The Royal Family

When Lee Tabas went public with a letter questioning his brother Robert’s leadership of the family bank in Narberth, he pulled back the veil on a real-life soap opera: a storied, wealthy Main Line family torn asunder by greed, backstabbing and gossip; a colorful patriarch who pitted son against son; and a trail of scandal and lawsuits that has almost everyone not talking to someone else. Meet the Tabases

“Lee had no problem with that,” says Fogwell. Rather, he suspects, any trouble between the brothers got particularly prickly when the bank — along with every other bank in the country — started going downhill last fall. Which is why Fogwell calls Lee’s letter “snide.” “Merrill Lynch went south. So did Bear Stearns and Lehman’s and the Royal Bank of Scotland,” he points out. In this scary economy, with Robert in the captain’s chair, “Royal Bank isn’t doing that bad at all.”

“All those years, Robert was sort of in the background,” says Fred Sherman, chief economist for Royal Bank (and best known for his 25 years as a stock analyst for KYW Newsradio). “Suddenly he’s up in front now, and he’s doing an outstanding job. I admire that. Because these are difficult times for the banking industry.”

As a stockholder in a publicly held company, Lee had every right to make his opinion known. But to bash his brother in his letter so directly and publicly? Was Lee bitter that he’d ruled the bank under his father’s thumb and never got the chance to shine on his own? Or that his brother was getting the credit for keeping the bank he built afloat? Or that his little brother might actually be doing a better job than he did?

Or was it, simply, part of being a Tabas?

They grew up in a family where money was everything. Where siblings resented each other, and in-laws filed lawsuits — where cousins sued cousins. And partners. And friends.

“To tear a whole family apart over this is overkill,” says Fogwell. “How much money do you need?”

THE FUNNY THING is, the Tabas family started out with no money.

At all.

Once upon a time, in the heart of Russia, a poor peddler’s 13-year-old son, named Samuel Tabachnik, decided he was going to be something.

“I did not want to spend a lifetime of working to stay in the same place,” he later wrote in his memoirs. “I wanted to work to help my parents and my brothers and sisters.” So Samuel started collecting junk. He trudged by foot to nearby towns, collected trash, and sold it to wholesalers. Business was so good that he could afford to leave it all behind — in 1904, he bought a one-way ticket from Bialystok to Philadelphia. Without a penny in his pocket, the newly renamed Samuel Tabas ended up on Christian Street, where he did anything he could to make a buck — washed soda bottles, hawked tomatoes from a pushcart. Finally, he went back to what he knew best — selling scrap.

He saved and saved until he could send for his family, then set them up on Poplar Street, in the loveliest house they’d ever lived in. After just two years, Samuel headed east to Atlantic City, where he bought a warehouse. Then he bought a truck scale and a scrap-cutting machine, and opened Acorn Iron & Supply Company.

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  • stephanie

    Good dirt and reading!

  • Barton

    During my childhood, in the late 40's and early 50's, I lived a few doors from "Uncle Charles" and Aunt Harriet and their son, Andy, and I would occassionally visit at them at their home where we would pop popcorn. They are really nice people.

  • Anne

    Ok , every family has it’s dirt or secrets
    Just cause these are smart and part of the ” chosen people ” who have brains and business smarts and happen to have made successes of themselves all you other jealous creeps need to get a life and stop using this family and other Main Line families as scapegoats. Get a life and work hard like the Tabas’ did to build their empire instead of looking for juicy stories like insecure leeches . This is one dignified family . They are not selfish but selfless and it is time to thank them for all charitable work that has enhanced the quality of life of the Main Line , Philadelphia , Adath Israel ,and so on and so on
    instead of bashing them

  • Bob

    Certainly some take pleasure in sniping at the rich, and no doubt there is an element of antisemitism at work, too. But this story is factual. I worked for the Tabas family and was privy to much. To put it politely, Daniel Tabas was not a very nice man. Yes, he worked hard, but he was also cruel, greedy, and heartless, a caricature of the money-grubbing Jew, unlike the vast majority of our people. Yes, he gave millions to good causes, but not because he gave a damn about anyone other than himself and his direct descendants but rather to buy respectability. He was a bully who treated his managers badly. He lined his immediate family’s pockets by putting everyone on the payroll of businesses that they never stuck their noses into, while paying employees sub-standard wages. He made a lot of people’s lives miserable. Dignified? That’s laughable.
    The previous comment attempts to write off any criticism of Daniel Tabas as jealousy. I think not. The evidence is overwhelming. And I

  • Bob

    (It says 200 word max, why cut me off at 175? To continue . . .) The evidence is overwhelming. And I can’t think of anyone less deserving of jealousy than he; he may have had millions, but my impression of him was he was a very unhappy man.

  • Anne

    There are lots of disgruntled employees and the greatest TV episodes are based around so many of these stories . Since you are not coming forth to reveal your identity Mr Bob , I think you’re full of it . I happen to know alot of this history and my family performed acts of kindness with theirs. The women of this family are some of the kindest most giving people who do not demand publicity or even acknowlegment for their charity and help to others. If you are Jewish , Gd is watching and listening .

    some of us just actually get more pleasure from helping others which may be a foreign concept to you . Get a life and a job you can hold on to and leave the Tabas’ alone

  • Bob

    Funny, criticizing me then posting anonymous, whoever you are. I have no ax to grind and rarely criticize others. I stand by everything I wrote. I only post anonymous so as not to suffer possible retribution from a family that can be very mean. And while my comments are about people I knew and worked with, your comments about me are meaningless, you know nothing about me. If you did, you’d know my whole life is about kindness. I only spoke up against the Tabas’s (and not all of them, by the way) because I was witness to the pain they, particularly Daniel, caused. The article that we are commenting on- do you think the journalist has an ax to grind? No, he researched a story and told it how it was. And yes, I am a Jew. Not the hypocritical kind of Jew that you are either. G-d is watching and listening, indeed. What arrogance. Perhaps your defense of Daniel is because you are a megalomaniac like he was. But I can’t say, because I don’t know you. Only a real horse’s…

  • Bob

    continued . . .Only a real horse’s ass would write what you did about someone you know absolutely nothing about!!