My uncle didn’t realize, or didn’t want to acknowledge, that the entire non-family staff of our company, and all the tradespeople we dealt with, already thought I was in charge of construction.
In 1950, when I was still relatively new at Tishman Realty, the company was expanding its operations beyond New York City. We were completing what was called the mid-Wilshire project in Los Angeles, three moderate-sized buildings at 3440, 3350, and 3360 Wilshire Boulevard. In creating these, Tishman Realty was continuing to pursue the sort of projects that had served it well in New York City pioneering in terms of the area in which we built as well as in terms of the type of buildings we would erect there, in this instance, office buildings where before there had mainly been small storefronts and residences. The mid-Wilshire buildings were Uncle Norman’s projects; Uncle David was not keen on them because we had had to hire a local architect and a local general contractor, making for a situation in which, in his view, we lost some control of the project’s decorating and construction. Furthermore, construction in Los Angeles presented additional problems for us as developers; because of earthquake probabilities, the building codes would not permit the erecting of a building taller than twelve stories, a small size that limited the potential profitability of an office building. The code was outmoded in this regard, because in recent
Century City in Los Angeles, built for Alcoa, and designed by Yamasaki, its fagade an echo of his World Trade Center. years construction materials and techniques had improved, but the code had not been changed.
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Perhaps it was because there were so many problems and potential downsides, rather than upsides, that when the third mid-Wilshire building was ready to be constructed, and I had gained my uncles’ confidence as a construction supervisor, I was put in charge of building it. During that project, and for years thereafter on others in the area, I would fly to California on a regular basis a time-consuming matter in the era before there were jet, non-stop, coast-to-coast flights.
The sites in California were pioneering for Los Angeles, and for our firm, but as far as construction went, these first L.A. projects were pretty standard stuff. However, in some projects closer to home I found many opportunities to also pioneer various aspects of construction.
I might not have realized this at the time, but today, after a lifetime of making such innovations, I have become convinced that successful design and construction innovations could have been effectively conceived and tried out only by an “owner/builder.” A general contractor cannot afford to make or even to suggest radical innovations because his job is simply to execute from existing plans and not to deviate from them; neither can an owner/developer whose company does not closely and personally oversee the actual job site construction. Only those deeply involved in the design and construction aspects of the project, and who have the benefit and the needs of being the owner/ builder, or acting on behalf of an owner/builder, can do so. The Tishman Company as owner/builders could accept the risk of experimenting with new processes and materials because we were in a position to bear the costs if something went wrong and to reap the benefits if the new methods or materials worked well. Becoming better-versed in construction and in controlling costs, I was able to see and take advantage of opportunities in which innovation was likely to pay off for our firm.