Expansion at the “House of God”
“WILL God truly dwell upon the earth?” asked King Solomon 3,000 years ago. “Look! The heavens, yes, the heaven of the heavens, themselves cannot contain you; how much less, then, this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27) In the light of this declaration, can any place on earth justly be called the “house of God”?
Yes! In scores of lands Jehovah’s Witnesses operate residences called Bethel, from the Hebrew word meaning “house of God.” Volunteer workers in the branch offices and printeries of Jehovah’s Witnesses live in these homes. Of course, Jehovah God is not physically housed in these residences, but the people in them are serving him full time. These Bethel homes are wholly devoted to God’s service and deserve the name Bethel, “house of God.” The largest of the many Bethel homes worldwide is found in Brooklyn, New York, at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Growth Requires Expansion and Modernization
What goes on at the factory and offices associated with Brooklyn Bethel? A great deal! The Watchtower magazine and its companion Awake! are published here along with a steady stream of Bibles and Bible study aids in dozens of languages. All of this requires presses and bindery equipment, office personnel, and kitchen and home workers to support the large volunteer work force. From a handful of persons who started publishing the Watchtower magazine in 1879, the headquarters Bethel family has grown to about 2,000 in 1982, including students and temporary workers.
The Brooklyn pressroom is rapidly modernizing. Until recently, most printing there was done on 42 rotary web letterpresses, but now four modern Harris web offset presses are in operation, with a fifth being assembled. What will become of the older letterpresses? These well-made and dependable machines are being converted to offset printing. Two of the rotary letterpresses will be combined to make each new offset press. If the conversion proves successful, they will provide reliable service at Witness printeries in a number of locations around the world.
Jehovah’s blessing on the pressroom expansion came from an unexpected quarter recently. (Proverbs 10:22) “We received a letter out of the clear blue sky,” recalls a factory overseer, “from a major printing firm that wanted to donate a used press to us.” The good conduct of their Witness employees was a factor in the company’s decision to make the donation. (Proverbs 22:1) Jehovah’s Witnesses gratefully accepted this offer of a Levey four-color web offset press, capable of printing over 50,000 copies of the Watchtower or Awake! magazines hourly! This sturdily built machine, in excellent condition, is now being disassembled for transport to Watchtower Farms in upstate New York where Jehovah’s Witnesses also do printing. The 23-foot (7-m)-high press is so large that the ceiling at the Farm factory has been raised in one area to make room for it.
The bindery, which cased in over 22 million hardbound books and Bibles last year, is likewise being updated. The laborsaving “burst” binding method of gluing is replacing older hand sewing. In a recent test 12 men using the “burst” binding equipment were able to do in four hours what would ordinarily take 40 men eight hours to accomplish!
However, the older bindery equipment has many serviceable years ahead of it and is not being scrapped. Instead, some is being donated to Witness printeries in other lands. Two former Brooklyn bindery lines are now turning out books in Japan. Two more lines have been sent to Brazil where experienced workers from Brooklyn have set them up. Early this year, yet another bindery line was shipped from Brooklyn to Italy.
Towers Hotel Remodeled
Much of the growth at Brooklyn Bethel has taken place in the last 10 years, making new living accommodations necessary. In early 1975 the Towers Hotel, a 15-story, 50-year-old structure located near the other Bethel residence buildings, was purchased. At that time its carpets were threadbare, its plaster was cracked, and its paint was peeling, but it was structurally sound. Remodeling it to Bethel standards proved to be a massive job.
The Towers Hotel received no superficial face-lifting. Interior walls came down and new ones were put up throughout the building. Much of the old plumbing was replaced. All the plaster was removed from existing walls and replaced. In fact, 60,000 barrels of trash were hauled out of the structure. Those barrels would make a stack 30 miles (48 km) high!
Skilled Workers Supplied
Much of the work on the Towers Hotel required skilled craftsmen—plumbers, electricians, carpenters, painters and plasterers. The job was vast. Paint and plaster, for example, had to be applied to areas equaling 60 football fields and their end zones. Where would the skilled workers be found?
By means of his spirit, Jehovah God supplied the workers for his house. Skilled Witnesses from all over the United States volunteered to serve at Bethel and help with the construction. A roofer came from Michigan, tile setters from Connecticut, a painting contractor from Florida, and many others. These seasoned veterans patiently taught their trades to willing young Bethelites, who applied themselves well and learned so quickly that visiting tradesmen were amazed.
Such progressive training is a regular feature of Bethel construction. Recently, the construction overseer at Bethel received a letter from an official of the New York City Board of Education. This man had visited Bethel construction during the Towers project and also during a more recent project. “I had the privilege and the opportunity of conducting rather detailed informal interviews with your people,” he wrote. “I was amazed to find that young men with little or no experience in the trades, after a relatively brief period of exposure under skilled and understanding overseers, were able to perform with the skill of seasoned journeymen. It soon became evident to me that each had a professionalism, an attitude of responsibility and a determination to do the very best in his appointed tasks.”
Should this be a surprise? No, for did not Jehovah God put his spirit upon Bezalel and Oholiab, who helped construct His “house” in the wilderness? (Exodus 35:30-35) And what of those working under them? The Bible says: “Moses proceeded to call Bezalel and Oholiab and every wise-hearted man into whose heart Jehovah had put wisdom, everyone whose heart impelled him to approach the work in order to do it.” (Exodus 36:2) Likewise today, the “wisdom” of the young volunteers working at Jehovah’s house comes from Him.
Since its completion in 1978, the Towers Hotel has provided living space and dining rooms for over 1,000 people. Laundry and dry-cleaning facilities have also been installed, along with various maintenance and repair shops, a sewing and alterations department, a hair dressing shop and a large new infirmary. Those serving at the “house of God” are very grateful for these fine facilities.
Office Space Needed
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., is a religious corporation that Jehovah’s Witnesses use to supervise their ministry work in the United States. For years various offices of this Society had been scattered among several buildings in the Bethel and factory complex. By the late 1970’s these facilities were proving too small for the work at hand.
In a farsighted move, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses decided to convert a large storage warehouse into an administration building that would accommodate all these offices. Not only would this make former office space available for dwelling units, but it would improve communication among the various offices by getting them all under one roof. There was also another important reason for the move.
Computers have taken on a growing importance in many aspects of the Society’s work. But large-scale computerization is difficult unless computers can be located near the offices they serve. The new office arrangement makes this possible.
The building selected for conversion to offices was a 13-story reinforced concrete structure, purchased from the Squibb Pharmaceutical Company in November 1969. There were six smaller sections attached to it, mostly built of wood, with a hodgepodge of floor elevations. These old and somewhat rickety structures were demolished to make way for a new 11-story addition to the main building.
Turning a factory warehouse into a modern energy-efficient office building is no small task. Leaky windows were replaced with new frames and insulated glass. The new tinted windows are recessed from the outer wall of the building. This provides an “eyebrow” for the window, keeping the hot summer sun out, but letting the winter sun in. The lighting and ventilation in the new offices is under computer control, so that lights accidentally left on after work are automatically turned off before they waste electricity. Those working late sometimes find themselves unexpectedly in the dark, but, of course, the needed lights can easily be turned on again.
Saving Energy and Money
“The New York City fire code is so strict and requires so many automatic functions in case of fire that the building needed a computer anyway,” points out the computer’s operator. “By getting a somewhat more powerful system, we can monitor our use of electricity on an hourly basis. If the computer sees that too much is being used, it can automatically shut off noncritical lights and other things to stay ‘on target.’ In just two months we have saved over $4,000 using the computer, and that is just the beginning!”
The 12th floor of the building had a 10-foot (3-m) terrace around it. In order to use this space for offices, the original outside wall was demolished and the roof was extended by using a solarium, or curved, metal-clad insulation that looks like glass. Some observers thought it was a greenhouse!
The interior of the remodeled building was tastefully and functionally arranged. Those who work in the Society’s offices were delighted with the greatly increased space and convenience when they began moving to their new quarters in the fall of 1980.
Jehovah’s Blessing on New Addition
Meanwhile, the large addition to the office building was rapidly going up. Jehovah’s blessing on the project was apparent. “Everything just fell into place,” said the construction overseer. “One of the world’s largest construction firms agreed to put up the shell of the addition and let our crews finish the inside work. This is remarkable in itself because they certainly didn’t need our business! Besides, usually a contractor likes to control the whole job, but they were willing to do things our way and were very helpful.
“Another factor was the weather. We started demolition work in October 1979 and worked all through the winter, pouring concrete for the foundation in January 1980. We couldn’t afford delays due to bad weather, and, sure enough, the weather was the mildest in years. More than once the concrete subcontractors told us that they felt we must know Somebody in charge of the weather.
“Even when it came to getting permits for the building, Jehovah seemed to cut the ‘red tape’ for us. At one point we were in a meeting with our main contractor and were told it would be two weeks before certain critical permits could be obtained. Imagine their surprise when one of our brothers was able to go down to City Hall and return with the needed permits before the meeting was over!
“As the new addition started to rise, one of our neighbors took us to court to stop our construction. About that time a fire inspector noticed that the plumbing subcontractor working on the job had neglected to install a critical standpipe for fire protection. It was Friday and the inspector told us that he would give us a citation, which would stop all work on the job, if the standpipe was not in by Monday morning.
“Such a stoppage might have given our neighbor just the opportunity he wanted to shut the job down for good! It took a tremendous effort to install the standpipe in time, but five of our brothers worked around the clock that weekend to help the contractor’s crew to make that deadline. Early Monday morning the fire inspector was amazed to see the job was done, and he allowed our construction to proceed.
“Needless to say, the legal efforts of our unfriendly neighbor to stop our construction never got anywhere.”
In December of 1981 office personnel began moving into the new addition. The computers used by the Writing, Art, and Photocomposition departments were also moved at this time from their temporary locations at the factory, half a mile (0.8 km) away, to the new addition. A total of 93 factory personnel were included in the move. All pre-press magazine operations, including writing, correcting, proofreading and typesetting articles, now involve computers. So it will save time and improve efficiency to have these formerly scattered departments under one roof, close to the computers they use.
Starting with the January 1982 English issues, the Watchtower and Awake! magazines are being phototypeset in their entirety by computers. “We are already saving time with computerization,” reports a factory overseer. “Our proofreading, for example, has been reduced by 50 percent!” As more of the Society’s writers begin to enter their material directly on computer terminals, secretarial time will be saved. And a page-layout system that makes use of the computer will give those who do editorial work more flexibility than ever before. Some of the Society’s computer equipment is custom-built—designed and assembled by Witnesses working at Watchtower Farms. The first of these Witness-engineered terminals arrived in Brooklyn a few months ago for testing.
The Watchtower Society greatly appreciates the generous contributions from Jehovah’s Witnesses all over the world that have helped to make these construction projects possible. This money is handled as frugally as possible, as in the case of the new office construction, which is designed to save many thousands of dollars yearly in energy costs. The new facilities that have been provided at Brooklyn Bethel are helping the large “family” there to do its vitally important work of providing spiritual food and direction to Jehovah’s people worldwide. May Jehovah’s blessing continue to be on their efforts, and the efforts of all his people, to serve him whole-souled in these “last days”!—Matthew 22:36-38; 2 Timothy 3:1.
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The “Towers” Building
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The new Watchtower complex with headquarters offices