Colma's Fontana Monumument Firm
Cited for Outstanding Styles
Daly City Record 09/56
Nation-wide honors have been bestowed upon Elio A. Fontana and Valerio Fontana Monument Company of Colma.
The 35-year-old local firm and its 37-year-old manager were featured in the August issue of "Monumental News-Review" magazine, international "bible" of the industry.
The publication cited Elio as "an outstanding memorialist-designer," and its two-page spread lauded the company for "pioneering drastic changes in accepted customs and designs."
The magazine praised the Fontana firm for new ideas, advanced sales techniques and up-to-date machinery. It marked the first time a West Coast monument firm has been so honored.
Valerio Fontana, 69, the firm's founder and sculptor, supervises all operations at the company's ultra-modern factory across from the Italian Cemetery in Colma. His son, Elio, does all the designing and serves as "front man" int the main office at 7600 Mission Street.
A fourth generation memorialist, Valerio came to this country at the age of 19 after learning the rudiments of the profession in the quarries of Sardinia and Egypt. Before establishing roots here he gained fame for sculptoring at the World Fair of 1915 and on the San Francisco City Hall and Public Library buildings a year later.
Elio, a 1938 Jefferson graduate, learned the business "from the ground up." He worked at the plant during high school days, then became a key employee after spending four years as a draftsman in Army Intelligence during World War II.
"The reason we're out in front is because we try to give our customers a fresh approach in monument design," commented Elio. "By rough comparison, you might say it's somewhat like the automobile industry. We attempt to keep up with the times in new styles, getting away from the somber and unattractive patterns of the past while still maintaining classical beauty. Of course, we're limited by
cemetery restrictions on size, but all in all, we emphasize the unique."
Elio explained that the monument business requires a combination of old-fashioned know-how and new techniques to satisfy the needs of each customer. He reminded that the task of preparing monuments, involving polishing, carving and designing demands top craftmanship.
The Fontana factory, built five years ago at a cost of $100,000, is staffed with a veteran crew of artisans and is stocked with the latest precision equipment.
The men behind the firm's accomplishments include polisher Pietro Masnada, carver-sandblaster John Blake, stone cutter Joseph Cholewa, blacksmith Raymond Chrisman and plant helper Felix Luttrall. Elio's sister, Gloria, is office manager, and salesman Elmer Harris, rounds out the staff.
Elio said the company, serving all local cemeteries, prepares monuments that range in cost from $150 to $1000 for average jobs to $20,000 for bigger projects. Averaged-sized monuments are contracted on a three-month basis,although actual processing takes about 45 days. The firm imports topgrade granite from all over the world, while marble decorations are obtained exclusively from Italy.
Fontana's stock of more than 1000 display monuments, the largest in nine Western states, run the myriad in design and technique.
A typical example of the company's range is a recently prepared monument for the former mayor of Chinatown inscribed by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek. The Fontana firm accomplished the feat by getting the Nationalist leader to forward a copy of his own lettering from Formosa.