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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