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John Straus, R.H. Macy longtime executive and grandson of Macy’s co-founder Isadore Straus (Isadore and his wife Ida died in he sinking of the RMS Titanic) loved art, antiques and cars.

John apparently stored his 1931 Model J Duesenberg automobile (and a Rolls Royce) in a Manhattan storage unit (Windsor Garage) for over 50 years.

As the story goes, John would routinely let his storage rent become past due by several months, only to then make it up with one large payment. Later is life John became stricken with dementia and his payments became more sporadic.

In April, 2005, John apparently owed the storage facility over $22,000 and because of that, and some other issues with the checks going to (or being payable to) the wrong garage, the unit contents were sold per New York lien law procedures; however, records showed the May 27 auction resulted in no bids, or a sale price of $0.

The buyer of the Duesenberg was recorded as “Chapman, LLC” a business owned by the storage unit owners. The Rolls Royce sold to a maintenance worker at the same facility. More interesting, John would continue to receive past due notices into October, 2005, noting that if the past due amount was not settled, the cars would be sold.

In December, 2005 a credit to John’s account for $39,000 was applied — about the same time the Duesenberg was sold to a company owned by Jay Leno for $180,000.

There is some evidence that Jay Leno had spread a story about this car, noting:

    “ … I didn’t want to lose it, so I made up a story — no, it was an absolute lie -– that the car couldn’t be removed from its third-floor home because the new elevator that had been installed several years earlier was too small to fit the car …”

New York lien law states basically for tenets of procedures for such sales:

  1. Appropriate notice must be given before such sales can take place.
  2. The cars must be sold at public auction to the highest bidders.
  3. Sale proceeds in excess of the rent due must be paid to the owners.
  4. Failure to follow these procedures constitutes conversion (theft.)

Upon the death of John Straus in 2008, his Estate began to question the transactions relating to the Duesenberg and Rolls Royce, and a lawsuit followed known as Wendy Lubin v. Big Dog Productions. A settlement was reached in 2011.

It would appear this entire auction and subsequent sale was a travesty. It seems clear the storage unit owners put their own interests well ahead of the interests of their tenant — John Straus. Yet, the case was settled and so the Estate was presumably compensated.

When storage lien auctions take place, extreme care should be taken to protect the subject property, adequately notice the tenant, properly advertise and conduct the auction, and accurately and completely account for the auction proceeds. It would seem this auction lacked all these important principles.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, Keller Williams Greater Columbus Auctions and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction and. His Facebook page is: www.facebook.com/mbauctioneer. He serves as Adjunct Faculty at Columbus State Community College and is Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School.