Inside L.A.'s Newest Power Club : David Murdock Needed a Nice Place to Entertain a Few Friends. So He Built the Regency Club.

<i> Donald R. Katz is a contributing editor and columnist for Esquire magazine. His book, "The Big Store: Inside the Crisis and Revolution at Sears," will be published by Viking in October. </i>

ONE RECENT EVENING 40 Los Angeles residents in the throes of young success were invited to an elegant cocktail party at the Regency Club. Though many older members of the city’s corporate establishment had been relegated to a waiting list, officials of the elite 6-year-old club had carefully culled an assortment of rising functionaries of the city’s professional firms and invited them to the antique-lined clubhouse 18 stories above the corner of Wilshire and Westwood.

“You ever been here before?” a young employee of the investment bank Goldman, Sachs inquired of a young Salomon Brothers banker.

“Only once,” he responded. “For one incredible closing dinner.”


“Me, too,” said the Goldman, Sachs man. “Best end-of-the-deal meal in town.”

The candidates for membership wandered down the parqueted central hallway and peeked into one of the club’s smaller rooms, where Drexel Burnham Lambert heavyweight Michael Milken had a few days earlier chosen to lunch away from the public eye. In another, a few days before, the notably aggressive banker Joseph Pinola had been introduced to the notably aggressive airline executive Frank Lorenzo. “You are to be congratulated,” the leader of First Interstate Bancorp was overheard to say to the leader of Texas Air. “You are one of the most interesting people around.” It was in one of the smaller chambers back in 1984 that the creator and owner of the Regency Club--David H. Murdock--looked up after a big lunch and declared to Dr. Armand Hammer, chairman of Occidental Petroleum, that Hammer was too old to run Oxy and that he--Murdock--wanted his job.

Twenty-six leaders of Los Angeles’ 50 largest industrial companies are members of the Regency Club. Thomas V. Jones, chairman and chief executive officer of Northrop Corp. does most of his business entertaining at the club. Lew Wasserman, chairman and chief executive officer of MCA, and Sanford Sigoloff, chairman and C.E.O. of Wickes, are seen there often with associates. Many of the 956 members say they belong to the club, which has no golf course, tennis court or swimming pool, just to have access to its cuisine. Some cite the convenience of being able to show up at a good restaurant without a reservation, while others admit to relishing the sound of their own names when they exit from an elevator. But many membersmade their applications, risked rejection or relegation to a waiting list, and ponied up the $5,000 entrance fee in response to precisely the same natural tropism that has drawn the powerful and wealthy together into the contrived enclosures called clubs for centuries.

The truly great private clubs of history were spawned during periods of social transformation and economic activity. The leaders of colonial empires created private clubs that often evoked an idealized sense of the mother culture the colonialists had left in order to gain the very status they were now underscoring by forming clubs. Early in this century, the burgeoning economies of U.S. cities caused people to form clubs, as each wave of new achievers sought to distinguish their level of attainment. Over time, those kept out of the older clubs on the basis of sex, ethnic origin, religious preference, method of financial attainment or the relative length of time one’s money had been in the bank seemed more important to the invented tradition than those allowed in.

The Los Angeles of 1981--the year the Regency Club was opened--still contained two examples of these turn-of-the-century preserves. The downtown California and Jonathan clubs, with their hushed plutocratic decor and Maalox-smooth cuisines, retained images of being haunts of gentlemen possessed of significant municipal bond portfolios and modestly Anglo-Saxon surnames. The downtown “power palaces” still seemed to define the old downtown / Westside dichotomy--the divide between old money and new, Christians and Jews, and gray-haired white men and everyone else.

The vogue in starting private clubs had ostensibly died out toward the middle of the century, as most of the movers and shakers of the post-World War II surge seemed content to integrate themselves into the downtown clubs or the Westside country clubs instead of starting their own. A few newer country clubs were built, but somehow the pervasive big-power aura of the urban eating clubs is diffused by talk of golf handicaps. There really hadn’t been a new power palace in Los Angeles for many decades by the early ‘80s, so leading members of the community were surprised to get calls from friends about a new club start-up. They heard that the Regency Club would be different from the clubs to which they belonged, if for no other reason than that its conception and execution sprang directly from the powerful mind of David Howard Murdock.

Then 58, Murdock--real estate developer, corporate takeover artist, Republican Party power broker, horse breeder, arts patron, orchid-grower and all-around man of considerable wealth and taste--was said to have told his friends that the day he dropped out of the 10th grade back in Ohio, he already knew he possessed an uncanny knack for making money. Murdock dug ditches and flipped burgers at a little joint he bought outside of Detroit before he headed toward Phoenix to build some small houses, then some big ones, and then some office buildings that still dominate the skyline. He lost most of this money during the early ‘60s real estate slump, made some of it back, then came to California in the mid-'70s to enhance his assets by developing more real estate and acquiring companies. Recently, he has expanded his fortune by using the tactic of almost taking over companies whose leaders decide to pay him “greenmail” so as not to be acquired. Such was the case with Murdock’s move on Occidental Petroleum: Hammer and Oxy had to pay Murdock $60 million (others say it was $100 million) for Murdock’s stock and his agreement to abort his takeover attempt.

By the time he decided to found the Regency Club, Murdock had acquired a huge ranch in Ventura that was home to his collection of several hundred Arabian horses, and he’d purchased one of the finest homes in Los Angeles--a 64-room mansion in Bel-Air built by Conrad Hilton. There, he and his late wife, Gabriele, gave lavish parties attended by Californians whose great-grandparents settled the region. Though ubiquitous at society functions, Murdock remained something of a mystery to the general public as well as to those who did business with him or attended his parties. He was quoted once in Fortune magazine as saying that it was “useless to give money to the poor because they only lose it.” Because he said he was quoted out of context, and in the end could gain little from further press exposure, Murdock has been wary of interviews ever since. But in a sophisticated yet inexorable way, Murdock had managed to insinuate himself profoundly into the economic, political and social life of the city at a pace only Los Angeles would tolerate. By 1981, he decided the city needed a new sort of club.

He’d been a student of private clubs for some time when he decided to build one atop Murdock Plaza, his new red-brick and dark-glass office building in Westwood. He’d already put private dining clubs on top of his buildings in Lincoln and Omaha, Neb., and he’d built the exclusive Cloud Club on top of one of his high-rises in Phoenix. But Los Angeles--as open as it might have been to the newly wealthy--was still a long way from Omaha. The downtown elite already had their hidebound clubs, and Westside residents had their beach and golf clubs.

But Murdock would not be dissuaded. “The Regency Club will have a single prevailing doctrine,” he declared. “To be, quite simply, the finest club in the city.”

“I just closed my eyes,” he remembers now, “and I thought, ‘What kind of club would I like to have, would my friends like to have, and would their friends like to have?’ ”

One night Murdock invited a disparate group of powerful Los Angeles residents to a meeting at his home. Present were such noted Democrats as then-party Chairman Charles T. Manatt and attorney Paul Ziffren. Entrepreneur John E. Anderson was there, as were Tom Jones, Roy L. Ash, Joe Pinola and Peter V. Ueberroth. Also attending--in their own right, and not as stand-ins for their husbands--were Mrs. Armand S. Deutsch, Mrs. Harry Wetzel, Mrs. James L. Stewart and Carole Scotti, sister of Lt. Gov. Mike Curb. “This club will be open,” Murdock told his guests, “and women will be eligible for full membership.”

As long as you could pay your bills and knew five members willing to attest to your good character, Murdock seemed to imply, then you too could join an elite urban eating club. The exclusivity of the club would be predicated on wealth and reputation instead of criteria related to birth or creed. The idea struck Murdock’s guests as novel in the extreme. It was contended in the press before the club opened that Gabriele Murdock was behind the open membership policies, but, in fact, the urban, all-male bastions were already under siege.

The Jonathan Club’s failure to extend an honorary membership to Mayor Bradley--a tradition apparently denied the mayor because of his race--had never ceased to be an issue, and the court cases pursuant to Rotary International’s decision to expel its Duarte chapter when it admitted women went back to 1978. When William French Smith was nominated to be attorney general at the end of 1980, he was widely criticized for his association with an institution as clearly discriminatory in its policies as the California Club. Murdock was too good a businessman not to see what was coming. “I saw that there was a new, aspiring America out there,” he says now, “and I believed the days of closed doors were past--they never should have existed.”

Murdock’s admissions policies attracted attention. Prominent downtown attorney Kendall R. Bishop of O’Melveny & Myers had previously declared to his partners and friends that he wouldn’t attend a firm-related function at the California or Jonathan clubs. Bishop was vociferously “anti-club” in general, but he joined the Regency. Ueberroth realized that he could hold organizing functions leading to the 1984 Olympics at the Regency without having to worry about the sex or race of his guests.

Another unusual aspect of the Regency Club, Murdock announced, would be that it would be run as a business. Unlike most clubs, which are owned cooperatively by their members, Murdock would own and operate the club and underwrite its start-up costs (about $5 million) himself.

FROM THE BEGINNING, Murdock made it clear that he envisaged a club of active, vital members, not an institution dedicated to the care and feeding of dinosaurs. This, he said, called for good food, a subject about which Murdock was known to have strong and rather idiosyncratic ideas. Murdock ate five meals a day, each of them rich in protein. Employees who didn’t eat a proper breakfast while traveling with him were given stern lectures about the importance of protein to the functioning of the mind. He believed that, with the exception of the meals at the Hillcrest Country Club, the food served in elite clubs was by and large pedestrian, and he didn’t much care for any of the restaurants in Westwood. The Regency, he vowed, would serve gourmet food of a quality rarely seen in Los Angeles’ best restaurants.

Murdock hired chef Louis Outhier, owner of the three-star L’Oasis on the French Riviera. He then went to the Carlyle Hotel in New York in search of a club manager and lured away veteran professional Giorgio Masini. He hired a publicist, one-time New York gossip columnist Wally Cedar, and he told Cedar to promote the Regency Club as he’d promoted the Four Seasons restaurant in New York for many years. Most of the early planning and staffing was handled by none other than H. R. (Bob) Haldeman, who had come to work for the Murdock organization shortly after serving a prison sentence that grew from a previous and less successful management experience. Upstairs at the new club--one floor above the Murdock organization’s executive offices--Haldeman was known as the “chief of staff.”

While Murdock delegated numerous duties to his team, he insisted on approving every detail--particularly any detail that involved color or form or taste. Since he had recently purchased the venerable London and New York antique dealers Stair & Co., a ready source for period antiques was available to fill the 15,000 square feet of the club. The only individual to whom Murdock yielded on matters of decor was his beautiful, German-born wife, Gabriele, whom he considered to have an instinct for design detail not unlike his prodigious instinct for combining assets. Gabriele Murdock said they wanted to create a club that could be like “an extension of their private homes” to members, a place they could go to “feel secure.”

For their part, the Murdocks chose to live in a formal manner that most members of the upper classes had cast off 50 years earlier. Their home was extremely formal, and David Murdock’s personal style was formal to the point of parody. Murdock believed in dressing for dinner--in dressing for breakfast or lunch, for that matter--so anyone who wanted to be a member of his club, he declared to would-be members, was going to have to wear a coat and tie when they came around to eat.

TODAY, SOME members still complain about the strict dress code at the Regency Club. Board members bring it up at meetings, and Murdock hammers it back down. But at lunch one recent Friday, everyone in the opulent dining room was dressed in accordance with management’s standards. Julian Zelman, the developer and County Art Museum fellow; Emil P. Martini Jr., chairman and C.E.O. of the Bergen Brunswig medical-supply corporation; the consul general of Saudi Arabia, and Stephen D. Moses of the Democratic Party, who had recently brought John F. Kennedy Jr. to lunch, were all well-dressed, and they all made entrances with a formality and grace of which Murdock might have approved. Murdock wasn’t yet sure whether he would take the corner table where he likes to sit and “see everything that goes on,” so he remained at work in his office on the floor below.

At one of the prized window tables, Joseph Baird, the former Smith Barney investment banker and one of the many short-lived presidents of Occidental Petroleum, was having lunch with Joseph F. Alibrandi, chairman and C.E.O. at the Whittaker Corp. and a member of the club’s board of governors. “I just never went for the old English men’s club atmosphere,” Alibrandi said. “This place has a cross section of people with different points of view. There’s no Great Divide between old and young here, but then I’m not a club guy. I think of the staid, more exclusive clubs as places where people who are exactly the same get together. My wife calls the old clubs elephants’ graveyards.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Baird said to his lunch partner. “I like other clubs, too. It’s not a crime. I belong to the L.A. Country Club, the Bel-Air Country Club and the California Club.”

Alibrandi looked shocked. “Well, it’s certainly not my thing,” he said.

The politics surrounding private clubs have heated up considerably in the years since the Regency Club was founded. As Murdock foresaw, restricted country clubs and men’s clubs have been forced to alter their policies profoundly within the last few years, but not before publicity and public hearings sponsored by the Los Angeles City Council managed to mark the old downtown clubs in particular as embattled refuges for an endangered species.

As the call for litigation and further reforms at the other private clubs has increased, the Regency Club has appeared ahead of its time. There are about 100 women in the club now, though most appear to use it for social rather than business purposes. A few, such as Joanna Carson, ended up with membership by virtue of divorce settlements. There are only a few Hollywood celebrities--among them Arnold Schwarzenegger (who is said to have written a fan letter to Murdock before he was admitted); Kenny Rogers (the spokesperson for Dole Pineapple, a subsidiary of one of Murdock’s companies), and actress Barbara Carrera (who is married to the son of a Greek shipping magnate, the Drexel Burnham Lambert banker Nicholas Mavroleon). There are three blacks: O. J. Simpson, U.S. District Judge David W. Williams and James N. Harding, owner of the Jim’s Barbecue chain.

Far from a melting pot, the Regency Club is a delicate simmering of the closely similar. “It’s certainly not a case of open admissions,” says J. Clayburn La Force, dean of the Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA and chairman of the club’s membership committee. “We are looking for honest, hard-working, respectable people. We discriminate, I guess, against the slobs.”

After a recent Friday lunch, Stanley A. Wainer, chairman of El Segundo-based Wyle Laboratories, approached Bonnie Kyle, the club’s managing director, to tell her that he was going away for several weeks. Wainer is an active member who recently held his daughter’s wedding at the club. But on this day he seemed slightly perturbed over not having a window. He told Kyle he was going out of town and said something about saving his table.

Kyle smiled and wished him bon voyage. “Nobody can have their name on a table here,” she said after Wainer left. “But making all of that kind of stuff work out is part of my job. These are people who are used to getting their way, but people at the top are still the best to deal with. They aren’t paving their ways up to the top anymore, so it’s easy for them to be nice.”

Kyle, a 35-year-old Texan who held other jobs under four different Regency Club members before coming to the club, has been the managing director since 1985, when Giorgio Masini went to work at the newly opened Manhattan Beach Country Club. Before that, she was the assistant managing director. The chef overseeing the kitchen this lunchtime also began his career, in 1981, as an assistant at the club, but since then, Joachim B. Splichal has become one of the city’s culinary stars and is now a consulting chef at the Regency. (Splichal left the Regency Club in 1983 to open the Seventh Street Bistro, and then moved on to the well-reviewed but poorly situated Max au Triangle as chef and owner. After Max closed, Splichal served as a consultant to QV, the old Quo Vadis in New York, but had come “back home” to the Regency for a short stint at the helm.)

Splichal, a dapper 31-year-old German who trained in Europe under the legendary Jacques Maximin, says that cooking at the club requires certain adjustments. Rather than employ his genius for creative cuisines, for one cholesterol-conscious member Splichal had to make omelets with only the whites of the egg. Another wants warm toast with Parmesan cheese on top, slightly burned. Sandy Sigoloff likes his potatoes crisp. Armand Hammer (not that he comes in so often since the day Murdock told the good doctor he was over the hill) likes a certain fresh tomato sauce on his pasta. For his part, Murdock is a fan of pork and lobster in champagne sauce. David Buell, chairman of Metrobank, comes in for lunch every day to a salad of string beans, chicken and mushrooms with a bit of vinegar on top. The mere thought of the “Buell salad” makes Splichal’s lips curl. But in the end, the food at the club has been a salient factor in its rapid success. Murdock brought world-class chefs into the city during the early days of a culinary renaissance that has catapulted Wolfgang Puck, Michael McCarty (a member) and Los Angeles cuisine in general to international acclaim. The club is considered to have been the training ground for some of the city’s best chefs, and it remains the source of some of the city’s finest food. The recently hired executive chef, Franck Champely--late of Maxim’s and Taillevent in Paris and the Pierre in New York--is expected to continue the tradition.

Food is the centerpiece of several of the special events staged for club members under Bonnie Kyle’s direction. But Kyle has also tried to enhance the social side of the club. It has sponsored several events in a near-Victorian spirit of self-improvement, including etiquette courses for young children under the direction of protocol expert and erstwhile White House advance person Alyse Best. One of the most popular special programs was called “A Return to Salon Days,” in which an English professor came to the club for four evenings of poetry reading and group exegesis of Coleridge, Shakespeare and Yeats.

THOUGH KYLE manages the special programs, the general theme of highly mannered, carefully choreographed con noisseurship that pervades them derives from Murdock. Murdock is a reader, writer and recorder of poetry, for instance, and some of the members still talk of the time he showed up at one of the salon evenings and read his favorite poems in a fine, clear voice.

When Murdock enters the club for lunch, he tends to go straight to his corner table without saying hello to members. “I eat there a great deal so I can make certain that everything is done properly,” Murdock says in the clipped, careful way he speaks. “I talk about the menus, the wine and so forth. I insist that all our silver be spotlessly polished all the time. If you pay attention to every detail and have great people--Bonnie Kyle is a wonderful manager, for instance--then the club will work.”

Even when Murdock is not physically at the club, his presence is apparent. Kyle will often send memos down to his office at his Pacific Holding Co. headquarters on the 17th floor that inform him of particularly important guests who are due for lunch; occasionally she even suggests that it would be nice if he came up and said hello. Kyle also appears to spend some of her time covering for Murdock’s habit of walking by people, lost in a fog of thought. But most members seem to accept that Murdock is one unusual fellow and that, for all practical purposes, they have been invited to his dining room. The club is not theirs; it’s his, and if he seems a bit abstract at times, that’s not the end of the world. “In most cases you’d resent the situation,” says Stan Wainer, “but in this case, he deserves to call it his. He decorated it. He created it. He owns it. It’s his club.”

A private elevator descends from Murdock’s club to a hallway leading to his office, a shrine to one man’s adoration of elegance and “lovely things.” The towering walls of the huge office are covered in glowing wood exhumed from the inner floor joists of English buildings constructed when George IV served as regent and king. A museum’s worth of antiques divides the office into many different seating and working areas. H. R. Haldeman, who has seen many of the great offices of the world, says Murdock’s office is better than the late shah’s working quarters in Iran and just as good as the two best offices he’s ever seen--the one occupied by J. Edgar Hoover toward the end of his reign and the perfectly maintained czarist quarters that are the main offices in the Kremlin.

“I love old Chippendale,” Murdock proclaims. “I love old wood.

“I found tradition to be in the way of progress my whole life, and the best thing one can do if you don’t like it is to change it. But I’m a very traditional individual as far as aesthetics are concerned. I like old art.”

The office is intimidating. It’s a sensation that continues as Murdock rises ceremoniously from his desk at the far side of the room. He tends to hold eye contact a bit longer than most people. “He’s looking inside you then,” Giorgio Masini says. “It’s as if he’s searching you for the truth.” Murdock’s heavily starched cuff is embellished by a cuff link bearing a large roaring lion’s head as greenish and aged as any weathered public monument. He’s wearing one of those heavily tailored double-breasted suits that crosses rather high upon the chest, and because it is 4 in the afternoon and the garment remains unmarred by the slightest hint of a wrinkle, it appears as if Murdock hasn’t taken a seat all day.

Since inviting the elite of Los Angeles to join his club, Murdock has been busy conducting the most profitable business ventures of his career--a series of financial assaults that have marked him as one of the most aggressive of the corporate raiders. He has so actively taken to combining assets, developing those assets, taking over companies and occasionally selling companies that his personal stake in the various entities he controls is valued at more than $700 million. Murdock carries a business card, etched in an antique script not unlike his Declaration of Independence-style signature, that reports his control of several substantial American corporations.

Shortly after opening the Regency Club, he acquired most of the textile manufacturer Cannon Mills and recently sold much of it at a huge profit. A 20% stake in Iowa Beef Processors Inc. (now IBP) was parlayed soon afterward into $135 million worth of Occidental Petroleum shares when Oxy absorbed Iowa Beef. Murdock eventually accumulated $250 million in Oxy stock, which allowed him to join Armand Hammer on the board. His attempt to oust Hammer two years later produced a considerable profit. When the management of FlexiVan Corp., a New York transportation-equipment leasing company, tried to oust Murdock from its board in 1983, he wrested control of the company and eventually used his assets to edge out fellow raider Irwin L. Jacobs for control of the venerable Hawaiian-based pineapple and real estate company, Castle & Cooke.

As raiders and greenmailers go, Murdock resides among the gunslingers of big capital as a sort of Bat Masterson, a carefully manicured, even friendly usurper, who is still capable of turning into a “business barracuda,” according to Hammer, when the situation warrants. Yet Murdock has also done much to improve the image of raiders and real estate developers, in part by allowing free rein to his abiding passion for “lovely things.” The Joffrey Ballet now calls Los Angeles home for part of the year only because David Murdock sank so much money into the effort. Maggie Wetzel and Gabriele Murdock hosted a gala at the Regency Club for both the East and West coast boards of the Joffrey when the deal to move the Joffrey was struck, and Gabriele Murdock was involved in many other cultural and social events that associated her husband’s name with Los Angeles’ recent drive toward a haute culture.

But in early 1985 Gabriele Murdock died of cancer at the age of 43, and that same year, one of Murdock’s sons was drowned in an accident. Friends and associates say that they sense a deep sadness and a greater reserve in David Murdock now. But his determination to brand the ornate “M” worn by service employees at Murdock Plaza on buildings and institutions all over the country has continued apace.

As he settles back into an antique sofa, Murdock chooses to speak not of the companies he’s taken, but of things he’s built, of things he’s made. He’s proud of the remodeling of the Hay Adams Hotel in Washington, the last project that Gabriele helped to decorate. He’s building a huge luxury hotel in Hawaii on some undeveloped Castle & Cooke property, and he offers photographs of a hotel he’s built on Baltimore’s refurbished waterfront. When the subject of Cannon Mills comes up, Murdock wants to talk about the fact that he decided to literally tear down the ugly company town of Kannapolis, N.C., five years ago. He rebuilt 1,400 more aesthetically palatable homes for the workers and paved their sidewalks with red brick. “You’d be thrilled to see the town. It’s completely redone with lots of new stores. There’s a boulevard down the center just like Park Avenue in New York. All kinds of trees and flowers bloom all over, and there are little pushcarts. The town is just the kind you’d dream about. I just kind of dreamed what I wanted to see there.”

Murdock is not alone in his possession of a fine eye and a highly developed sense of taste and order, but he is distinguished by his incessant efforts to foist his sense of taste and order upon others in the form of new economic arrangements, new hotels, new buildings, new towns and new places to be, like the Regency Club, where similarly powerful people can come together as long as they are willing to sit in rooms, eat food, drink wine and even dress according to designs wrought by a fellow who works 30 feet below the carpeting. Just as achievers in the past constructed great clubs to embroider physical definition upon their status and privilege, Murdock never stops reifying the fact of his possessions and power with the constant alteration of the physical shape of things. He is less like Horatio Alger than like the characters in the Ayn Rand novels he’s read.

In part because he chose to do it in Southern California, Murdock was able to build a building, build a club, people it with members and have it take on the patina of social prominence in just six years. Murdock is probably the only living founder of an urban club whose membership represents great wealth and power. The founders whose names appear on the aging brass plaques in the Jonathan and California clubs, in the great clubs in New York and in the clubs along Pall Mall in London have been dead as long as have the people whose names are on the street signs outside.

At the Regency Club, tradition has been invented and even taught via special classes. Murdock suggests that the success of his club--which he contends is “quite profitable"--is marked not by waiting lists or membership lists or mentions in the society columns, but by the creation there of a common view of the world. “People get together (in clubs) so that they can have an intermingling of thoughts, experiences and ideas. The people here--when we started it--were a group that didn’t know each other. But as time’s gone by with all the different parties and all the other things that we’ve had, it has become such that you have a group of people that have the same ideas in life.”

Before he reaches below an antique end table and pushes a button that causes the massive wooden door to swing open automatically, he mentions that he owns 1,800 prime acres near Lake Sherwood. “I’m going to do a whole country club out there,” he says. “Creating things--that’s my specialty. I love to create things, to start things. I’ve been doing it for years.”

David Murdock was once asked if he would ever run for office.

“Why would I?” he said. “I have my own world, don’t I?”

AS THE COCKTAIL PARTY drew to a close, the young Regency Club members of the future began to make their way to the elevators as the club’s dinner guests began to arrive. The mysterious and powerful Murdock had failed to make the journey in his elevator to shake their hands, but still, most of the aspirants felt that they’d had valuable chats with members of the admissions committee. Within a few weeks, more than a dozen of them would submit their applications.

In choosing the Regency Club as the name for their new club, David Murdock and his wife recalled a period of English history during which an appreciation of fine dress, beautiful furniture and the higher arts was rekindled after a long hiatus. London was completely rebuilt by John Nash--"re-done,” as Murdock says of Kannapolis--and Regency dinner tables were the scenes of nine- and 10-course meals of a quality that hadn’t been witnessed anywhere since the time of the Roman Empire.

But only in America, during the last quarter of a singularly active century, could a fellow who once slung hash at a greasy spoon near Detroit pursue his Promethean aspirations with such brilliance and energy that he one day could tell some of the most powerful people in the world that they have to wear a tie to eat in his elegant dining room-- his dining room, an expanse commensurate with his own sense of what he’s capable of controlling. And only in Los Angeles, California, would these people think for a single second that, all things considered, this was OK with them.