Silver Bullion and Underground Homes

Girard Henderson was an interesting client of the New York City law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore (CS&M), where I was an associate attorney, 1966-70.[1]

His grandfather was a Sandy Hook ship pilot who piloted ships into the City’s harbor and who managed to save a significant amount of money. Henderson’s father invested the inheritance from the grandfather in a New York City warehouse that burned to the ground, and there was a long delay in obtaining payment by an insurance company. As a result, the father went to work as a bookkeeper for the California Perfume Company (CPC) in Suffern, New York and became one of its substantial shareholders.

After Henderson’s father’s death, his mother inherited the CPC stock, and in 1935 she contributed those shares to a newly formed personal holding company, Alexander Dawson, Inc. (ADI) in exchange for all of ADI’s stock. Later, presumably after his mother’s death and after a buyout of his brother, Henderson became the sole owner of ADI.

Prior to 1955, however, he gave 27% of the ADI common stock (and some ADI preferred stock) to his then wife, Theodora Henderson, while Mr. Henderson maintained his personal control of ADI. In 1955 Girard and Theodora separated and later were divorced.

In 1967 Theodora formed her own holding company, Theodora Holding Corporation (THC), and she contributed her ADI common stock to THC in exchange for all of its stock.

In the meantime, in 1939, CPC changed its name to Avon Products, and in 1964 Avon’s stock was listed on the New York Stock Exchange and became a very successful stock with rising prices.

As of September 1968, ADI’s net worth was $150 million with Avon stock comprising 75% of its assets. The other 25%, pursuant to a diversification policy, was invested in other stocks and several small companies.

World's Fair, New York City

One such company was the Underground World Home Corporation that promoted such homes as safe places in the event of a nuclear attack by the USSR. It  had a demonstration home at the 1964 New York City’s World Fair. Henderson also had his own underground home in the Rocky Mountains near Denver; its underground swimming pool had a mural of the New York City skyline on the east wall and one of the San Francisco skyline on the opposite wall. As of September 1968, ADI also had invested $14 million in silver bullion and Swiss francs that were stored in a vault under the airport in Zurich, Switzerland.

 

Court of Chancery, Wilmington, DE

In or about September 1968 THC commenced a stockholders derivative lawsuit against ADI, Henderson and another corporate officer. The complaint alleged mismanagement regarding these non-Avon investments and corporate contributions to the Alexander Dawson, Inc. Foundation. As ADI was a Delaware corporation, the case was filed in the Court of Chancery in Wilmington.

The case went to trial in 1969. It was the first trial in which I participated. I was “second chair” to Cravath partner, Jack Hupper. I handled the exhibits and other papers and did not say one word on the record. But at least I was in court observing the trial and seeing how it was done.

In September 1969 the court issued its decision. It noted that after trial the plaintiff had withdrawn its claims regarding silver bullion and other ADI investments made at Henderson’s direction, including the Underground World Home Corporation. Instead the plaintiff after trial had limited itself to claims regarding ADI’s purchase and sale of a seat on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the ADI charitable contributions to the Foundation. The court upheld the validity of the charitable contributions, but concluded that Henderson had used corporate funds for his personal benefit with respect to the NYSE seat and, therefore, had to account to ADI for any profit on the sale of the seat and on brokerage commissions.

I do not remember any of the substantive or procedural details of the trial, but I do remember that just before trial Henderson broke a leg in a New York City taxi accident. When he testified at trial, the broken leg in a cast had to be elevated on a makeshift pedestal.

I also recall that before trial Henderson had to delay a trip from the West Coast to New York City to meet with Mr. Hupper and me because he was hosting a special dinner with Rudy Vallée, a famous crooner in the 1920s through the 1940s.

Silver bullion

Nor can I forget that Henderson and ADI kept some of their records in an informal office in a small house in a New York City suburb on the west side of the Hudson River. One day I drove there over the George Washington Bridge to find relevant documents. I was surprised to find a  bar of silver bullion at the back of one  of the file drawers.


[1] This account is based on memory and Theodora Holding Corp. v. Henderson, 257 A.2d 398 (Del Ct. Ch. 1969). See also Post: Lawyering on Wall Street (April 14, 2011).

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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