square feet of exterior Italian travertine. The Philharmonic's three-story office building on the south side of the city block-long complex is clad in travertine, as is the stone wall that surrounds the concert hall on three sides.

And parts of the hall itself are travertine.

"It's a beautiful light beige stone with dark beige veins and pores," commented Tom Rivera, project manager for Borbon Inc.

The Buena Park, Calif.-based painting contractor got the job of protecting the expensive stone against California's winter rainy season, and year-round graffiti season.

Mr. Rivera's four-man crew used Sure Klean® Weather Seal Natural Stone Treatment, provided by Smalley & Company, Anaheim, to keep water and water-related problems out of the porous travertine.

Working bottom-to-top from ladders, scaffolds and booms, they applied a light coat of the breathable, penetrating treatment, then followed with a second coat before the first one dried.

"Natural Stone Treatment went on great," Mr. Rivera recalled. "All our challenges came from the concert hall itself.

"There's not a straight line on the building," he said. "There's no easy way to get to anything. Nothing was simple."

In some places, temporary graffiti barricades flush with the stone kept the Borbon crew away, as well as the graffiti vandals.

The most challenging spot was a relatively small section of travertine - 15 by 20 feet - over the entrance to the concert hall's parking garage. It was hard to get to, Mr. Rivera explained, because workers were always there loading and hoisting construction material.

"That one spot showed up on our punch list every day," he said. "We couldn't do anything about it, because we couldn't get to it."

Mr. Rivera and his crew solved the problem by coming in on Sundays, when they could work without interference. They took down the graffiti barriers to apply the Natural Stone Treatment, and replaced them when done.

"The guys didn't mind coming in Sundays," Mr. Rivera said. "To tell the truth, everyone was in awe of the building. Our attitude was ‘if this is what it takes; this what we're going to do."

After weatherproofing the stone, the crew applied Defacer Eraser® SC-1 Sacrificial Coating to street-level areas of the complex. The clear, water-based graffiti barrier stops graffiti from penetrating the stone. High-pressure hot water, or cold water with an assist from Defacer Eraser® Graffiti Wipe takes the coating off the wall, along with all the graffiti.

Once the graffiti attack is wiped away, the SC-1 is reapplied.

Though protecting the Walt Disney Concert Hall was often a beast of a job, it's the beauty Mr. Rivera recalls.

"It's one of the most beautiful buildings I've ever worked on," he said. "I read somewhere - and having worked on the concert hall, I agree - it looks and feels like music."