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Craftsmen work to preserve buildings' treasures.

If you walk into a wood-paneled elevator in Manhattan and it looks like new, it might not be. It may be the work of Olek Lejbzon and Company -- a group of European craftsman dedicated to preserving the handiwork of the past.

Olek Lejbzon and Company specializes in commercial restorations and furniture refinishing and reconditioning. The firm was founded in 1950 by Olek Lejbzon, an immigrant and concentration camp survivor, who continues to work at his craft six days a week. The firm employs two dozen native European cabinetmakers trained in making wood and marble look like new or "like old" depending on your requirements.

"They want to preserve what they have," said Peter Triestman of the firm. "Our job is not really to change what they have."

Half of the firm's business is commercial work -- restoring the wood panels in elevator cabs, walls, and in executive offices. In addition to the normal aging process, Triestman said, certain procedures, such as moving and asbestos abatement, in which they use a lot of water-base chemicals, can damage the wood and marble.

The company's work can be found in the elevators, hallways and offices of many of the city's high-profile buildings and tenants. Triestman said they have worked for, among others, three generations of the Zeckendorf family -- they redid William Sr.'s desk three times -- Tishman Realty, Olympia & York -- including the elevators at Battery Park City and the executive office of John Zuccotti, Abrams Benisch Riker for the elevator cabs in the Chemical Bank headquarters on Park Avenue, Cushman & Wakefield at the former J.C. Penney Building, and Rockefeller Center Management. According to Triestman, one of Lejbzon's favorite compliments was when Jerry Cohen of Williams Real Estate called him a "master forger."

It makes enormous sense to restore rather than replace today, Triestman said. First, it is less expensive and the work, in many cases, cannot be duplicated. Most of the immigrant craftsman that came here 40 or 50 years ago, he explained, have retired.

Triestman said they are sometimes called on the job after the buildings' crews have tried to touch up the elevators -- and it shows, he added. "You're trading a scratch for a painted line," he said.

The firm's work is also in Lincoln Center and in many of the city's foreign mission including the Japanese, the Swiss, British, Austrian and others. In the missions, Triestman said, there are pieces of furniture that have been preserved over centuries.

Corporate clients include Revlon, Solomon Brothers, and Colgate.

Many of the city's hotels also bear the mark of Olek Lejbzon. They include: the Penninsula, Louis' Restaurant in the Parker Meridian, the Sherry Netherland, and the Intercontinental Hotel.

The balance of the firm's work is antique restoration.

Their capabilities in the restoration field include marquetry (wood, ivory, brass, etc.), carving, gilding, hand turning, caning, antique paint conservation, faux graining, French polishing, antique lock repair and key cutting, hardware repair and casting, marble repair, and piano restoration. Distributed throughout the workshop right now are the different pieces of an 18th century cabinet and a 19th century harmonia. They also do upholstery.

Triestman, who holds an economics degree from Yale, and his two brothers, the sons of Lejbzon's late partner, Harold Triestman, joined the firm four years ago when their father got ill. Until then, Triestman said, Olek's staff was comprised of four craftsman, his assignment backlog was more than a year, and he was contemplating retirement. Since Triestman and brothers, Gene and Roy, arrived, the staff has increased to 25, the firm has strengthened its business development effort and is expanding the breadth of its restoration capabilities. While he did not give much thought to the business before, Triestman said, he gets a thrill from seeing restored what people thought could not be.

The firm's workshop is located far west on Manhattan's 57th Street, away from the upscale shops and corporate bustle. They have been at the same location since 1957.

Triestman said the craftsman do their work with tremendous patience and pride. "People in this country don't learn the trade," he said. "The closest you can come is carpentry."

Unfortunately, Triestman said, in this country students are steered away from vocations.

"Our people have been learning this intensively since before they were in their teens," he said. "By their 20's they're skilled craftsman."

Triestman said the firm's craftsman are experts at the lost art of "graining", which involves touching up the wood and matching the color and detail of the grain.

"Our standard for touching up is if you can see what they've made up it's no good," said Triestman.

For ITT, they recently touched up a 36-chair conference table that required replacing patches of Travertine marble.

The craftsman work long hours, Triestman said, and since much of the commercial assignments are done on location they work at the convenience of their customers. They restored all the wood for Banker's Trust at their branch on Park Avenue -- including a 100-foot tellers counter and 14-foot paneled walls -- over three weekends.

Triestman said they are much more demanding than many of their customers.

"I don't want them to have anything to say but 'what a wonderful job they did."
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Title Annotation:Olek Lejbzon and Co.
Author:Fitzgerald, Therese
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:company profile
Date:Aug 7, 1991
Words:864
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