QUEENS — Their work can be seen in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Hoover Dam, the former American Airlines Building at JFK Airport and in the famous Chagall Windows at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.
Thousands of their projects that have been installed in all 50 US states and on five continents, including such far away places as Vladivostok in Russia and Bangalore in India.
But for J. Sussman, Inc., based in Jamaica, becoming a household name in building ornate, custom windows began by keeping it all in the family.
“It’s not a real building, unless it has our windows,” joked Steve Sussman, 62, who co-owns the company with his brother, David, 57. “We’ve done some of the most prestigious buildings in the world.”
"The most important thing is that it’s a family business," he added. "We all work on it together.”
The company, located in a 50,000-square foot building on 180th Street in an industrial section of Jamaica, was founded in 1906 by Isadore Sussman, Steve and David’s grandfather.
Isadore, an iron worker, came to the U.S. from Poland sometime around 1900. “He had no money and he couldn’t speak a word of English,” said Steve. "He only spoke Yiddish."
After going to Philadelphia to work for a company that made church windows, he decided to open his own business in New York — Ornamental Iron Works — a company that first operated from his living room on the Lower East Side, his grandson said.
He also partnered with a nearby stained glass studio to make church windows and gained recognition as a custom window manufacturer.
“Eventually, he became very reputable with the Archdiocese of New York,” Isadore's grandson said. “It was the only company that made windows for the Archdiocese of New York at that time,” Steve said.
Steve’s father, Jack, 87, took over the company in the late 1940s and renamed it J. Sussman, Inc.
At that time, the company was located in a small cellar of a building on the Lower East Side. “There were no bathrooms,” Steve recalls.
The company moved to Jamaica in 1965, first to a 15,000-square foot building on 158th Street, before moving to its current home in 1980.
Jack, Steve said, transformed the company, updating his father’s techniques and using advertising.
In the 1950s, he pioneered the use of aluminum in window frames, which was not only cheaper but also much more versatile and flexible.
At Sussmans’ modest headquarters, a combination of an old décor with new technology that includes 550 solar panels on its rooftop, attests to the company’s motto of combining tradition and innovation, Steve said.
The brothers, who had been helping their father since they were little boys, officially joined the company in the 1970s. “I never thought of doing anything else,” said David. "This is it."
Steve, who studied engineering and business in College of Florida and later went to law school in Massachusets, joked he had no choice. “I took the bar exam on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday my father told me to start working,” he said.
Today, Steve’s son, Jonathan, 24, also works for the company, along with Jake, 26, and Robin, 28, David’s children and the fourth generation of Sussman's in the window making business.
In addition to window frames, the company manufactures stained glass protection windows, skylights and sunrooms.
Many of their projects can be seen around southeast Queens. They made windows for the recently renovated Jamaica Performing Arts Center and for the Jamaica Market.
The company also worked on windows for St. Thomas Moore Church at St. John’s University, and St. David’s Episcopal Anglican Church in Cambria Heights.
“They work with top architects from all over and they make great products,” said Michael Cardacino, partner at Manor Art Glass Studio based in East Hampton, who has worked with the Sussmans for more than three decades on projects including windows for Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills synagogue and The Korean Church of North Tarrytown.