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

And thus the Tabas family began to amass its fortune.

Sam Tabas wasn’t shy about it. He married Esther Chepinsky (of the soda-bottling Chepinskys) in a fancy hall at Broad and Montgomery — “the most exclusive place in Philadelphia,” Sam noted — and drove through town on his wedding day in a limo, even though his family and in-laws chided him for being too showy. But Sam was in no way ashamed of his wealth. And he kept building it, picking up land in Downingtown and hotels in A.C. — hotels that his oldest son, Charles, started to run … at the age of 13. Charles “never had a childhood,” Daniel Tabas, who was eight years younger, once told the Inquirer. “He always worked. He was my father’s right-hand man.”

It wasn’t easy to be the Tabas boys, and not just because their mother died when Dan was a toddler. The Depression cleaned out the family. They spent their teenage years working their tabases off for Acorn Iron, which moved in the mid-’30s to Delaware Avenue, where it still stands today. Then there was Sam’s temper.

“As I look back on it,” Sam Tabas wrote in his memoirs, “I can see that [my sons] felt a sense of security in the enormity of my wrath and in the warmth of my approval.” Things weren’t always fair. Charles, who married Harriette Steelman (of the grocery store Steelmans), worked side by side with his father from 7 a.m. until late at night, even on Sundays, so Dan could go to high school and on to Bucknell, and then marry sweet, refined Evelyn Rome, daughter of a well-known and respected Brooklyn rabbi.  

During World War I, Charles took the rap, along with his father and uncle, for defrauding the U.S. government out of thousands in a scrap-metal scam. Sam Tabas was sentenced to nine months in jail; Charles got a suspended sentence of three months. “You are guilty of a despicable conspiracy,” the judge told Sam Tabas at the sentencing. “The fact that our boys in the armed services may be dying because supplies may not have reached them in time doesn’t seem to have impressed you. It was merely dollars-and-cents profits with you.” One of those boys in the armed services at the time was Dan Tabas.

Once the family started to make money again, Sam did what any father would: He bought his sons buildings. Sam was walking between Market and Arch when he noticed a seven-story building at 20 North 3rd. It was called “Daniel Building.” He bought it. Then he acquired an eight-story building on North 8th, and named it “Charles Building.”

That was how it was with the Tabas brothers. Dan was first, Charles second. Dan was aggressive, always in the spotlight, the wheeler-dealer. Charles lived behind the scenes, following in his little brother’s formidable footsteps. They worked well that way. “Charlie deferred to Danny on business decisions. And he generally agreed with him,” says Roy Jonas, an attorney who first met the Tabases in the 1950s, when he lived next door to Dan and Evelyn’s Miami home. Jonas still has dinner occasionally with Evelyn Tabas. (The Tabas family declined to be interviewed for this story.)

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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!!