Monday, March 28, 2016

The ironies of behavior

Blooming forsythia along the 96th Street transverse. 2:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Monday, March 28, 2016. Chilly, sometimes sunny weekend in New York with Spring beginning to bud to beauty. New York was very quiet on Easter Sunday. Very little traffic on the streets and many of the restaurants that weren’t serving the holiday dinner were closed. Schools, at least the private schools are closed for another week, and so many of the parents are away with their families.
Blooming magnolias across the river on Roosevelt Island.
The blooming has begun in Carl Schurz Park.
The forsythia in bloom in Carl Schurz.
The pear trees in blossom on the northwest corner of 86th Street and Broadway on Saturday afternoon.
The chariot washed and ready to go to Zabar's.
“Beauty sues sugar daddy for $1.5 M after he dumps her.” Sugar, I don’t know, but dumping is definitely the apparent scenario. The “daddy” in the story is Henry Buhl, a philanthropist (really, truly), age 86, who lives in SoHo in a spectacular loft that he built about 20 or more years ago. The “sugar” is a lovely lady, Czech-born who has been a longtime (ten years) companion. 

The Sugar Daddy title doesn’t really apply when you read the details because the lady, Daniela Zahradnikova, who is forty-two, is a worker and always has been, running a couple of the “daddy’s” businesses here and in Southampton – which were closed last year -- as well as taking care of a lot of things around the house here in New York and in Southampton, as well as being his conjugal partner, so to speak.

Daniela Zahradnikova and Henry Buhl through the years ...
The dumping part really comes as no surprise to Henry’s friends (and he has a lot of friends) because they know the man and know his habits.

It could be argued that Daniella should have known better, because he and his wife were divorced long ago, and ever since he’s had a number of liaisons with pretty, (much) younger women, as well as a permanent wandering eye.

It could be argued safely that Ms.  Zahradnikova never had any idea of his “past” relationships. After all, he was in his mid-40s when she was born in Czechoslovakia.  They met, according to the Post, when she was waiting tables at a restaurant down in his neighborhood. Love (or a reasonable facsimile) beckoned and she became a kind of maitresse de maison for the old boy. In the denouement of their relationship, Henry told the Post  that he’d “given her free rent for a long time, for about ten years.” Forget the elbow grease, the devotion and the pretty patting.

Henry’s grandfather, Louis Mendelssohn, was a German immigrant who came to this country a century ago with very little, and through brains and hard work eventually got into the automotive business through the Fisher Body Corporation (which was eventually absorbed by General Motors). When he died he left his only daughter Lydia a trust fund eventually worth $120 million to be distributed at her death with equal shares to her children, and an additional fund of $60 million in assets.

Lydia, as a young woman, married a man named Buhl, from a good Detroit family (there are Fords in the Buhl family), and had two children: Henry and a daughter also named Lydia, who died several years ago.

Momma Lydia was evidently a tough cookie in her way – at least when it came to her children. They were well-fed, well sheltered and well educated and evidently that was that. Henry grew up, married a lovely lady from France and had a family – I think three children; two sons and a daughter. During the 1960s he went to work in the investment business in Europe with a man named Bernie Cornfeld, a name most people have probably forgotten or never heard of, who was a financial tycoon in the 1960s when the American stock market had really begun zoom out of its post-Depression, post-War dumps. It was the go-go era. But that’s a whole other story.

In the early '70s, when Henry was a Director, the Cornfeld business, Investors Overseas Services (IOS) was under siege by the Swiss authorities, Although young Henry was a rich boy-to-be because of his grandfather, his mother, Big Lydia, as she was known to his friends, apparently had little interest in her son’s business affairs and little sympathy when hard times were threatening him and his family. In fact, Big Lydia had other interests. Divorced from Mr. Buhl in 1957, she remarried a man named Thomas Morrison.

In 1967, while traveling with her husband in Spain, the couple  attended several bull fights where there was a little 12-year-old boy who looked after the visitors’ cars at the bullfights. Big Lydia took a shine to him, and decided, since she and her husband had no children that she would adopt him and take him back to America to give him a better life. Introduced to the boy’s father who had nine or twelve children, Lydia Morrison was asked which child she was interested in.

“The boy who looks after the cars at the bullfights,” she replied.

Well, there were two. They were identical twins. Carlos and Pedro Gil-Rodriguez. Lydia, who couldn’t tell the difference between the two, decided to adopt them both. And they came back to America with her and her husband. They were well-educated, well-outfitted, growing up in Beverly Hills where the Morrisons had a mansion on Carolwood Drive that had been built for Constance Bennett, the movie star.

When Lydia Mendelssohn Buhl Morrison died in 1988, although she left thousands to charities and thousands to people who worked for her, she disinherited Henry and her daughter Lydia, leaving the bulk of her estate to Carlos and Pedro, now in their early 30s. Outside of the grandfather’s trust, the boys were left the bulk of Lydia’s multi-million dollar estate, all of her valuable collections, antique furniture, arts, books, jewelry, cars, leaving $5000 to Henry and a ruby pin and matching earrings to her daughter. She had informed her son and daughter of her plan – although son and daughter believed she could not control her father’s trust which was directed to his grandchildren. Son and daughter had no choice but to agree to it. There later was a suit where the Morrison twins, as Big Lydia’s “children,” sought an equal share of the trust. They won.

Back in New York, now divorced from his wife, Henry started a new life in SoHo. He was surprised to see that despite the prosperity and growth of his new neighborhood, there were a lot of homeless. The upshot of his observation provoked him to start an organization initially called the SoHo Partnership to first create jobs in the neighborhood cleaning up the streets and providing income as well as lodgings for its associates.

His objective was to engage the collaboration of local residents and businesses to address problems particular to the urban environment and improve the quality of life in the community. The partnership was the first collaboration between community (rather than government) and a human services organization with the goal of providing job opportunities for the homeless.

The Partnership hired the homeless to clean a thirty block area on a daily basis. In addition to the street cleaning, programs grew to include tree planting and maintenance, recycling, and special service requests from the community. These programs provided  vocational training opportunities. Nationally, Soho Partnership was recognized as a much-needed initiative as well as a model for all urban communities in need of renewal and improvement. Renamed ACE (for “Association of Community Employment"), the organization remains today as one of the most prominent programs for the homeless in the United States.
Henry Buhl with five ACE workers. ACE was created in 1997. Today it has grown to serve hundreds of people each year with workforce development.
It came as a bit of a surprise to many to read this past Saturday that Henry Buhl was dumping his ten-year live-in girlfriend, asking her to leave the premises so that he can bring in his new girlfriend. The surprise was mainly because of his age when most boys have long abandoned their carnal pursuits and have settled however reluctantly into the security of a faithful partner.

Once upon a time, it would have been even scandalous to read that Henry lived outside the bonds of matrimony, but that kind of social agreement went out with the Women’s Lib movement. Secondly, he would have been regarded as a “cad” under the circumstances of his relationship with Ms. Zahradnikova, as they’ve been together for more than 10 years and she’s been a good “wife” in many ways that a lotta girls I know wouldn’t bother to be considering the boy’s carnal activities. Henry is, after all, no spring chicken, being more than twice Daniela’s age.
Daniela Zahradnikova posing with a 60,000 Swarovski Crystal Black Panther by Greg Holt, in 2015 at Space Sixteen, the Soho store of Henry Buhl's which is no longer in business.
According to her lawsuit, Ms. Zahradnikova moved into Henry’s loft in 2006 where she provided “wifely duties” for him including cooking, cleaning and, as the Post put it, “plenty of sex.” According to the New York Post, in exchange Zahradnikova claims she was promised financial support for the rest of her life. The value she placed on that promise is $1.5 million.

Now, however, with someone new on the scene and Henry’s anxious to get her to move in with him. The clock is ticking, is it not?

“I don’t want to have an old girlfriend living here while a new one moves in,” he was quoted to the Post. “She’s waiting until we eject this Daniela.”

“I’ve given her free rent for a long time, for about 10 years ... It never worked.”

Henry the man is very intelligent and very pleasant company as well as an innovative and admirable philanthropist, despite the ironies of his behavior. However, when you consider his background and his family history, you see that the old adage – “the apple doesn’t fall from the tree” is the most accurate truth of all.

Contact DPC here.