Former Partner Bernie Himel Returns to Share Memories of WZMH
Retired former Partner Bernard Himel returned to the WZMH office on October 4th for a lunch with the current leadership and a trip down memory lane.
Himel (Pictured centre left) was part of the original WZMH team in the Toronto office between 1961-1979, and WZMH Dallas from 1979-1992. During these periods he was responsible for many key buildings including Royal Bank Plaza, Richmond Adelaide Centre, Inn on the Park, and Sutton Place Hotel. He was also instrumental in the firm’s expansion into Calgary, Vancouver and Denver.
“You guys don’t draw on paper anymore, of course” Himel said with a smile, to knowing chuckles from the current crop of WZMH Principals, “We used pens that would blot everywhere, that you would have to dip into bottles of ink.”
Bernie, as he is affectionately referred to in the office, began his tenure with Peter Dickinson’s young associates in April of 1961. Dickinson would pass away in October of that year, leaving behind six associates, four of which would form the Webb Zerafa Mekes Housden Partnership.
“None of the previous clients wanted to stay, because Peter Dickinson wasn’t around anymore, the only one who wanted to stay was Max Sharp, Issy Sharp’s father.” Canadian business mogul Isadore “Issy” Sharp had founded The Four Seasons the previous year. That relationship between firm and businessman would develop into a significant partnership, fostering several important early projects for the young firm.
“We worked on most of the early ones, with the exception of the very first Four Seasons Motel” Himel said of the relationship with Sharp. “He was smarter than we were, because the site was across from where the CBC building was on Jarvis, and [The Four Seasons] would get all the CBC people coming in to film their interviews, and it had really put them on the map.”
Bernard was most enthused to chat about his experience designing the Royal Bank Plaza. According to Himel, the major Canadian banks were in a race to build the highest office towers in Toronto. TD Canada Trust and the Bank of Montreal had already established a presence in the skyline, and Royal Bank came calling to get in on the action.
“The Royal Bank was the biggest of all the banks” said Himel, and the owner at the time was demanding the tallest office building to reflect this reality. “Bank of Montreal is going to be the tallest” Himel remembers telling the client, “So what we are going to do is cut a tower in two, so you’ll have two towers and your banking hall will be in the middle of it, and they chose us because we had the best scheme.”
“Everybody in those days was doing reflected glass, and bronze and copper were very popular”. Himel said that he had not wanted to use copper in any way because it oxidized and changes colour over time. “So I went to Belgium, and they had a process where they would take real gold and make it microscopically thin, which you place on the glass.” This was the decision Himel and his team went with, and the building is still coated in that thin layer of gold to this day.
Following more than thirty years with WZMH, Himel joined WILSON Associates in Singapore and Shanghai as Managing Director from 1993-2002. He is presently retired and lives in Toronto, and like us, is looking forward to more lunches together.