Construction was third division, and it was somewhat of a stepchild. Alex was nominally in charge of construction that had been Paul’s bailiwick, but Paul was now gone. Neither Norman nor David had much of an interest in or grasp of construction. Norman found it distasteful and dirty; for instance, when the company was building 460 Park Avenue, which was to be our headquarters for a decade, Norman made sure that when bankers and executives would get off the elevator they would enter our headquarters from one grand door, while the dirty-booted would be required to enter through a second door. The people wearing dust-covered boots subcontractors and trades people Norman had decided, were not “professionals” like himself and the bankers.
As in all families, some members were more able to do the work than others; the various Tishmans possessed different mixes of abilities and personality characteristics. David was a tough guy, very sure of himself yet always willing to listen to what I had to say. He was a generation older and savvier than Norman, who tended to be more intractable and less sure of himself. Both of them had more on the ball than Alex, a judgment acknowledged by the succession, which skipped brother Alex and went directly to youngest brother Norman.
My first assignment was as the assistant to our construction superintendent on two tenements that we were building in the Bronx, on Gun Hill Road. The word tenement gives some people the wrong impression. In New York City it’s a technical term for a semi-fireproof, six-story, brick and wood building not for a dilapidated ghetto residence. These two buildings were being erected under a financing program put in place by the Roosevelt Administration and administered by the Federal Housing Authority, the FHA. The man in charge of the company’s construction, now that Paul had gone, was his former lieutenant, Joe Blitz. Blitz taught me a lot, but I also learned a great deal by observing and doing small tasks at the job site, not only by fetching coffee when that was wanted, but, more importantly, acting as the general assistant, file clerk, and timekeeper. One of the more telling tasks was to keep the daily log of which subcontractors and trades people came onto the job site, and what they did. It helped me learn the sequence of construction. As an engineer, I had some technical knowledge but no field experience. My degree and training probably affected how I observed and understood what was going on and going up.
The most significant revelation was of how the trades were interrelated, which demonstrated the importance of scheduling and coordination. Each trade was dependent, in sequence, on the others for example, the bathroom pipes had to go in before the plumbers could install the toilets and sinks and bathtubs. Each trade had to show up and do its job, and coordinate with the others, as agreed to in the specs, or time would be lost and there would be claims by the later trades for interference. Speed of construction is very important for an owner-builder who has put money into a project and will be unable to recoup the investment (and pay off the construction loans) until the project is completed and rented out. For a general contractor, speed is less important, since his money is not similarly at risk during the project.
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Blitz took me under his wing and brought me along as fast as he could. I didn’t know it then, but he was planning to leave the company and join my uncle Paul in his general contracting business, which he soon did. Perhaps he wanted to get me up to some speed before he left the Tishman Realty firm.
During this period, the details of which are in the following few sections, I discovered that building and real estate were in my blood and that I was good at it. Because of the structure of the company, the lack of any other Tishman to take charge of the construction end, and the firm’s own expansion in real estate development, my uncles provided me with plenty of opportunity to grow in the areas of design and construction management. The progression of ever-larger projects on which they embarked was far beyond the capacity of the few “construction people” left in the firm. As the only Tishman who seemed to be a “natural” at construction, this progression of projects made it possible for me to demonstrate my increasing competence and ascend to a responsible position on the design and construction side of the business. I liked the challenges, and, more particularly, the responsibilities that came my way. I started out liking the on-site supervision side of the jobs, and went on to take a shine to the creative pre-construction work in which I was able to participate as the voice of the owner, dealing with the architects and engineers during the development of the plans and specifications for each project. These projects afforded me various ways to develop and employ my creative juices during all the stages of creating apartment and office buildings. Looking back on this period, I know that I was very fortunate to have so many opportunities to “learn by doing” in so many different phases of the aesthetic and practical design process, as well as in the execution of very substantial construction projects in many areas of the country, and to do these projects as part of an ownership firm, rather than for outside owners.
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