Final Windows on the World Meeting

The CEO of Windows on the World, Joe Baum loved meetings, the bigger the better. He preferred that everyone crowd into his office, but now and again we met in architect Hugh Hardy’s vast studio on Broadway and 18th Street, as we did at ten a.m. one chilly day at the end of October 1995 to review the progress of the vast Windows on the World enterprise.

Eighteen experts in various fields gathered around the table in Hugh’s conference room. Blueprints of the 106th and 107th floors covered one entire wall. On the other three walls were dioramas of color-coordinated paint chips, tile patterns, carpet swatches, chair designs, bathroom fixtures, and samples of end tables for the seating areas, along with hundreds of other prototypes. Exhibited along the length of a very long table in the adjoining room were scale models of The Restaurant, The Greatest Bar on Earth, The Cellar in the Sky, and the Private Dining Suites. Here, too, were actual samples of crystal, flatware, salt and pepper shakers, and serving dishes. Famed graphic designer, Milton Glaser’s displayed his china patterns in the form of paper mock-ups because all the tableware was still being manufactured in England. His colorful menu designs were carefully placed on the tabletops. Drop-dead gorgeous boys and girls were standing by to model the waitstaff uniforms that had been specially made for the occasion.

Computer models were keyed to show lighting plans—how each space would appear in the early morning light, at high noon, with seven-eighths illumination, with dimmed twilight, with flowers on the tables, without flowers, with seated guests, and with projections of traffic patterns as guests left the tables or waitstaff entered from the kitchen. Sound levels could demonstrate the acoustics in the bar with live music. Months in advance of the completed construction, it was possible to hear and see how each part of the space would operate when the guests arrived.

Joe was poised halfway along the side of the table, facing away from the windows. He always refused the head seat. Already he was lighting a third cigarette, though two others still burned in the ashtray. Hugh Hardy sat beaming in the middle of the table, surrounded by six of his eager associates, including Pam Lauffler, the super-organized and hard-working senior project supervisor; Caroline, the interior decorator; and the young Brazilian architectural postgrad intern who was assigned to draft the collateral designs. Milton Glaser was there—he had worked with and admired Joe for many years. Tony Zazula was on Joe’s right. Tony was Joe’s most trusted adviser, friend, and director of the private dining services that occupied the entire 106th floor and generated most of the income.

The chief financial officer was there, too, leaning over her briefcase in search of yet another spread sheet. Next to her was a partner from Frank Sciami, the construction contractor. He was impatient to get to his feet and explain the intricacies of his plans for the air conditioning, ventilation, electrical wiring, plans for removing the asbestos, and the elegant simplicity of the new plumbing lines. The garbage-removal expert was invited but didn’t show up. The kitchen architect was there, though, fingering his rolled-up design for the cooking surfaces. Michael Whiteman was there, with Dennis Sweeney at his side. Carrie Robbins, the uniform designer was giving last-minute directions to the models. Joe’s new partner was there, too. He did not appear happy. I was there taking notes for a planned PBS program that would chronicle the rebuilding of Windows from conception to grand opening. (Ultimately this project was abandoned. Although I pushed hard for it, the new partner rejected the idea.)

Joe signaled the opening of the meeting. True to form, he appeared completely oblivious to his surroundings and all the preparations that had been made for the meeting. “I don’t want guests looking at the inside of the kitchen sink,” he said, looking from one to another to see if anyone was following his line of thinking. No one was. Not one of us had the slightest idea what he was talking about. The translation of Joe’s pronouncement was: when seated, guests can’t see the top of a gueridon, the tableside carts on which a waiter carves a chicken or takes a fish off the bone to present it with a flourish to the guest. Because the diner’s eye level is below the surface of the cart, what they see must be attractive.

Joe loved gueridons not only because he believed that personal service honors the guest, but also because the movement of the roving carts adds a theatrical element. Gueridons, therefore, like every other detail, had to be reexamined and reevaluated as though they had never before been a fixture of the most elegant dining rooms. Milton Glaser, who immediately grasped the situation, made a note to supply a screen of the cloud design logo he had created for use throughout Windows, to be placed on the sides of the cart. “And,” Joe added, as though reading Milton’s mind, “The colors are to be reflective of the uniforms and other elements within the rooms.” Milton nodded. After a moment, while most jaws were still slack with incomprehension, Joe remarked, “It may sometimes be necessary to bank two gueridons side by side, so this should be taken into consideration. If oval sides are incorporated into the design this will limit their function.”

Without actually acknowledging it, Joe had changed the agenda for the meeting. Instead of making decisions on the many exhibits, he was ordering a total redesign of a gueridon — an entirely new fabrication that he said “was not to be derivative or adapted from a traditional or existing form.” “How many gueridons are we talking about?” asked Hugh. “Sixteen,” answered Joe instantly, without explaining how he had arrived at this figure. Pam, the project supervisor, scribbled a memo to herself to meet with glass and glazing-material manufacturers and explore the availability of cast stone in a variety of colors.

Quickly Joe added several other stipulations. A second pack of cigarettes was puffed into ashes. No one complained, though occasionally the new partner made a small cough of protest. On and on Joe went. Joe’s new partner, who had been tugging his Burberry scarf this way and that, pulled on his raincoat and left without saying whether or not he planned to return. Lunchtime came and went, noted but unobserved. The designers gazed wistfully at their models. Others toyed with pens, considered what to have for supper…and how to murder Joe. At long last, pushing his chair back, Joe got unsteadily to his feet. Signs of his mortal illness were already apparent. The meeting had lasted four and a half hours. Just as everyone was heaving a huge sigh of relief, Joe flung out a warning. “A gueridon should not cost more than an automobile,” he announced, though of course we all knew that it would, and that it would never be built. His partner wouldn’t allow it.

Later, seated in the bar, Joe asked me what I thought about the meeting—without, as usual, waiting to hear my opinion. We both knew the entire meeting had been an exercise in irritating his partner, so Joe considered the occasion a smashing success. Gathering his strength, he suggested that we compile a “To Do” list to make sure we would be ready for the grand opening scheduled just eighteen weeks ahead — before the scheduled opening on June 27, 1996—Between drinks, I dutifully wrote down everything he said…word for word…

1.   Finish building The New Windows on the World — from scratch.

2.   Make sure the tables, chairs, china, glass and knives, forks and spoons, salts and peppers get to the restaurant on time.

3.     Order 550 pairs of pants, shirts, dresses, jackets, and other articles of clothing for the waitstaff and the uniforms for the 52 cooks.

4.  Find a chef — actually 4 chefs.

5.   Buy some silver polish and vacuum cleaners.

6.   Get some coat hangers.

7.   Fix the crooked origami tile on the north west corner of the ceiling in the restaurant.

8. Order 2,000 bottles of beer and 700 bottles of wine and some champagne and coffee.

9.  Decide if 6 (10 7/8″) plates, 6 bread and butter plates, 12 forks, 12 knives, 6 glasses, salt and pepper and flowers will fit on a 27″ table — bearing in mind orders, with hefty non-returnable deposits have already been made for the china that was being manufactured in the north of England.

10. Make an invitation list for the opening night party

11.  Hire the dishwashers. Hire a purchasing person to buy 20,000 pounds of prime beef to be delivered each week. Also 7,000 pounds of bread, pastry and cake flour, 4,000 pound of fish. 2,250 dozen eggs, 3,000 pounds of poultry, 3,200 pounds of salad greens.

12.  Hire 6 florists to arrange 3,000 flowers purchased every week.

The final item on our list is now almost too painful to share. Number 13 read:

13. Reassure guests there are no mad bombers within 500 square miles.