Up on the 76th floor of the Empire State Building, Jack Brod shuffles through a stack of papers until he finds the photo I’ve asked him to show me. “Compared to what Israel has now, these were pea-shooters,” he says, pointing to a picture of a 225-foot-long frigate with Hebrew lettering painted over its old Canadian Royal Navy insignia. “The only way Israel survived is because they had a will to live.”
Mr. Brod, a 92-year-old diamond dealer, is the celebrated skyscraper’s last original occupant. He moved his business into the Empire State a month after it opened in 1931, when he realized “located in the world’s tallest building” would sound pretty good in his radio ads. After returning from World War II as an Air Force officer, he opened another enterprise - selling military surplus - on the 72nd floor. From this outpost, he sold off salvaged Allied warships and munitions to various buyers, from governments to private citizens. His client list included Aristotle Onassis, who added five corvettes to his personal fleet.
But his biggest customer was one he couldn’t really talk about. (more…)