By David V. Griffin
Since founding his eponymous firm in 1978, award-winning architect Howard L. Zimmerman has worked on the interior and exterior restoration of numerous residential, commercial and institutional buildings — and has the trophies to prove it, in the form of a unique collection of architectural elements and replica castings that decorate his NoMad office.
“I remember when I was just starting out seeing one of the eagles from the original Pennsylvania Station in a law office,” Zimmerman said. “I thought that was amazing.
“As I started working with replicating and restoring similar details I thought, ‘Why put up pictures of what I work with? Why not put up the things themselves?’ And the collection grew from there.”
Consisting of over 40 pieces installed over three floors, the collection’s scope includes everything from a colorful nautical roundel from an Edwardian hotel, to an ancient steel column salvaged from the support for a 20,000 gallon water tank.
“An engineer’s nightmare and my favorite piece,” Zimmerman said of the latter. “Totally rotten and yet so impressive – something held together by memory and not structure.”
A notable recent project for the firm was the restoration of the façade of The Plaza Hotel, a New York City landmark and a world-renowned symbol of metropolitan glamour.
“That was a special project for me,” Zimmerman said. “I grew up in New York and knew of the hotel as a kid. I never thought I’d be fixing it one day.”
The project, which won a 2014 Society of Registered Architects of NY Design Award of Honor, involved a thorough cleaning of the façade and the replication of many deteriorated exterior details, including balconies — a casting of one of which was presented to Zimmerman and is now displayed outside of his offices.
“There were a lot of scars on the Plaza,” Zimmerman said. “A lot of caulking and patching was performed in the past. We took a very comprehensive approach – and left the building in better shape than it’s been for 40 years.”
Other notable recent restoration projects include the iconic Temple Emanu-El, where Zimmerman returned to the original quarry for replacement stone and a complete façade restoration of the vast Riverside Church.
“That was an amazing experience,” Zimmerman said. “You’re up there with gargoyles that haven’t been face-to-face with a human since the 1920s.”
Zimmerman’s appreciation of the aesthetic significance of his collection doesn’t prevent him from also seeing it as a unique business-getting strategy.
“Prospective clients come in here and I don’t have to tell them what we work with – they see what we work with,” Zimmerman said. “It gives us a real home court advantage. I recently had a client who didn’t understand what we were capable of doing for their property. I called them in to a meeting here – and they understood immediately. The collection gives me a lot of happiness – and it shows the depth of our experience too.”