The Butler Gets It! (And The Co-Op Board Probably Gags)

by SUSANNAH LONG · May 12, 2010

Chalk one up for the American dream. Indra B. Tamang, a Nepalese farm boy turned UWS butler, just inherited nearly all of his late employer’s estate. For more than 30 years, Tamang filled the roles of butler, cook, and eventual caretaker for the Ford family. When Ruth Ford died last year at age 98, she willed Tamang two apartments at the Dakota (yes, that Dakota) and a valuable collection of Russian surrealist art. But every windfall comes with strings attached . . .


According to the WSJ, there are still some loose ends. In order to leave her inheritance to Mr. Tamang, Ruth Ford disinherited her estranged daughter, Shelley Scott, and Shelley's two grandchildren for unspecified reasons. After a legal challenge and "modest settlement," the disowned daughter now says she's "very happy" for Mr. Tamang. We really doubt that's true, Shelley, but we applaud you for being polite.

The late Ruth Ford in her home at The Dakota, 1967. [Photo courtesy of WSJ]

More problematic, perhaps, for Mr. Tamang is the fact that the Dakota co-op board will likely not approve him to reside in the building. According to city real estate brokers, the board is known for its picky and arbitrary approach; a former service worker who only received citizenship last year wouldn't exactly be shortlisted for residency. The board is within their rights to do so: legally, an heir may receive co-op shares, but the board retains the right to block the transfer of shares or forbid the heir from moving into the building.

A room in one of Mr. Tamang's new apartments. [Photo courtesy of WSJ]

Mr. Tamang is playing it classy about the whole thing, stating that he's satisfied living with his wife and three children in Woodside, and refusing to speculate on the co-op board's motives. In fact, he's already put one of apartments, a courtyard-facing three-bedroom, on the market at a price of 4.5 million. And don't cry for him too much, America: he's still got that trousseau of Pavel Tchelitchew's surrealist paintings, the prices of which have been skyrocketing in recent years.

Pavel Tchelitchew works like the ones above may make you want to curl into a fetal position, but they're sought-after collectibles in the fine art world.

And even if the co-op board were to start shooting him the side-eye and making fart noises behind his back, he's still be in good - or at least entertaining - company. Aging sexpots Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith were turned down by the board in 2005. At the time, filmmaker Albert Maysles, who had hoped to sell his unit to the Tinseltown pair, bemoaned the board's stodginess. "What's so shocking is that the building is losing its touch with interesting people," he told the Times. "More and more, they're moving away from creative people and going toward people who just have the money."

And even before that, cool cats were being cast aside by the Dakota: Corrugated cardboard king (Cing?) and politico Dennis Mehiel was kicked to the curb in 2002, Billy Joel was turned down in 1980, and Gene Simmons was refused residency in 1979.

The only possible balm to the Dakota co-op's ongoing, irksome elitism/dullness is for those snubbed applicants, purchasers, and inheritors to form a band. Here is what it will look like:

They will play "Gimme Shelter." And "Movin' Out." And "Homeward Bound" by Simon and Garfunkel. Or maybe just the entire Simon and Garfunkel catalog, but substituting the words "co-op board" and "vengeance" liberally throughout. Oh man, this started as a joke, but it's quickly becoming very real.