Reggie Mackay’s mom probably instructed him to keep out of the mud. For decades now, mud has been his livelihood. In fact, his social media email is “firstname.lastname@example.org.”
A mud man. But more accurately: adobe mud.
Reggie has worked across the West shoveling selected soils into a rotary mixer, adding water, then feeding the thick mud into molds and putting that in the sunshine to dry and harden into solid adobe bricks.
Not just any soil is used. It must have the right clay, silt, gravel, sand, and colloids.
When renovation work began for Hayden House (site of the former Monti’s La Casa Vieja) in downtown Tempe, Reggie was engaged to evaluate the condition of the original adobe and lend his skills for the project. His company, Adobe Technology, LLC, has produced new adobe bricks that matched those used when the house was constructed in 1874.
The award-winning builder has applied his skills to the preservation of aging adobe structures in Arizona, California, and Nevada. Perhaps his highest-profile project was his work for the legendary Furnace Creek Inn, a lodge in Death Valley National Park in California. It was featured in 2008 in a PBS video “Great Lodges of the National Parks — The West Pacific Rim.” The historic lodge has hosted such celebrities as John Wayne, Laura Bush, William Powell, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, John Barrymore, Jimmy Stewart, Marlon Brando, and Ernest Hemingway, to name a few.
In 2013, Reggie was presented the Governor’s Heritage Preservation Honor Award. He was cited for being “instrumental in rehabilitating many adobe buildings … His experience repeatedly proves there is no shortcut for the preservation of natural adobe masonry,” according to words during the presentation. “Reggie develops harmonious building techniques, matching mud formulations and compatible surface coatings to resurrect the seemingly hopeless wrecks of time.”
Called one of “Arizona’s few artisans of raw adobe,” Reggie Mackay was praised by Phoenix architect and historic preservationist Don Ryden, “For nearly three decades, Reggie has left his personal mark of excellence on the historic adobe architecture of the Southwest, most notably in Florence, Arizona.”
Born on Long Island, New York, February 8, 1958, Reggie’s neighborhood was the springboard for a career in building.
“Our neighbor was a general contractor, and one son was a plumbing contractor and the other was an electrical contractor,” he said. For three years, Reggie joined them in construction jobs “whether digging ditches or putting pipe together or cutting 2-by-4’s for blocking.”
He said the combination of jobs in those teen years gave him a head start in construction. Reggie was raised in a single-parent household, and when his mother died at age 40, younger children were sent to live with relatives. “I was 17, so I decided I would go on my own way,” he said. Jim came to Arizona with a friend, looked for a job, and found one with Sante Fe Adobe of Wickenburg. At the time they were building an adobe home in Scottsdale, designed by well-known architect, William Bruder, whose best-known works are the Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.
Reggie, a licensed general contractor, based in Mesa, said he was enamored by adobe structures in the mid-1970s. The parents of his girlfriend at the time owned one of the oldest adobe homes in the Valley. “It had so much charm and personality,” he told a writer for Sources Design magazine. “I remember thinking, ‘This is really cool stuff. I wonder why people aren’t building with this all over.”
Reggie gained hands-on training from a U.S. government historic preservation specialist, Dan Yubeta, who notably constructed with adobe at the Tumacacori National Historic Park in southern Arizona.
By his count, Reggie Mackay has built a dozen adobe brick homes in the area and has worked on nearly 50 historic structures. In Tempe, he has been involved in the restoration of the Rose Eisendrath House (1930) and the Gonzales-Martinez House (1880) just south of La Casa Vieja along the Light Rail.
His projects have included the 1884 Clarke House in downtown Florence for a Silver King mining engineer; preservation of the first Pinal County Courthouse in Florence; the Chapel of the Gila for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Florence; the Old Adobe Mission rehabilitation project in Scottsdale; the Glaus House rehabilitation project in Paradise Valley; and the Neon Sign Park in Casa Grande.
For the Hayden House project, Reggie discovered that the adobe had eroded in the restaurant’s bar areas, especially around drains. Five adobe blocks were removed, then crushed for soil analysis. The soil was found and analyzed to match the old brick’s composition in La Casa Vieja. Then wood forms were constructed to match the exact size of the original brick. His team of four was able to set up 100 blocks per hour. After three days, the wood forms were lifted off, each brick stood on its side and given 20 more days to dry, making them OK to move. The additional blocks were used to replace hundreds of damaged adobe bricks.
As for his helping to preserve the oldest non-Native American structure in the Valley, Hayden House, Reggie said that he not only felt great pride, “but it is a sense of where we came from” and its place in history.” He spent two years working intensely on the project and six years from the time he was first consulted after the iconic restaurant closed in 2014.
So far eight of his projects have received state preservation awards.
— Lawn Griffiths