The one benefit of having human operators in elevators during the business day was that their presence prevented the elevator cabs from being vandalized by people who scratched graffiti on the elevator panels, and otherwise besmirched the cabs. Because such elevators had always had operators in them, discouraging damage to the cabs, not much thought had been given to ease of repair or of replacement of cab interiors. Perhaps this was why early elevator panels had been designed in such a way that they could be accessed for replacement or repair only when the cab was out of service. Even then, working on the panels was a laborious process. You could remove the wall panels only from the outside, by first unscrewing the exterior fasteners, then lifting out the heavy panels, etc. The difficulty of servicing the panels was why the vandalized panels of some self-service cabs had been let go to the point that they could no longer be cleaned and had to be replaced. Building managers knew that graffiti-type vandalism, once it started, only became worse: a second would-be “writer,” recognizing that someone had previously marked up or scratched graffiti on the elevator cab, would have fewer compunctions about adding to the damage. But because taking off the panels was so laborious, these initial graffiti were often ignored, with disastrous results.
I worked with the leading elevator cab manufacturer to design panels that could be mounted inside of the elevator with specially designed fasteners (rather than bolted on from outside), the panels then could be easily removed and cleaned or replaced without having to take the cab apart. I developed a hanging mechanism that connected the panels to the cab in such a way that it became easy to clean them regularly, should graffiti “art” be written on them, or to easily remove and exchange them for newer ones if the damage was too severe to be repaired.
I was able to patent this very simple hanging device, and for many years thereafter received modest royalties on it. But that had not been my objective; rather, the point had been to design something that would save us, as building owners, on our operating costs. It also served to keep the elevators looking much newer and cleaner, an important selling point for tenants.
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The most spectacular innovation on 99 Park Avenue had to do with the fa£ade. The exterior was to be made of aluminum panels that would not only be weather-resistant but could be installed quickly after the superstructure had been advanced to the point of being ready to support it. The usual way of putting on a fa£ade was slow and laborious, with bricks and mortar laid painstakingly by hand, floor after floor. That process of completing the fa£ade could take weeks, and in the sort of commercial office building construction that Tishman Realty did, speed of construction was of the essence. Market conditions could change, and too much lead time between when a building was conceived and when it was ready for occupancy could compromise the building’s profitability if rents declined in the interim. A fa£ade that could be erected in a matter of days rather than weeks was a big help. At 99 Park, it took just six-and-a-half days to install the fa£ade on all three exposed sides of the building. Also, being made of aluminum, this fa£ade took up less space on the building’s exterior than one made of bricks and mortar would have done. The aluminum was also a lot less expensive to install because scaffolding did not have to be constructed or moved—ropes and men inside the building could maneuver the two-floor-high panels into the right locations and bolt them into place. Each panel contained two windows and two spandrel panels, stacked vertically, as well as an aluminum frame to hold the whole thing together. Adjacent aluminum panels dovetailed into one another, eliminating the need for caulking. This saved money in two ways, in the cost of installation and in terms of lower maintenance costs. Fixing leaks is always costly and, if the leaks are coming from the fa£ade rather than from the roof, they are rather difficult to remedy.
I am proud that for more than fifty years the entire aluminum-clad-ding system at 99 Park has remained watertight, therefore requiring no maintenance, caulking or other significant remedial work. in attaching aluminum facades had advanced to the point where we figured that we would be able to hang the aluminum fa£ade in a matter of hours rather than days. This, we also thought, was enough of an astonishing feat that it could get us some publicity. Life magazine agreed, and in early October 1960 they sent a photographer to document our installing all of the facades facing both Park Avenue and 57 th Street in a single day. We even did better, completing the task in a mere thirteen hours—a hectic day but a great one. After it, we were expecting what Life had more or less promised, a centerfold story in the nation’s leading pictorial magazine—when Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev decided to bang his shoe on a desk at the United Nations to protest something said by another country’s delegate, and Life decided that the shoe-banging was more newsworthy than our construction exploit, and relegated us to only an inside-the-magazine story. That aside, we did get quite a bit of positive press for the accomplishment. It even
spawned interesting letters to me from people in Japan and in other foreign countries, inquiring if we could teach them how to erect an entire building in a single day.