Friday, March 14, 2014


The Heiress in front of her Greenwich Chalet
I am probably one of the least likely people you know to become an heiress, but having said that, I need to explain how I came to inherit a portion of the Ruppert Brewery fortune. Before you start envying me, you need to hear the whole story.

Over thirty years ago, I befriended a fellow “preservationist” from Greenwich. He died almost two years ago, in 2012. He was like me, another Don Quixote who wanted to save beautiful old buildings that had outlived their economic usefulness. He and I fought the good fight together. We attended each other’s parties and from time to time went off to the Harvard Club in New York to attend a lecture on architecture. Richard, a dashing bachelor, worked sporadically for the State Department escorting German diplomats around the country; he spoke impeccable “HochDeutsch,” having studied to be a braumeister in Berlin after World War II. His family had owned the Ruppert Brewery in New York City, one of the largest breweries in America and Richard had inherited a sizeable amount of money from the family fortune. At one time – in the heyday of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the Rupperts owned the New York Yankees, plus a large chunk of Yorkville in the East ‘90s.

Remnants of the hardware collection
For most of the time I knew him, Richard was immersed in the restoration of a turn-of-the century Swiss Chalet on Milbank Avenue in Greenwich. Since money trickled in in dribs and drabs from his trust fund, the work on his house proceeded in a similar sporadic fashion. While the peak ornaments and the porch railing were glorious, the rest of the exterior remained a “work in progress.” The interior, although structurally sound, was a total disaster. Rooms were filled with boxes of God knows what, everything from valuable papers to Playboy subscription forms. There were cartons of unworn clothes and shoes to say nothing of empty beer bottles (after all, he was a former beer baron.) In addition, in a rash moment, he had bought the contents of an upstate hardware store that was going out of business and boxes of hinges, knobs and what-not littered an entire floor of his house. (They are now stored in my garage, a donation from his family.)

After his death, his carpenter, now in charge of fixing up the house for sale, called to tell me that he had found Richard’s will and I was listed as a beneficiary; he had left me 1% of his estate. I was stunned. It was the last thing in the world I had expected. And what was 1%? Knowing Richard and his inability to manage money, it could be anything from tens of thousands of dollars, or, more likely, a few hundred. And now, almost two years later, I still have no idea. I occasionally communicate with his executor, a cousin in the Midwest, who assures me, any month now, the estate will be settled. “Tax issues” he claims are holding things up. Richard apparently forgot to pay capital gains, and so on and so forth. “Not a good money manager” his executor tells me. (I could have told him that before he began)

But in the meantime, it makes a great “dining out” story, how I, a girl of humble origins and limited means, came to inherit a portion of the Ruppert Brewery fortune (not a very big portion, however).  I was thinking of collecting old photos of the “family business,” the block-square castle on Second Avenue that once housed the brewery. I recently received a list of Richard’s heirs from Greenwich Probate Court and I’m in pretty heavy company: Count von Huynegen-Heune and Baron von Huynegen-Heune are among my fellow beneficiaries.

 I’m glad my parents aren’t around. They never approved of unearned wealth and I may end up giving it all to charity. 


  1. Fascinating story....
    my advice, if you ever get to see any $$$...Keep it !

  2. Hope you can influence saving the building from becoming a fluorescent-lit office for corporate types and help get it restored.

  3. So that's who owned the house on Milbank Avenue that has been under repair for as long as I can remember! Mystery solved.