Cutting for Limestone – The Palladium in Carmel

Here in Carmel’s midst we have a monument in the making. Sure you can find a memorial or two in places like Washington DC, but the Palladium is constructed from limestone quarried in Indiana and built by our own area craftsmen. Elegantly conceived by the DC architectural firm of David M. Schwarz, with local consultation by CSO Architects, this 154,000 square-foot grand concert hall will be the crown jewel in The Center for the Performing Arts. 

Much of its classical appeal lies in its shimmering façade of more than 15,000 pieces of limestone, each hand-carved and individually fitted into one harmonious design. What is limestone anyway and how did Indiana gain a reputation as its premier supplier? A little research and a road trip south provided the answers. 
Limestone is a rock formed primarily of calcium carbonate, deposited over millions of years ago at the bottom of an inland sea which covered the Midwest. Native Americans first discovered and used this Indiana treasure but early settlers quickly realized its benefits. Today limestone is recognized as a green material since it reduces solar heat and regulates interior temperatures, is extremely durable, and requires low maintenance and fewer chemical cleaners. It has thus enjoyed a resurgent popularity in the building industry.We found Bybee Stone Company, located in Ellettsville just west of Bloomington, in a region noted for the highest quality quarried limestone in the United States. The mill first began operating in 1864 and was purchased by Wilbur Bybee in 1979. Will is a third-generation CEO and his business has been involved in many high-profile projects such as the Pentagon restoration following 9/11, Washington National Cathedral, college campuses from the University of Denver and Duke to Harvard and Princeton, and in other performing arts centers in Las Vegas and Nashville.   
The mill itself is tucked back by an abandoned quarry. Peaceful on the outside, it is controlled chaos in the interior. Cutting for stone is a noisy and dusty process, so fitted with hard-hats we followed John Worland through a fascinating tour of the machines and men that produce the finished product. Mr. Worland, the cutters’ foreman, has obvious respect for his company and the close-knit group of 45-50 craftsmen that work year-round, some moving from position to position and others concentrating on highly skilled work such as carving. Huge stones brought into the factory are gradually cut, shaped and fashioned into pieces which are labeled with a series of numbers like the following: 
#990 (identifies Palladium site)
B-48 (piece number)
76 (identifies truck number)
JW (identifies person who cut the stone)
It’s just like a giant jigsaw puzzle. For an idea of how all of this comes together, we next visited Pat Riley in the drafting room. 
Sans a hard hat, Pat first showed us blueprints for buildings destined to receive Bybee’s limestone. Computers have reduced the need for large drafting tables and the room felt almost cozy after walking through the factory. Here the process begins with drawings from the architect. “Shop tickets” are then made and distributed throughout the plant. From start to finish a project may take only several months to several years, which seems amazingly short considering the intricacy of buildings such as the Palladium. Known for their “shotsawn” finish, created from ironshot thrown at limestone and used on the Pentagon, Bybee is employing a “chatsawn” finish on the first level of the Palladium. This is achieved by using finely ground flint rock mixed with water as a cutting agent during the slabbing process. A very delicate difference that nonetheless creates a patina of age and timelessness to a structure built for the ages.
With its grand opening slated for January 2011, the Palladium promises to deliver many hours of breathtaking moments in the years ahead. You can check out the details at And next time you drive by, be sure to take a moment to appreciate its homegrown beauty.