Litton, 295 5th Look Back 30 Years
September 14, 2008,
This fall marks 30 years since Claude Litton first started leasing showrooms to what has become hundreds of home textiles companies in New York's official "Textile Building" — 295 Fifth Ave.
As president of Manhattan Properties, the owner of the Textile Building, Litton told HTT he hopes that he has earned a reputation among industry players as a businessman who is admittedly "tough, but reasonable, fair, honest and honorable. My word is my bond."
Litton, a graduate of Brooklyn Law School and a former pilot for the U.S. Air Force, started working in the real estate industry in 1960. He assumed his current post on Nov. 1, 1978.
Over the past three decades, Litton has seen many forces press evolution upon the industry.
"When I came to the building, there were 50 textile industry tenants among a total of 80 total tenants in the building, and there were about 500 textile showrooms in the industry in New York City," he said. "Today there are about 300 total showrooms here, and 295 Fifth Avenue has more than half of them."
The current roster at 295 Fifth is 160 home textile tenants.
Also different, he noted, is that many showrooms housed offices where some companies' top executives worked on a day-to-day basis.
"Today, the building has many dark showrooms and few executives are here on a daily basis," he said. "I made many friends through the years but most are not here any longer. I don't have the daily personal contact and schmoozing that took place in my first 20 years here. These showrooms have become mostly pure showrooms, and virtually all of the offices have moved out."
That shift came both naturally and intentionally.
"The business has changed," he said, adding, "I set out to eliminate all non-industry tenants and eliminate back offices, etc …. My goal after arriving was to make this the foremost building in the industry. My father taught me to not be a jack of all trades but a master in a specialty. It has paid off by 295 becoming the largest and best building in the home textile industry."
To some degree, the phone, fax and email have replaced face-to-face meetings between Litton and his tenants and potential renters. That means fewer people with whom to share his collection of original vintage movie posters from the 1930s, '40s and '50s, which decorate his 17th floor executive offices — except his favorite one: "Follow the Fleet," a 1936 musical starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
"That one is at home," Litton said, where he and his wife of 18 years, Rosalee, can enjoy it.
"I love watching black and white movies," Litton said. "I see them at night. I must watch six a week, easily."
In the rest of his free time, he plays racquetball. "I've been playing for 30 years, and I am the oldest active player in the club where I play," said Litton, who lives in New Jersey. "I also exercise three days a week. I rest on Fridays."