Leonard Garment, who for some years in the 1960s and ’70s lived at 40 Willow Place, died on Saturday, July 13, at the age of 89, according to The New York Times. Garment, a Brooklyn native, became a successful Wall Street lawyer and eventually partner of future President Richard Nixon. According to reader Derek Adler, Garment hosted campaign parties for Nixon at 40 Willow, one of the modernist townhouses designed by Joe and Mary Merz, during the run-up to Nixon’s successful Presidential campaign in 1968. Following Nixon’s election, Garment became one of the President’s principal legal advisers. Addendum: reader “still here” adds this information:
Leonard Garment was a community advocate for the acquisition of the Willow Place Chapel from commercial interests in 1962 and its subsequent conversion to a self-sustaining community center – now the A.T. White Community Center.
Garment played an important if behind-the-scenes role in the Watergate events. Upon learning of the secret White House tapes, he advised Nixon not to destroy them, arguing that if it was revealed that they existed and had been destroyed, it would lead to impeachment. He later came to regret that advice. He was also the first to tell Nixon he should resign, and urged Nixon’s successor, President Gerald Ford, to pardon him.
Nixon and Garment were a strange match. Garment was a professed liberal and human rights advocate, and remained so until his death. According to the Times obituary, he admired Nixon’s “intelligence, idealism, and generosity.” He was dismayed to learn through “hearsay”–principally the tapes–of the President’s “pettiness” and his anti-Semitism (Garment was Jewish).
Garment’s first love was not law but jazz. During his college years he played clarinet and saxophone with Woody Herman’s band. His autobiography has the title Crazy Rhythym: From Brooklyn and Jazz to Nixon’s White House, Watergate, and Beyond. He was a founder and director of The National Jazz Museum in Harlem, and frequently wrote newspaper articles on jazz, presidential politics, and other subjects.