Sunday, April 6, 2014

William Zeckendorf, Jr. (1929 - 2014)

We went to a Memorial Service for William Zeckendorf, Jr. the New York builder and developer who had moved to Santa Fe where his ancestors had come before. During the talks from all his friends, family and business partners I realized in how many ways he had touched my life though I had only met him once.

As I may have mentioned here before my best friend in grade school was T’ing Pei the eldest son of I.M. Pei.  I remember when T’ing came to school very excited -  we must have been in 6th or 7th grade at the time and announced that his father had won first prize at the Brussels World’s Fair.  I really did not know what that meant at the time but I knew that his father was an architect because I had stayed at his country house which his father, of course, had built and it was very contemporary.

At that time Pei was working for William Zeckendorf.   At the service, his son Will referred to Pei as his father’s in-house architect which, of course, he was.  Will went on to say that Pei had given his father an appreciation for quality architecture.

I also was aware of the Zeckendorf name as head of the board of trustees at Long Island University which I attended before going abroad and then to Columbia University.

The next time the Zeckendorf name touched my life was a direct invitation from the man himself for my father and me to have lunch with him.  Believe me, when I tell you, we were totally mystified.   We were served a very nice lunch which, if I remember correctly, was served on a platform raised above his office with a great view.  Not that we really had a chance to see the view as Mr. Zeckendorf was so intense.  We soon learned his objective.  He wanted to buy the apartment of a client of ours, Anita Young, the widow of Robert R. Young, the railroad magnate. My father and I looked at each other, what did we have to do with this?  Mr. Zeckendorf had the idea of making an offer on the apartment with its furnishings (very fine French 18th century pieces, many of which had come through our hands) and sell the collection to help offset his cost. Until I heard all the tributes at the Memorial Service, now probably 30-40 years later, I did not fully appreciate this minor intrigue.  What he might not have realized was that Mrs. Young had estates in Newport and Palm Beach and had no intention of selling the furniture.

 As an aside, one day when I asked Mrs. Young whether she might be interested in seeing some of our French 18th century paintings, she replied that she was quite content with her sister’s paintings.  Her sister was Georgia O’Keeffe.

Of course, the reason that the Memorial Service was in Santa Fe is that Zeckendorf has been living here for more than twenty years and he and his wife, Nancy, have done untold wonders for this town.  His lawyer, who worked on the deal to build the Eldorado Hotel here, told us of the problem they had as to where they wanted to locate the hotel.  It seems that it was too close to a church to be able to obtain a liquor license.  Bill Zeckendorf’s solution… move the church.  This turned out to be of a double benefit to Santa Fe.  Not only was the church pleased with the move to a location with much needed parking space, but   the building  that took its place is today the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum!

One of our great loves in this town is the Lensic Performing Arts Center, an old movie palace which Bill and Nancy renovated into a state of the art theater giving Santa Fe a venue for theater and dance as well as simulcasts from the Metropolitan Opera and London’s National Theater.  For us as two New York transplants who love the arts, it is a great quality of life benefit.

Bill loved music and Nancy gave him full credit for the Lensic but it was clear that without her as lead fund-raiser, and the brilliant impresario, Bob Martin, whom they enlisted from the start, it would not have happened.  I am sure that Bill saw the benefit of having a performing arts center within one block of his grand hotel, the Eldorado.  Just like with Mrs. Young’s apartment he could see an issue from many different sides.

One more connection with the Zeckendorf family is that Bill’s son Will came into our New York gallery on a number of occasions with a keen interest in the arts of France, so I got to know another generation of Zeckendorfs.

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