If These Walls Could Talk
Any Stories About the Buildings in Which You Worked?
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During the heydays of our careers, many of us probably spent more time at the office (or at least at the office and in airplanes) than at home.
How much did you know about your office building – and what do you remember about it?
Did you know, for example, that 270 Park Avenue, now JPMorgan Chase's headquarters, was originally known as the Union Carbide Building?
Did you know that 270 Park and One Chase Manhattan Plaza were both designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill?
Clicking on the links above will give you some more factoids and trivia about the two buildings, but we'd like to know from those of you who worked in both places: What did you find the differences to be, culturally, logistically, psychologically and any other way?
And for those of you who worked in other Chase buildings around the world or for the heritage banks, do you have any stories about the buildings themselves, from fire drills to leaks to mice to superstitions?
Please respond to email@example.com
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From George M. Bulow: To me the funniest experience was when I worked at 1CMP in the late 1970’s. In those days the Corporate Bank was still in existence and I had a desk adjoining a window overlooking the Plaza and the Dubuffet sculpture on the fifth floor. In anticipation of CMB serving as host for a major reception during the summer (1978?) for the attendees of the American Bankers Association (ABA), which was holding its annual convention in New York that year, the Bank spent a great deal to spruce up the building and grounds in anticipation of the event. For over eight months, various specialists were polishing all metal work, fixing whatever needed their attention, repairing the main fountain’s leaks to allow it to work, for the first time in several years, and to re-cover the terrazzo surface of the plaza. The same terrazzo can be found on the main floor lobby and was cleaned, restored and reset, without incident. The case of the outside, much wider swath of terrazzo expanse, however, was not.
Restoring terrazzo surfaces is a subtle and very specialized practice for an artisan. Not only does one generally sand down the overall surface, to prepare it for an update and cleaning, but one must also temporarily apply a thin layer of concrete plus other items (including similar colored stone) to eliminate the cracks which form when such a heavy surface settles, over time and to see that the replacement surface matches what was originally installed. It takes careful attention to detail and sure sense of timing when to remove the thin layer, which then needs to be washed, cleaned and thoroughly buffed to be fully and properly restored.
For some reason, the contractor responsible for the outside terrazzo surface of the plaza did all the above, but one. For some reason, the thin surface remained on the initial surface too long. Instead of the lovely deep sea green which had formerly existed, a pale imitator of dubious color was produced. This was discovered about one month before the planned reception, leading to frantic attempts to restore the surface to its correct, expected color. All failed. The Bank finally had to put up tents (which it probably intended to put up anyway) over the improperly restored surface. It is my understanding that the contractor had to pay a huge sum for its error.
From Gerard Lang: I worked in operations on 4b (4th basement level). What I remember most about working four floors below street level were the meeting interruptions that took place in a certain conference room due to the noise of a subway train passing overhead.
From Carolyn Vick: My favourite building story is whilst working at Chase Plaza. When I first started in 1984, the executive offices were on the 60th floor. I left and rejoined Chase in 1994 to find that the executive offices had been moved to the 17th floor (I was then working on the 50th floor). When I asked security about the reason for the move, I was informed that the 17th floor is the highest that fire ladders can reach, thus in a fire the executives would definitely be safe! And I thought to myself “…and the rest of us????”
From Ken Jablon: First, a bit of background: Chase rented space in 80 Pine Street, which was a couple of blocks east of 1 Chase Plaza. I worked in that building in the mid-1980s when I headed up Strategic Planning for Individual Banking (which was what the consumer part of the bank was called), which, in turn, was headed by Art Ryan. Every year we had to put together a "long-term financial plan", which had lots of numbers required by Corporate Controllers and lots of words required by Corporate Planning. One year there was an infestation of mice where the Individual Banking financial/planning staff was located. A number of the mice were killed by throwing the long- term financial book at them. (I was not the mice murderer.) Those who remember the heft of this document know that this was an easy extermination method.
From Peter Larr: When the building first opened, the bank installed with much fanfare an "Atomic clock" on the wall of the first floor (not ground floor ) on the south side toward Nassau Street. This clock was touted as keeping "perfect time" down to the nano for a 100 years or words to that effect. Something happened when the building opened. The damn thing didn't work. John Cameron Swayze's Timex kept better time. The clock was removed for "repair" – maybe a couple of times – before one day the hole in the wall was quietly patched. For years, if not still, if you looked very carefully at the travertine you could see the faint outline of where the "Atomic clock" once disgraced itself.
The famous Plaza pool got similar publicity. When the building first opened, the pool, like most Japanese pools, had fish – not carp in this case but goldfish. Very pretty, inspiring peace and tranquility. Soon, however, a problem developed. One by one the fish went belly up, floating to the surface – not particularly conducive to peace and tranquility. The problem? From day one the pool attracted gamblers betting on whether they could pitch pennies into the decorative 'pits" in the bottom of the pool. So many pennies accumulated that the toxic effect of the copper "done done in the the innocent goldfish". Yet another idea that didn't turn out so well.
On the first floor on the south side at the William Street end there is a counter. That was the location where once you would find "Chase Tour Guides". When the building opened, there was a great demand for tours of what was a major architectural landmark with great economic significance in being a catalyst to arrest the flight of financial services firms to midtown. To accommodate the demand, the bank hired a bevy of attractive young college grad women to serve as "TOUR GUIDES" for what was about an hour long tour. The tours went on, I would guess, for about a year before demand scaled back. The guides, however, didn't last long behind that counter. It didn't take long before the guides were hidden away until they sallied forth to take an assembled tour through the building. Reason? These attractive women behind the counter were a draw for seemingly every lonely and/or randy male south of Canal Street. The propositions became a problem so the women were taken to a sanctuary somewhere in the building, I don't recall where.
I was overseas when the windows on the Plaza side of the building would pop out and sail before crashing into flying shards of glass on the ground below. Winds swirling around the building caused a vacuum which would "suck out" the glass. Somehow Skidmore figured out measures to keep the windows in place. To the best of my knowledge, no one was hurt but that was luck. It was an embarrassment in light of all the publicity about this fabulous "show place" building.
Then there were the Dubuffet trees. The installation of those trees was an engineering challenge that is a story in its own right, but the part I like is when David Rockefeller nearly lost his famous self-control. It took a beastly hot two weeks or so to get those "trees" upright and secure. To accomplish the task, a crew of maybe a half dozen French "installers" had accompanied the Rockefeller gift from France. I took some clients to see David in his 17th floor office overlooking the Plaza. David invited the guests to the widow to see the Frenchmen doing their thing. They were in French bathing suits leaving little to the imagination. David got increasingly agitated. The cause of his aggravation was six American laborers he had been coerced into hiring so they could sit on the William Street wall as they watched the Frenchmen do the work. The unions had told David that there would be trouble if American union labor was not used to erect the "trees". The problem was they had no clue how to do it. The "compromise" to David's anger was he had to hire the union labor to do nothing.
Don't forget to get someone to tell you about when the Puerto Rican Separatists blew out many floors worth of windows with a bomb placed between Chase and Marine Midland on Nassau Street. Another bomb wrecked the 16th floor. Also don't forget when the Black Panthers surrounded the building.
From Bob Davis: The wool carpeting at 1 CMP was so thick that it would leave beige carpet nap embedded around the soles of my shoes. My last visit to 1 CMP was several years ago for a Chase Alumni event and I found the carpeting to be much more “industrial.” Gone are the glory days.
From Robert McCreary: Gene Rooks, a long-time employee of Chase was in what we knew as the Chemical Bank building during the SDP program (Special Development Program). When he was preparing for a Pit, he put his papers on the window sill as it was a hot day, and the papers were all sucked out the window into what we know as 1CMP. This is a variation of the Dog ate my homework. This occurred sometime in the 50’s. Gene is a terrific man and he told me this story in the 70’s.
From Jim Adamson: Following up on Peter Larr’s recollection of the erection of Dubuffet’s famous “Trees”, the climax of this story occurred one Friday morning during the weekly credit review meeting in the 17th floor conference room. The meeting was usually chaired by George Roeder, chief credit officer, but on this occasion David arrived to make an announcement to the assembled bankers waiting to defend their latest fantastic deals. David began by thanking everyone for their patience enduring the disruption on the plaza during erection of the sculpture. He explained that purchasing and installing the “Trees” had been a difficult and complicated process. Dubuffet had accepted the commission in Paris but insisted that the sculpture had to be built in France. As his studio was not large enough for the project, an airplane-hangar type building had to be erected to provide protection from the elements. After the sculpture was completed in this hangar, it then had to be cut into pieces and dismantled so that it could be shipped to One Chase Plaza and the hangar dismantled. Hence the need for the French crew to be brought to New York to reassemble the sculpture and the resulting dispute with the New York labor unions. After this long explanation, David concluded by saying that he hoped everyone enjoyed the sculpture, and he assured us that the total cost had been paid by the Rockefeller Foundation and had been donated to Chase free of charge. When he finished, nobody quite knew how to respond and there was total silence in the room. Finally it was broken by George Roeder, who spoke up and asked, “David, wouldn’t it have been cheaper to dismantle One Chase Plaza and move it to France rather than bring that sculpture here?” The room collapsed in laughter.