CNH history: ‘N’ in CNH talks 1970s, early 80s

CNH history: ‘N’ in CNH talks 1970s, early 80s

The single-glazed steel framed windows with wire would shake and rattle at the first location for CNH Architects. Then Glenn W. Cording and Associates, it was 10 stories up, overlooking downtown Minneapolis.

The 12-story office structure was the aging Wesley Temple building or Wesley Tower, built in 1928 and occupying space now used by the Minneapolis Convention Center on what was 123 Grant Street. This was considered the edge of town and space in the modest building was inexpensive.

Wind, weather and work

Retired architect John Natwick

John Natwick

“We would be sitting up there working, with the windows wide open,” said retired Architect John Natwick. “The wind would blow in- butterflies flew in. There were even a number of tornadoes that came through downtown.” Windows shattered next door and people in the building had cars damaged. The nearby Wesley church, which still stands, was unscathed.

Natwick is the “N” in CNH and retired from the firm almost a decade ago. He began working with Cording as a college student on the building’s second floor in 1969.

Starting in the office

Early on, Cording was running all the time to service clients, and Natwick was trained by architect Gary Bressler, who is three years his senior. The office was shared with another architectural firm owned by an individual who lived about a block from Cording, Natwick explains. The two firms also shared an administrative person.

“We worked on churches, some public buildings and a lot of office buildings,” said Natwick. “There were miscellaneous banks and projects all over Minnesota.” Several other architectural firms also rented space there.

There were no computers, but Cording’s firm had a typewriter for project specifications. Some project details and specification sections that were the same could be swapped in for other projects, Natwick explained.

Real blueprints, hand drawings

Drawings were done by hand and sent to a printing company for reproduction. A few were printed inhouse where the original transparent drawings were set on top of the print paper and exposed to light to burn the drawings onto the paper sheets. The print paper was then exposed with ammonia. They came out blue, hence the term “blueprints.”

The firm grew to include seven or eight staff before decreasing in size again. Natwick bought firm shares between 1975 and 1980, and the name was changed to Cording Natwick Architects. Cording retired to care for his wife, whose health was failing.
Natwick was on his own. It wasn’t long before a new college student came on. Wayne Hilbert started working with Natwick in the early 1980s.

“I met Wayne briefly because he worked upstairs,” said Natwick. A large architectural firm had offices up there.

Vintage refrigerator from Wesley Tower that CNH still uses today.

The space was small, with big drafting boards and bookcases full of reference materials, said Natwick. Though there were other architects in the building, they weren’t competitors, he explains.

One architect had more residential projects and was older than the early CNH duo. “We helped each other,” said Natwick. “He was a super nice guy.” At one point, the firm had a structural engineer with a separate company in an adjoining space, which Natwick said was handy.

Phone handoffs, cutoffs

Hilbert and Natwick had rotary phones within reach of each other. They would answer calls coming in on two separate lines and physically hand off the receivers to each other. Once and a while, Natwick said one or the other would put the receiver down on the wrong phone and cut off the other person’s call.

Things were going well, and Natwick asked Hilbert to become a partner. Still in Minneapolis, and without the founder, the firm became Cording Natwick Hilbert Architects.
The 1980s ushered in additional changes, one involving some open prairie land, and a new office building in a bustling suburb to the south.