Keyword Site Search

Profile: Francis "Sully" Sullivan, The King of Stamped Concrete

By Leslie McGuire, managing editor

Sully's latest patent is for Aggratex, which is an aggregate-containing cementitious layer only 3/8 of an inch thick. Anything from abalone shells to colored glass and marbles can be added without requiring hand broadcasting. Photos courtesy of Sullivan Concrete Textures

Francis "Sully" Sullivan, founder of Sullivan Concrete Textures in California, has contributed immeasurably to the architectural concrete industry worldwide, and is also credited with several major contributions to the decorative concrete industry as a whole. Even more interesting, he has yet to stop developing innovations.

But Sully's long career hasn't always been about concrete. He's been places, done things and been influenced by many people. They were not just his teachers, but friends, family members, business contacts and most of all, experience.

"Everything I ever did in life added to my ability to do the next thing even better," he says with a smile.

One of the first stamped concrete projects Sully did, a residential walkway in Mailibu, was for a homeowner referred to Sully by Rob Sawyer's father who owned Palisades Nursery. Stamped to look like brick, those walkways have lasted longer than clay brick would have lasted??"and are still level today!

Historical Influences

Sully is a ninth generation Californian on his mother's side, and his grandfather was one of the first general contractors in California. When he was a teenager, he helped his grandfather make concrete piers??"mixing up batches of concrete in the street. His teachers had already seen how bright he was and how full of promise. "They pushed me into thinking like an architect "he says. "It all came together in junior high school when one of my instructors had me design a medical building that would go on Hyperion Boulevard in Los Angeles. I was fourteen years old. I designed it with those glass blocks, set in a curving wall, and it was actually built. I hear it's still there!"

From there, his father pushed him to take up drafting. At the time, Sully wanted to be a baseball player. He'd been playing occasionally for the Pacific Coast Triple A Ball League. "They offered me $1200 a year," Sully says ruefully. "Now it's a million two." However, World War II hit. Sully joined the Coast Guard in 1942. He was assigned to the Seadrift, an 86-foot schooner, teaching seamanship to the men who were in boot camp on Catalina Island. He was then assigned to the Portola, an 88-foot yacht that did six knots at full speed.

Sully was honored for his lifetime achievement at the Bomanite Annual Meeting Awards Ceremony for his contributions to the industry.

One of the highlights of the war for Sully was having to ferry Eva Gabor from Catalina to Santa Monica. " I had my arm around her the whole time," says Sully. "After all, I didn't want her to fall off the boat, did I?"

But in 1943, all thoughts of movie stars and baseball took flight. "I fell in love and got married," says Sully, and after 63 years, he's still married to his childhood sweetheart. "Actually, she lived across the street, and I'd already decided she was the one??"when I was 15."

From Music to the Art of Concrete

At the end of the war, Sully got a job as a local licensee for Music by Musak. "I became a sound engineer, " he says. "And that position put me on a first name basis with a lot of influential people in Los Angeles."

Then one of the sound people he worked with introduced him to Brad Bowman who had developed the earliest version of stamped concrete, called "Ornamental Concrete." Sully already had an architectural background and this was where his drafting experience came in handy. "It all came together," says Sully. He started with Brad Bowman in September of 1964 installing stamped concrete in the Southern California area. In 1970 he became the Bomanite Corporation's first franchise partner and a licensed contractor licensed to use the Ornamental Concrete process in Southern California. Sully is now recognized as a pioneer of stamped and textured concrete systems and the acknowledged expert in the field.

He started out doing driveways and walkways. " In the beginning, I had four guys helping me, " says Sully. "I was the foreman." The first job he did was on Sunset Mesa??"a walkway. Over the years, the process has been refined and manipulated to make the most perfect end product possible.

This wave pattern was designed by Rob Elliott for the driveway and lobby of the Hyatt Alicante hotel near Disneyland. Elliott was with SWA at the time and is now the principle designer for the Irvine Company. The design emulates the ocean front walk in Rio de Janeiro.

Ushering In a Golden Age

Thus began the Golden Age of Concrete. Prior to that, just plain white or gray concrete was the norm. Suddenly, doors opened, innovations were made, and designs were created that revolutionized the industry. The ball started rolling.

That's when Sully's genius came out. He'd already put in many thousands of square feet of textured concrete when he decided to pay a visit to a friend at the American Institute of Architects who advised him to start calling on Landscape Architects. Sully hooked up with Lifescapes, and Don Brinkerhoff designed the "fish scale" pattern for South Coast Village in California.

Many of the stamping patterns were originally developed for specific projects. The "fish scale" tool used at South Coast Village in California was designed by Don Brinkerhoff of Lifescapes and has become very popular over the years. Also used at Main Beach in Laguna Beach, the design is highly imitated and copied everywhere.

Then Sully came to the attention of the Peridian Group. They were not only very prolific designers of tools and forms, but also had connections outside of California. Together they started designing new patterns. Another talented designer designed a slate mold that precluded the use of the stamp tool. This five-foot by five-foot square carries the imprint of a slate pattern. It was especially useful at Beverly Park Estates that required miles of sidewalk, driveways and curbs.

Initially, it was imperative that the concrete mixture be exactly determined so it wouldn't impede the blades of the tools that create shades of color. The use of color and its process was a very closely guarded secret. To this day, they still use the dust-on color and hardener, which is the only way to consistently provide a uniform color throughout the project.

When World War II hit, Sully (bottom row, far left) joined the Coast Guard. In 1942 he was assigned to the Seadrift, an 86-foot schooner, teaching seamanship to the men who were in boot camp on Catalina Island.

Magnificent Driveways

Sully did jobs at Disneyland, the Visitor's Center on top of the Hoover Dam, the Long Beach Convention Center which looks like a wave and is all color and no stamping, the Los Angeles Country Fairgrounds and the Pomona Convention Center, the light Rail Project in East Los Angeles, the Hyatt Alicante Hotel, which mirrors the ocean front walk in Rio de Janeiro, the wharf of the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Pershing Square, Sea World??"you name it, no matter where you go, Sully has already been there and provided the pavement for you. He's also put in some very fancy driveways for some very famous people. Here's the short list: Kenny Rogers, Mary Tyler Moore, Cyd Cherisse, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, Jim Neighbors, Rod Stewart, Ricardo Montalban, and two for Sylvester Stallone.

Sully was honored for his lifetime achievement at the Bomanite Annual Meeting Awards Ceremony for his contributions to the industry.

"My greatest achievements have also been my greatest joys," Sully tells us, "I got acquainted with wonderful people who helped make me a success, and I was instrumental in bringing concrete into the profession." It was Sully who developed the stamp for Disneyland decades ago, and it has become not only one of Bomanite's most popular patterns, but one of the most often used patterns in the industry. He was also asked to critique the Disney World paving project, and installed the California Adventure Pier project as well as the entryway to the Mirage in Las Vegas.

"I always had the vision, " he says, " and I still have it."

It was Sully who was instrumental in developing, along with Disney Imagineering, the Ashlar slate concrete stamp for Disneyland decades ago, and it has become not only one of Bomanite's most popular patterns, but one of the most often used patterns in the industry. Sully was also asked to critique the Disney World paving project, and he installed the California Adventure Paradise Pier project.

The Best is Yet to Come

Amazingly enough, the first stamped concrete project ever done was a couple of streets that were stamped to look like brick. Those streets have lasted longer than brick would have lasted??"and are still level today! Even though Sully hasn't ever kept a running tally, given the yearly project lists, in the course of his career, he has probably poured upwards of one million square feet of concrete a year.

If anyone is curious whether this process is long lasting, they can lay their fears to rest. The stamped concrete concept, developed by Brad Bowman originally had only three designs. There were just three molds, cobblestone, brick and 12 by 12-inch tile patterns. Those molds duplicated the look of the real thing when pressed into freshly poured concrete. There has since been an evolution starting with the original bladed stamp (Bomanite) and moving on to the imprinted stamp, which is known as Bomacron. Even now, Sully goes into the office every day. He has just gotten a patent for a new product called Aggratex, which is an exciting decorative surface for concrete with aggregates such as colored glass, marbles or shells already added to the cementitious materials.

"I'm still selling," says Sully. "I can't get it out of my system!"


Related Stories

February 17, 2020, 2:06 pm PDT

Website problems, report a bug.
Copyright © 2019 Landscape Communications Inc.
Privacy Policy