31 West 56th Street

Who is Eleanor?

She Who Must Be Obeyed

On our May 2005 home page we noted one of the sights on West 56th Street in New York City:

We were walking down 56th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues when we noticed an unusual sign on one of the buildings:

    Eleanor's Building - She who must be obeyed

We have no idea of who Eleanor is, though we assume that building was indeed hers. As for "she who must be obeyed", we have to thank H. Rider Haggard who wrote the book She which is surprisingly not a gay camp classic. After all, the story involves a closeted male couple, one member of whom is tempted by a family inheritance which takes him to a mysterious lost land in Africa. Here, he and his male partner are tempted by, of all things, women. Ayesha, the queen of this society is seeking immortality, which requires the presence of a male partner, suggesting that this is a metaphor for the familiar immortality obtained by having children. If you've read Victorian fiction in which the heroine must fight for her virtue, you will find this all familiar, save for Haggard's sex reversal. In the end, virtue triumphs.

We don't think that any of the characters in She was named Eleanor, and we are probably reading a bit much into a mere sign.

Eleanor's Building - She Who Must Be Obeyed
Close up view of Eleanor's Building - click for more of the facade.

Well, it turns out that there is more to this story. In early June 2005, we received some Mail to the Kale:

Hi -- I started a new job on W 56th St in NYC recently, and noticed "Eleanor's Building," too. In trying to find out what it was about, I found your site, but I also found out what seems to be the real meaning behind this building.

It turns out that it is the North American headquarters of a company called DL Taffner, that produces a television show called "Rumpole of the Bailey."

Evidently, Rumpole's wife on the show is referred to as "She Who Must Be Obeyed." I guess they thought it would be cute to hang this motto on their building, although her name is Hilda, not Eleanor?...

Here's the link where I got the info, where the quote appears and the address is listed at the bottom:

Thought you might find it interesting. Cheers.
- G.M.

We checked out the web site, and indeed, DLT Entertainment is based at 31 West 56th Street, and yes, they do distribute the old Rumpole of the Bailey series, which is now out on DVD. According to the IMDB, Rumpole's wife was indeed named Hilda, though Horace Rumpole always did refer to her as "She Who Must Be Obeyed".

So, what is the Eleanor connection?

We turned to Google, and it seems that 31 West 56th Street, Eleanor's Building has other tenants besides DLT Entertainment. One of them has an Eleanor!

American Friends of the Glasgow School of Art
Eleanor B. Taffner, Chairperson
31 West 56th Street
New York, NY 10019
Tel: (212) 245-4680
Fax: (212) 315-1132

A not-for-profit organisation founded in 1955 to make gifts to the Glasgow School of Art for the maintenance of the MacKintosh building, and to assist in providing scholarship and reciprocal studies in the United States and Glasgow. Members interested in the architecture and art of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and other Glasgow architects and artists may take advantage of special events and tours.

Eleanor's Building is not the MacKintosh Building. The MacKintosh Building is in Glasgow, and as best we can tell, Charles Rennie Mackintosh never designed any buildings in New York City. According to real estate records, the building is owned by 31 West 56th Street Property, Inc. Who owns this corporation? Who knows? That's the whole point of incorporating.

This leaves us with Eleanor Taffner. Who is she? Who is it who must obey her?

What about Donald Taffner, he of DLT Entertainment? What is his relationship with Eleanor?

According to Scotland Magazine:

The awards ceremony began with the American Scottish Federation’s Wallace Award, presented to American Scots in recognition of their contributions to Society. Mr. Alain Bain, president of ASF, presented Don and Eleanor Taffner with this year’s award.

Could this be Donald Taffner Jr, or perhaps it is Donald Taffner Sr?  The IMDB has two Donald Taffners. We can surmise that they bear some relation to this imperious Eleanor, she of 31 West 56th Street. UPDATE: According to an anonymous email received this 20th of June, the it is the senior Mr. Taffner:

Eleanor Taffner is Don Taffner Sr.'s wife and she located the building for purchase. He honored her with the "She who must be..." sign.

Some other tenants of the building include Americorps, the British Academy of Film and Televison Arts, and Bette Midler's New York Restoration Project. None of these groups has an Eleanor. While we don't subscribe to the "we saw it on the internet, so it must be true" school, it sure seems that 31 West 56th Street really is Eleanor's Building!

Thank you Eleanor (and Donald), you have now been awarded the epithet "She Who Must Be Researched".

UPDATE - 16 October 2005 - The New York Times seems to have caught up with Eleanor .

UPDATE - 12 December 2006 - Eleanor's building has been sold! Back in August, Eleanor's daughter sent us an email explaining the situation, and we somehow or another misfiled it and have waited MONTHS before updating our site. So, here is probably our final post on the building, courtesy of One Who Should Know:

The phrase was a reference to the show, but also a recoginition of my mom, who did, find the building for the company; and must, indeed, be obeyed.

The company recently moved, and the clock now resides on the campus of St. John's University in Queens, NY. Don Sr. is an active alum of the school and Eleanor is on the Board of Trustees.

We Kalebergs would like to thank all the Taffners and other informants in this matter for their information, and we would particularly like to thank the Taffners for the pleasure of a good mystery and for helping make New York City such a wonderful place to explore.

UPDATE - 16 September 2010 - We noticed a spike in traffic on this page. If the internet is correct, She Who Must Be Obeyed has died. We only knew her through an odd motto on a midtown building, and we mourn her passing. Our condolences to her family and friends.

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