Visiting Center Glass Company's modest headquarters in La Mesa, one might not guess that it has installed not only glass but also leading-edge construction materials for some of the largest and best-known buildings in San Diego. Many have won architectural design awards.
In fact, during its 37 years of existence, Center Glass has installed more glass in San Diego than any other company, says Jackson Witte, managing partner and CEO. The company appears each year on Glass Magazine's list of America's Top 50 Glazing Contractors.
Many of the most spectacular, glass-facade buildings San Diegans drive by every day are Center Glass projects. To name only a few, they include: Terminal 2 at Lindbergh Field; Children's Hospital in Kearny Mesa; Symphony Towers in downtown, UCSD Inpatient Towers in Hillcrest; the NCR building in Ranch Bernardo; and the Charger's Training Facility in Mission Valley.
Center Glass Company was founded in 1963 by Jackson's father, Fred R. Witte, only a few blocks away from its current site on El Cajon Boulevard. At first, Center Glass bid on small jobs and scrambled for capital, like most start-up ventures. In the 1970s, however, the company jumped into a higher-profile position.
Figuring he had nothing to lose, Witte bid on a glass and glazing job for the San Diego Federal Courthouse. Center Glass won the lucrative contract and, suddenly, jobs that had seemed out of reach became doable. Local banks and venture capital firms welcomed Center Glass and have maintained that support up to the present day.
Center's management team learned that it is far easier to do one large job than 20 small jobs for equal revenues. Center Glass found its niche as a small company that could deliver on big projects. Annual earnings for 1998 were $13 million.
Especially satisfying, says Jackson Witte, is working with talented people on exciting architectural designs that often use the latest in construction materials. For example, most people don't get excited over a new city jail. But the new San Diego County Central Jail is a 12-story, $84 million structure, which opened in 1998 to rave reviews. Center Glass Company was the glazing subcontractor on the state-of-the-art building.
Center Glass has a fabrication facility in Spring Valley and high-profile clients in Hawaii, such as the 47-story Hawaiki Tower condominiums. But its office remains in La Mesa, home to Witte and his partner: Gary J. Vincent, President; and Ron A. Leaverton, Vice President. All three started at the bottom with the company more than 25 years ago.
Center's policy of promoting its best people from the field into management has led to an unusually stable and dedicated workforce, numbering more than 100. During the tough years of 1993-95, it lost a few workers and the partners came off salary. But low overhead, long workdays and computer technology pulled the company through. Business is good today but the tiny office in La Mesa still does without frills.
Instead, Center Glass supports locally such organizations a Handicapped Children of America, the Special Olympics, the Foundation for Disabled Firefighters, Grossmont Family YMCA, Vietnam Veterans Program, Youth Sports and many others.