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My father arranges to buy the Times Square building





This will be short because I do not remember much about the situation. It happened in 1961 - in September of that year, I think. Now it is 2016. My father arranged to buy the iconic tower on Times Square as a agent of American Motors Corporation but the deal fell through. Here is my recollection.

I had dropped out of Yale at the beginning of 1961. I returned in 1963 and graduated a year later. But in the fall of 1961, I was on my way to Europe where I lived for a bit more than a year before returning to college.

The Times Square building which once housed the offices of the New York Times was then for sale. The newspaper had moved to larger quarters. Its old headquarters at One Times Square was empty and being represented by a realtor. I met him but cannot now remember his name. (Wikipedia says that advertising executive Douglas Leigh bought the building in 1961 so it might have been him. I think his name was pronounced "Lee".)

My father at the time was vice president (for communications) at American Motors Corporation, the nation’s fourth largest automobile company, which was headquartered in Detroit. Somehow he got wind of the fact that the Times Square building was for sale. He met with the realtor and I went along on the visit.

The building that I am talking about is, of course, one of the most famous buildings in the world. It is where the lighted ball drops on New Years Eve to mark the beginning of each new year. But New York City was then having its problems. Times Square was turning into a honky tonk district. For that reason, I think the Time Square building was reasonably priced but I have no details.

In any event, I went along with my father to meet the realtor. I wandered through several floors of the empty building. My enthusiastic recommendation was that American Motors buy it. My father agreed.

I believe that my father did actually arrange with the realtor to buy the building for American Motors. However, the deal fell through when AMC’s board of directors decided not to follow through with the purchase.

Why did the board reach that decision? Although my recollection is hazy, I believe the reason had to do with the possible involvement of the Marriott Corporation with this project. There may have been plans, or at least discussion, for Marriott’s utilizing part of the space for a hotel. AMC’s CEO, George Romney, my father’s boss, was a Mormon. The Marriotts were also Mormon. Somehow, this religious association looked bad to AMC’s board of directors which then killed the entire project. I thought that reasoning was stupid.

As I recall, Allied Chemical Corporation went on to buy the Times Square building. The New Year’s Eve celebrations have continued. Times Square itself has shed some of its honky tonk reputation to remain simply iconic.

I tried to enter Times Square on New Year’s Eve 1999 to celebrate the coming of a new millennium. However, the closest I could come to that place was six or seven blocks away on Broadway. I arrived around 5 p.m. and, exercising extreme bladder control, waited there until well past midnight. I repeated much the same visit in the following year to somewhat smaller crowds.

Had my father managed to buy the building and had he remained at American Motors well beyond retirement age, I might have been able to celebrate the coming of the new millennium inside the Times Square building; or do I dream? And, by the way, Marriott did later (in 1985) build a massive hotel, the New York Marriott Marquis, at another location on Times Square.

P.S.

Without having any information, I suspect that George Romney’s position at American Motors was a key to what happened with the board of directors. My father was Romney’s close associate. They had worked together for 20 years, first at the Automobile Manufacturers Association and then at American Motors. Romney left American Motors in 1962 to pursue a political career. He was elected Governor of Michigan later that year. There may then have been tension with AMC’s board of directors prior to his departure. I just don’t know.

(While writing this, I just - a minute ago - received an email from Ronna Romney McDaniel to the effect that President-elect Donald Trump has asked her to head the Republican National Committee. She is Scott Romney’s daughter, Scott being George Romney’s elder son. I notice that Ronna now signs her name simply as “Ronna McDaniel” after years of including her maiden name. As a teenager, I knew Scott Romney quite well. We went to summer camp together in Ontario in 1954 and, living in Bloomfield Hills in 1956, took classes in welding and house wiring at Cass Technical High School in downtown Detroit.)

Shortly after George Romney stepped down as CEO at American Motors, my father also left the company to take a position with the National Association of Manufacturers as senior vice president. (He helped to arrange for President Richard Nixon to deliver the principal address on the occasion of the NAM’s 75th anniversary.) My family moved from Detroit first to New York City and then to Washington D.C. until my parents retired to my mother’s ancestral home in Milford, Pennsylvania, which I now own.

After several terms as Governor of Michigan, George Romney unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for President in 1968 I last saw him in person when he came to campaign in Minnesota that year. Richard Nixon was the Republican nominee, however, and George Romney went into retirement. (See my account of an impromptu visit to the Romney home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan in 1994.)

With respect to the Mormon religion, it is an indigenous American religion established in the mid 19th century and, as such, has a unique relationship to American political institutions. The Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, actually ran for U.S. President in 1844 as a third-party candidate. He was killed by an armed mob in Carthage, Illinois, in June of that year. Smith being the first, the last Mormon to run for President was George Romney’s younger son, Mitt, who was the Republican nominee in 2012. He lost in the general election to the incumbent President, Barack Obama.

 

But back to the Times Square building sale Please don’t sue me if my facts are wrong. My memory is fading and I want to get this story out while I can. I may be the only eyewitness to this event left.

 

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