Chapter 5 The Odd Couple: The English Lord and the Housewife Tycoon

My father was brought up in the East End. He was incredibly determined. It was why he and Cecilia got on—they came from similar backgrounds in a way . . . Cecilia was a bully; a hardworking, total perfectionist.

—Robert A. Rayne

In 1960, Max Rayne told his eldest son that William Zeckendorf owed him a great deal of money. “Webb and Knapp was collapsing,” recalls the Honorable Robert “Robbie” A. Rayne, a dark-haired, slim man who is a dead ringer for his late father. “He was in real trouble.”

In 1962, Zeckendorf sold a third of his interest in the Savoy-Plaza Hotel to Max Rayne. “Then [Zeckendorf] got further into trouble and we bought the other two-thirds,” says Rayne. No one knew anything about the transfer, conducted in total secrecy.

During that period, Zeckendorf introduced General Motors to Rayne as a potential tenant for a new building spanning the whole block.

In late summer of 1964 the press got wind of what was termed “the deal of the year.” The name Max Rayne entered the U.S. lexicon for the first time; he was hailed as an “English real estate wizard,” but there was also suspicion of the foreigner. The timing was terrible from a preservationists’ standpoint. Penn Station had been felled by the wrecker's ball in 1963. Protesters led a “funeral procession” outside the Savoy-Plaza Hotel.

Typically—and sensibly—given the controversy, Max Rayne didn't conduct interviews; he was content to remain an enigma—albeit ...

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