One Member's Memories

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Like It Is – Was
By S. Steve Blumenthal, FCSI
Former Institute President

The Construction Specifications Institute was incorporated in March 1948 by a group of Architects who wanted to put  specifications in some sort of order. The Metropolitan New York Chapter is celebrating its 60th anniversary. The Chapter was chartered on June 1, 1951. It is the first Chapter chartered by the Institute. We were unique until April 1953 when the Metropolitan Washington DC Chapter was chartered, followed by the Los Angeles Chapter in August 1953. The next Chapter in our Region was Boston, chartered in 1956. Today there are 142 chapters throughout the nation and Puerto Rico. Our colleagues in Canada founded Construction Specifications Canada in 1954 and a true partnership was established and continues.

Members of our Chapter met several times with those from the DC Chapter to develop a standard format for specifications. Before MasterFormat a specification was broken down by titled sections such as “3-Concrete”, “7-Waterproofing”, and “9-Paint”. The specifications read like book chapters, the front end being number 1 and on into the 50’s or 60s. I’ve been told it was a chore looking for specific items in a specification. An Institute Technical Committee was formed to tackle this problem and developed the MasterFormat system. There were “Green sheets" and "Monograms” which later became “Spec Data”. Metro New York and three other chapters were selected to review the first draft of MasterFormat.  Since then our Chapter has contributed time and effort to numerous other committees contributing to CSI’s growth and recognition.

“East side, west side, all around the town!” The Chapter had many domiciles through its years. During the 1950s and '60s the Chapter met in the basement of the Architectural League.  From there meetings moved to the Shelbourne Hotel on Lexington Avenue. The mid '60s saw a move to the East side, to the Design Center, followed three years later with a cross-town move to the McGraw-Hill Building. Meetings were sometimes held at other associations and clubs in Midtown. The most unique meeting space was in the nightclub of the Roosevelt Hotel on Lexington Avenue. The room was “dark” one night a week, coinciding with the Chapter's meeting night, and the price was right.  The current location at Annie Moore's Restaurant next to Grand Central Terminal has been the meeting place since about 2001.

Being the only Chapter in the Metropolitan area there were--as continues today--members from many surrounding counties and municipalities. Those members commuted to Chapter meetings (as many were also doing to their jobs in Manhattan) until it became a chore and there developed a solid number of professionals in suburban areas surrounding New York City. New chapters were formed with Metro New York assisting in their development. The New Jersey Chapter started in 1966, Housatonic Chapter in 1969, and Long Island Chapter in 1970. Many members kept dual membership in their new chapters and in Metro New York. Originally all these Chapters were in Region 2, while New England was Region 1. In 1976 the Institute created ten Regions, with Metropolitan New York being in the Northeast Region. 

As best I can remember, the following current members (as of March 2011) had a hand in the formative years (1961 to 1979) of the Chapter: Bill Duer, Stephen Falk, Viben Eriksen, Miriam Eldar FCSI, Stephen Cohen, Stephen Falk, Michael Greenberg, Carl Grimm, Justin Henshell FAIA, FASTM, Edward Kuntz, Armand Lerner, Herbert Pendleton FCSI, Harold Rosen FCSI, George Rosamond, Robert Schwartz, Raymond Searby, Fred Sylvester, Will Turner, Don Van Court FCSI, Bernard Vernon, Gerald Wolkowitz, and me. If I missed any please let Russ Carpenter or me know and we will correct the list.

During the 1970s and 1980s there were business downturns much as we are experiencing today, but the Chapter continued its monthly programs. There was an annual picnic, pre-theater parties, annual golf outings, and an annual softball game between the Professional and Industry members. The annual holiday party was often held on Governors Island. Several of these events included families and there even was a children’s program.
Many members had interesting avocations, including a board member of a commuter bus company, several members of school and town planning boards, a Boy Scouts Council Board member, someone who took in stray dogs and cats, college assistant professors and lecturers, night school teachers, and even a New York State legislator. In keeping with New York tradition the Chapter had a member who performed on stage in the metropolitan area and regaled the Chapter at our social gatherings.

Some of the important dates in the Chapter's history include:
1966-69-70 – Metro New York assisted with chartering chapters in New Jersey (1966), Housatonic (1969), and  Long Island (1970)
1970 – on Van Court's motion in our Chapter, Industry members were permitted to use CSI after their names  
1971 – at Institute Convention, the Van Court motion was brought to discussion and passed on the national level
1971 – Institute Convention, Metro New York Chapter had 29 delegates, a record for the Region
1974 – Metro New York Chapter hosted the last conference for Region 2, which was then reborn as the Northeast Region
1976 – Chapter awarded the first Student award to an architecture/engineering student
1978 – With Producers Council (affiliated with AIA) presented a program at New York Institute of Technology
1979 – Chapter offers a certification (CCS) course which then became a model curriculum
1982 – Chapter presented the first products fair at the 69th Street Armory
1983 – Chapter member was awarded the first “Robert B. Brousseau” award from the Institute
1984 – Chapter elects Miriam Eldar first female Chapter President in the nation
1985 – President Miriam Eldar established the Chapter's first college education award
1985 – Region awards the Metro New York Chapter the Don Colosano newsletter award, Bob Schwartz, editor
1986 – Tally Love elected first Industry Chapter President
1988 – Chapter Industry member S. Steven Blumenthal elected first Institute President Elect
1988 – Chapter hosted the first Region Conference in the city with record attendance
2007 – Metro New York Chapter President Scott Tobias elected NE Region Director, and then in 2010 was elected Institute Director at Large

In the nineteen seventies there was a ritual battle between the Boston Chapter and ours as to who was “king of the hill.” No one ever won, but a strong alliance was formed between the two chapters. Also in the early seventies a competition evolved between Minneapolis Chapter and us for the most members in our respective chapters. Again, there was no winner but there were bragging rights at the annual Institute Convention.

That was then, and hopefully I have been able to preserve a little bit of our history. But what about today? Each generation has its own distinctive experiences and contributions to our legacy. There are 265 members in the Chapter. The President, Board, and Committees are supporting this cadre with outstanding programs. Literal cut-and-paste was so pre-seventies. No longer are scissors and glue found on the Specifier's desk, The Addendum newsletter would take a week to reach the members through the mail. Today with computers and the latest hand-held technology communication happens faster than it took to write this sentence. And since communication is what the spec writing business is all about, this seems appropriate.

Today there is a better understanding and collaboration with other industry associations, whereas thirty years ago in was difficult getting through to the right person on the phone. So, my colleagues, enjoy the party and we can all look forward to the next ten years as we explore new processes and specification techniques.

It might be your turn to help write the history of our Metropolitan New York Chapter. Yes you can "tell it like it is" at the 70th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. If you want to get started now, contact Michael Bean or Russ Carpenter or you can let me know.