IT WAS JUST SO … WEIRD.
Last fall, a letter flew out over a public relations newswire. A shareholder in Narberth’s Royal Bancshares of Pennsylvania had written the missive to its board, expressing his dismay over recent announcements, including the promotion of several senior management guys to even more senior positions.
Rewarding the very people who’d been responsible for “heading the bank in the wrong direction,” the shareholder wrote, was “not the best thing for the company.” Royal Bancshares stock would lose around 70 percent of its value in 2008, and the bank was about to report $38.1 million in losses — with the economy spiraling still further into the tank. The writer asked the bank to “permit more talented and better-qualified individuals to assume some senior roles.”
Here’s where it got weird.
The guy who wrote the letter? Lee Tabas.
One of the guys Lee suggested wasn’t talented or qualified enough to be in charge? Robert Tabas — his little brother.
This wasn’t simply a private spat between two brothers in a high-society Philadelphia family, duked out in the foyer of one of their imposing Main Line manses. Instead, Lee Tabas announced it to the world.
Yet the weirdest part may be that to people who know the Tabas family, it wasn’t weird at all. In public, the family always seemed very nice and respectful to each other. But it was apparently another story behind the scenes. “The whole family was very manipulative,” says someone who worked with the clan. (Sometimes, the stories got out, as when sister Susan was arrested for assaulting a nanny. Twice.)
And, so, as it says on the website of the Tabas-owned Royal Bank: “Welcome to the Royal Family.”
It’s the family whose legendary patriarchs — brothers Daniel and Charles Tabas — built Downingtown from the dirt up. The one whose business executives grin under 10-gallon hats on its “Loan Rangers” billboard along the Schuylkill. The one that’s given so much to Wills Eye Hospital that a building got named for it. The one that started the famed Riverfront and City Line dinner theaters, which brought stars like Cesar Romero and Joe Namath to the Philadelphia stage, and that ran the Downingtown Inn, and the Downingtown Farmers Market, and the Twelve Caesars on City Avenue, and Mickey Rooney’s Tabas Hotel, where the round, speckled face of Mickey Rooney, tacked to the building, lured people off Route 30.
The letter from Lee Tabas, Daniel’s son, proved one thing: The Tabas patriarchs didn’t just pass down their immense wealth to their collective nine children. They also passed down their rivalry.