Mark Quitno of W.F. Norman says it's like walking into a museum. That's partly because even the machines have more years on them than this 116 year old business, "Hardly any of the equipment has changed in 100 years. As a matter of fact, the main stamping presses we use to stamp these tin ceiling panels with were bought used in 1898."
That's when William Franklin Norman founded the company, along with a business partner. Not only did they produce hand-pressed ceiling tiles, medallions, and wall panels, they were also known for their decorative exterior products, like you'll find on the outside of the original building. It was more decorative than stone, and it lasted longer and wasn't nearly as heavy.
Unfortunately, it was seen as a luxury item, and Quitno says Norman had to make changes to keep the company alive. "Just went great guns until probably the 1930's the Great Depression, World War II put an end to architectural sheet metal. Not only for economic reasons, but also for design and style reasons. The company has since made roofing products, siding products"
And so, things continued, until Mark Quitno's parents bought the company in 1978 with the intent of making farm implements. Instead, the Quitno's continued business as usual, including steel grave markers that are still in use by cemeteries today.
In the 1970's and 80's, tax credits to restore and preserve old strucgtures prompted the owners to rethink business, going back to producing decorative metal the old fashioned way. Ed Lukenbill has been with the company 11 years, and describes how each panel is made. "Slide it in there and we slowly start stamping and we stamp it all the way down, about 15 hits max. You take it out and look at it, up in the air and look for any cracks, that's the main thing. A customer doesn't want anything with cracks. Our job is pride and quality. We want pride in our works, so when you hold it up there and you don't see any cracks you've got pride that you did it right."
Along with their current line, which includes original designs, workers here are produce custom restoration for buildings around the world, including a set destined for the Bronx Zoo.
Quitno says he gets calls every day from people looking for pieces, but he hesitates calling them reproduction. "We're really still making what we've always made. It would be like if ford was still making model t's and had been for 100 years."
To check out some of their products, go to www.wfnorman.com.
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