Experiences with Some Clients Chapter One: “Humphrey Hilton”

By Frank W. Munzer, FAIA

As architectural clients are, for the most part, real people and for some reasons there are a few things I have said to some during my 32 year career I remember clearly and now will tell you about one such client who was thrust upon me by surprise.

As one grows in the architectural business you find that with more experience you have closer relations with some clients than others and I have had some of the silliest things happen or asked of me and responded to by me.

Each project in an architectural office is usually run by a team of people with the leader of the team usually a partner in the firm.  He or she is assisted by a Project Designer or he or she is one him or her self, then there is a Project Manager, Draftsperson, Specification Writer, and sometimes many specialist depending upon what kind of building and then there are the Engineers needed for the special building type.

I found that as I grew and gained more experience in the business, I was being groomed for a partnership and was put in the position as the Project Manager responsible to the partner in charge of the project. This the partners liked as it left them freer to seek more commissions and play more golf.

There was one project where I must have gained enough trust by the partner that as I was unpacking the drawings and samples from the cab to go into the meeting with the client, a tough old time Monsignor of a church, in the Bronx, the partner said to me,  “Frank, I have another meeting to go to so I will not be going in with you so say hello to the Monsignor for me please”, as he closed the door of the cab and was off.  I said to myself with shock and trepidation “OK” as I started to walk in to meet our client and thinking to my self, “Am I fully prepared to meet and handle this tough man alone?”  Then I said further to my self “What a mean trick to play on me.”

I rang the doorbell to the existing rectory and was lead to the Dining Room by the cook, where the Monsignor was standing waiting for the final presentation of the design for the addition to his rectory. After we exchanged pleasant greetings he said, “OK  Frank, I am anxious to see all you have prepared for me, what is first?”  I then showed him every plan and elevation of the exterior and spoke of all the finishes we proposed for the exterior and interior and the building.  Pleasing to me he seemed to like it all, and said, “Frank it looks like you and your team are giving me everything I was looking for in this addition.”  The way he used the word “in” this addition- -“ concerned me. And as I packed up all my material I said to my self “Something is up.”  Then he said,  “Frank, let me show you something outside.”  I said “sure Monsignor” and said to myself, “What is he up to.” He walked out the front door, I followed, and then he walked out to the middle of the old cobblestone street and started to tell me.  “Frank, I have been here a very long time and have fought for things with the City fathers, one of then was this street. It was always washing out because of the steep slope.  I finally got them to put in the cobblestone paving and that saved the street from washouts.  Now they tell me they are going to remove the cobblestone pavers and put in a new black top asphalt roadway.  Frank, I do not want to lose these cobblestone pavers I want them to become the front of the rectory.” Then he looked me directly in my eyes waiting for my response. It is said people do not say no to this man. I took a few seconds and said, “Monsignor, the brick sample I just showed you is made for the front of your building and the cobblestone was made to service the street in poor and slippery weather and I will not put them on the front of the rectory Monsignor!” He then said, “You feel quite strong about it don’t you Frank.” I said “I do Monsignor.”  Then he said, “ I did like that brick you showed me Frank let’s stay with that.” I then said “OK Monsignor I will proceed to finish the plans and specifications and get prices to build your rectory.  Good day for now.”  I then hailed a cab and returned to the office after a big sigh.  Then I said to myself, “Wait until I see that partner…”   Then I wondered, “Did he know what the Monsignor was going to ask me?”

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