by Bob Skolnick Ventanas del Valle Winter 2002
In writing about Mario and Pat Bellestri the potential subjects are numerous. When you first meet Mario, you might think he was a “Viking Warrior” time-traveling in the 21st Century. It doesn’t take long to find out this is a home builder dedicated to both to his clients and to the Las Cruces Home Builders Association. Mario served in 1997 as President of the local association, for years on the Board of Directors and served on various committees. Recently he was installed as the President of the New Mexico Home Builders Association. He follows in the footsteps of other dedicated local building industry leaders who feel it necessary to give back to and protect the industry. One side of consumer protection is to ensure over-regulation does not drive the price of a home beyond the reach of the consumer.
Mario also finds time to mentor his 15 year-old son, Max, who is a very gifted young golfer. A two-handicapper, Max lettered as an eighth grader at Las Cruces High. Max was a State Champion this year for the Junior PGA. Can you imagine your son being that much better than you are? I would start every round of golf on the 19th hole.
On a recent retreat outing for the Las Cruces Home Builders Board in Cloudcroft, Pat and Mario invited everyone up to their mountain getaway and treated all of us to one of the best charcoal hamburgers I’ve had in a long time. In that wooded environment, I thought maybe I was wrong about the “Viking Warrior.” Perhaps he was a “Mountain Man” in the mid-1800’s.
Recently I caught up with Mario and his wife and partner, Pat, in their Soledad Canyon Earth Builders offices. Pat handles the office administration and working with their clients to select the interior details. The Bellestri’s insist on going with their clients to pick the appliances, tile, and other amenities, even down to the smaller details such as the towel rings. Mario made it clear that they do not begin construction until all of the decisions are made. He indicated that building a custom home is both stressful for the builder and the homeowner. “We do not want to be calling the client every other day to make a decision.” It really slows down the process.” It was interesting to find out that Mario has his own crews that do most of the work and he is often on the job site supervision the work. Mario made a point of mentioning that unlike many builders, they only subcontract out a minimum of the work. Tim Beresford, their foreman, has been with them for eleven years. Pat and Mario recently gave Tim a minority ownership position in the company.
One of the things that Pat and Mario are most proud of is that their clients stay in their rammed earth homes. People enjoy them and seldom move. Out of the over 65 they have built, only five have second owners. Mario pointed out that people feel secure in a rammed earth home. Once people understand the rammed earth process and that it has been around for centuries they will never go back to a “stick built” home. “The Great Wall of China was built with stone and rammed earth.”
Pat and Mario started their business in 1983. They built their fourteen-sided rammed earth home in Soledad Canyon. Hence the name Soledad Canyon Earth Builders. Mario attended an extensive seminar at the University of Arizona before attempting to build their rammed earth home. In the beginning, building a business strictly in rammed earth homes was hard. Even though the rammed earth process preceded adobe and certainly conventional “stick built” homes, it was a process not so many of today’s potential custom homeowners were familiar with. Mario has perfected the rammed earth processes and has developed a unique technique with forming. They can now produce walls with any shape, curve or angle. Pat and Mario often held education seminars for the community right on the job site for a rammed earth house they were currently building. They would get as many as 150 visits on a weekend open house. As the populous got educated on rammed earth, the new jobs started coming. Their reputation as a quality and caring builder grew. Last October one of their clients had a party for “Rammed-Earthers.” Pat and Mario think it will be a recurring event. I know Par and Mario plan to increase the membership base in this new societal phenomenon, “The Rammed-Earther.”