A former ballerina, she now choreographs a condo project
Santa Fe, N.M. — Nancy Zeckendorf sees nothing at all unusual about being a New York ballet dancer-turned-project manager of a real estate development in Santa Fe. Both careers, the former ballerina explains, require many of the same talents. A dancer, for instance, must be highly organized and disciplined. She has to be single-minded and attentive to every detail. She must know how to plan ahead so that nothing essential to her performance is forgotten or missing.
She says the same disciplines are necessary to being a successful manager of a big and growing real estate complex. She restates her title as ''coordinator, '' which she feels is more descriptive of what she does.
''I see that the efforts of architects, construction people, landscapers, and decorators somehow come together at the right time and place,'' Mrs. Zeckendorf explains as she shows a visitor around Los Miradores, a complex of pueblo-style luxury condominiums that she and her husband, New Yorker Bill Zeckendorf, are developing on St. John's College land here.
''I'm the person who has to know that if the electricians don't come by 4 p.m. one day, the rest of the work will stop for three days. I have to gauge exactly how high the walls around the patios must be in order to give privacy but not cut off the mountain view beyond. I have to see that the soundproofing really works and that the toilets do flush silently.''
Along with the architects, she has also helped make sure that the buildings adhere to all the requirements of the Historic Design Review Board in Santa Fe. ''My husband and I feel that these restrictions and controls are important and necessary, and that they are what keep Santa Fe special and unique,'' she says.
As project manager, she also oversees marketing and sales, and loves to show people around the models personally.
The Zeckendorfs competed for the Los Miradores project, which is well outside the Manhattan real estate turf they know so well. Having won it, they are living in Santa Fe part-time as they oversee construction and get acquainted with townspeople, some of whom have been critical of their efforts.
Actually, several Zeckendorf forebears were early settlers in New Mexico, and Mrs. Zeckendorf spent two of her happiest summers as a dancer with the Santa Fe Opera Company. The couple met in Santa Fe during one of those summers 20 years ago and have welcomed the opportunity to return.
Bill Zeckendorf says he first invited his wife to be design consultant to the project, then later made her project manager because he trusted her taste, instincts, and ability to work with people. He also respected that austere discipline that had made her a top-flight dancer.
''She looks at each unit plan through the eyes of a woman, and she knows exactly what adjustments have to be made to make the plan more workable and livable. And she brings what most male architects and developers cannot, a basic knowledge of what women are looking for in a home.''
How did Mrs. Zeckendorf learn the nuts and bolts of real estate? She began to learn about architecture, she says, after she married and moved into a New York apartment that I. M. Pei had designed for her husband's father, William Zeckendorf Sr. In the 1950s, the elder Zeckendorf had built his firm, Webb & Knapp, into the world's largest real estate company.
''I renovated that apartment,'' she says, ''and it changed my life, because it made me more aware of line and space than I had ever been before. Living there, I realized how directly the place we inhabit affects our life and our spirit. I also saw that both architecture and dance are involved with line and flow and movement and freedom.''
Later, it was through a house in the country that she learned how to read blueprints and to deal with carpenters and electricians and plumbers.
She began to work directly with her husband when his firm was renovating the old Delmonico Hotel on Park Avenue. ''That's when I learned that I loved working with workmen, and moving furniture around, and making things work,'' Mrs. Zeckendorf recalls.
Since then Mr. Zeckendorf has sought his energetic wife's help on other Manhattan projects and has already made her design consultant to the deluxe 210 -room El Dorado Hotel they are building on the square in Santa Fe, scheduled to open in the spring of 1985.
Santa Fe architect Wayne Lloyd of McHugh-Lloyd Associates, who works closely with Mrs. Zeckendorf on the projects, finds her decisive, enthusiastic, and effective. ''She is tough-minded, but she has that combination of the practical and the aesthetic that may be the key to her success,'' he says.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Zeckendorf has hardly forsaken the dance world. She is vice-president of the American Ballet Theatre, has served on its board for 18 years, and is now chairman of the support and fund-raising group called Friends of American Ballet Theatre. She is also president of the Dance Notation Bureau, which breaks down and analyzes movement (chiefly ballet) and uses a system for notating, or completely writing down, that movement.