The story is a bit complicated. We were building a post office in Manhattan, one that needed a lot of concrete. We were also building a series of apartment towers on the Palisades in NewJersey. Generally, we use only New York firms for concrete construction, but in this instance, since we needed a lot of concrete work in both areas, we decided on a New Jersey concrete firm.
There were some minor glitches, and we had a small dispute about the concrete for the Manhattan post office. Usually, with such disputes, we are able to resolve them readily through payments from one party to the other. However, in this instance, the New Jersey firm was reluctant to settle with us, and we took them to court and won. After that, the head man insisted that I meet him on the job site in the Palisades.
At the appointed hour in the mid-afternoon, I showed up on the Palisades site, and waited. Some time later a large white Cadillac entered the site and sped toward me, kicking up a huge cloud of dust as it did. The Caddy came to a halt not far from me but the dust continued to roll over me, in choking proportions. I coughed and coughed. And felt menaced, a feeling that did not resolve when the big guy got out of his car, with a bulge under his jacket indicating he was “packing heat.”
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Nonetheless, I proceeded to negotiate with this gentleman from New Jersey as though I wasn’t scared, and we did come to an arrangement that did not leave me feeling ripped off. I went back home and, needless to say, we never again employed that firm in our construction endeavors.
For many generations, stairwells and elevator shafts had been the province of what construction people called the “wet trades.” These areas were constructed using gypsum blocks or wire lath that were smeared with a heavy coat of fire retardant vermiculite, or with exposed cinder blocks that were painted or, less frequently, left bare. Such fire-resistant walls worked well enough for a long time, but in the 1950s we began to look for alternatives because block construction was labor-intensive to install and required the use of temporary heat when being installed in cold weather.
There was a need for materials and systems that were the equal in fireproof or fire-resistant performance to the old cinder blocks and masonry. Tishman Research worked with the largest Sheetrock manufacturer, U.S. Gypsum, to come up with a new wall design that would meet the requirements of New York City’s Fire Department and Buildings Department, and to make certain that the new walls would also be up to all the requirements for national codes. We also wanted to pass muster with the Underwriters Lab, an insurance-industry group. We did all of this with the product that we named Shaft Wall. Our first use of the Shaft Wall was in a building at 100 Gold Street in Manhattan, which we built for our own portfolio and in which the city’s Buildings Department was to be a major tenant.