Frank Rich was misidentified in an article in Washington Business on Monday. His title is special assistant to the deputy mayor for economic development for the District of Columbia. (Published 9/19/ 90)

Just across the street from each other in downtown Washington, the National Bank of Washington and Garfinckel's sit empty, all lonely hallways and dark spaces.

Much was lost when these two fixtures of the District closed this summer. Nearly 2,000 workers lost their jobs, investors lost tens of millions of dollars, customers lost familiar touchstones, consumers lost even more confidence in the local economy and taxpayers lost $500 million -- the cost of rescuing NBW.

Someone else paid the price too: Wafic Rida Said, the Saudi Arabian financier who from his London perch controlled both Garfinckel's and NBW and who personally, or through entities he controlled, lost more than $80 million when they collapsed, according to associates.

Though he was largely an unseen and unknown presence to most Garfinckel's and NBW executives and employees -- and only occasionally visited bank branches and stores during the years he held sway over these enterprises -- Said was at the center of events when both failed.

This 50-year-old global financier is a man of grand gestures and extravagance. At a charity benefit in London Said once bought every item up for auction for a total of about $200,000. Lacking cash to take a group to dinner in Washington one night, he wrote a check after business hours for $30,000, had the vault at NBW opened, and accepted the cash in a brown paper bag.

Fluent in Arabic, English and French and, according to his re'sume', the recipient of degrees from several prestigious European universities, Said maintains residences in London, Paris, Riyadh and in Marbella on the coast of Spain, where guards patrol the grounds of his estate with machine guns.

He is described on one hand as very generous with friends -- giving lavish gifts including Cartier clocks, expensive cigars and cuff links -- and on the other hand as very tough in business, commanding loyalty from people whose services he needs, but cutting them off once they are deemed dispensable.

Sources said that as he expanded his global holdings in the 1980s, Said sought control of Garfinckel's and NBW for their prestige as well as their commercial potential. Reputation mattered much in his world.

Said (pronounced Sah-EED) declined to be interviewed for this article, as did top officials of Strategic Investment and Finance Corp. (SIFCORP), the firm with its headquarters at 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW that is one part of Said's global holdings and has been the primary vehicle for his U.S. investments.

From dozens of interviews with sources in London, New York and Washington emerged a portrait of a man with close ties to the Saudi royal family who is seen by some as an astute businessman, by others as an enigma, and by all as a key player in the final decisions that determined the fate of Garfinckel's and NBW.

Asked two years ago about Said's commitment to Garfinckel's, a source close to the financier told The Washington Post that, "If he has to buy every dress with cash, Mr. Said is not going to let Garfinckel's go."

Something changed.

One day about a decade ago, before his purchase of stakes in Garfinckel's and NBW, an unexpected event altered the business and personal life of Wafic Said.

The Syrian-born financier had come to the home of Prince Sultan, the powerful government defense minister in Riyadh, to be sworn in as a Saudi Arabian citizen. The son of an ophthalmologist, Said's professional experience over the years in banking and construction already had led to relationships with key members of the ruling Saudi elite, including Sultan.

By becoming a naturalized Saudi citizen that day in 1981, Said was taking the next important step. He arrived at Prince Sultan's home, with his British-born wife, Rosemary, and his young son, Karim Risa, ready to swear an oath and to celebrate his new status and stature.

Then, tragedy struck. Before the ceremony began, Said's son drowned in Prince Sultan's swimming pool.

That horrifying event cemented the already strong alliance between Said and the Saudi royal family. Said became a trusted confidante of the Saudi elite. In addition to his close relationship with Prince Sultan, Said's personal ties extend to Sultan's son, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi envoy to Washington.

Numerous sources said those contacts and his business acumen have enabled Said to obtain lucrative construction and other contracts with the Saudi government and also allowed him to earn fees as a broker bringing together the Saudi government and other parties in business deals.

The relationships gave unusual access to governments and financiers in other Middle Eastern countries and rapid acceptance in certain U.S. business circles. Several U.S. executives who have known little about Said have eagerly done business with him.

"It was clear {Said} had connections with the Saudi royal family," one source who has done business with Said said. "If they anointed you, you could get any dough you wanted. My understanding was that the prince {Bandar} had put up some money, which meant that other people followed in investing with them." Bandar declined to be interviewed for this article.

To an executive in need of big money in the deal-driven 1980s, Said was the right man to know. And two Washington businessmen, banker Luther H. Hodges Jr. and retailer Neal J. Fox, needed that kind of cash.

By 1985, Luther Hodges knew exactly what he wanted to do with the National Bank of Washington: he wanted to buy it.

The son of a prominent North Carolina politician, Hodges had been recruited to run NBW in 1980 after federal regulators reached an agreement with the United Mine Workers to end the union's three stormy decades of control of the bank. By 1985, having cleaned up some of the bank's problems, Hodges was looking for financing to make a bid for the bank.

Washington banker John Mason, who would later try to buy the bank himself, introduced Hodges to Said. Hodges then put together a group, including Said, to buy the union's interest in the District's oldest bank.

Two years later when Neal Fox, then owner of Raleighs cloting stores, wanted to make a bid for Garfinckel's department stores, he too turned to Said. A local investment firm introduced Fox to officials at Said's Washington-based investment arm -- SIFCORP -- and together they bought Garfinckel's from Canadian developer Robert Campeau for more than $95 million.

Both Hodges and Fox hoped to run the businesses the way they saw fit, with Said acting as a passive, long-term investor who didn't interfere in the daily management of the enterprises.

For a time, things seemed to work well. And to oversee his prized investments more closely than he could from afar, Said sent his boyhood friend, Ziad Idilby, to Washington.

He also assembled an impressive board of directors for his SIFCORP investment group. The group included A. Robert Abboud, former head of First National Bank of Chicago; George V. Comfort, head of his own New York real estate firm; James H,. Evans, former chairman of Union Pacific Corp., and Edward L. Palmer, former chairman of the executive committee of Citicorp.

The message was clear: anyone who could assemble such a board of directors had credibility in the world of U.S. business and commerce.

In June 1987, Hodges and his wife, Cheray, flew to London on the Concorde, at NBW's expense, for a party that Said insisted they attend. The party was held at Cliveden, the famous 19th-century estate outside London. At the dinner for 200, the guests included Hollywood movie producer Jerry Weintraub and Mohammed Al Fayed, the wealthy Egyptian who owns the Ritz Hotel in Paris and Harrods department store in London.

The cordial atmosphere reflected the friendly banking relations that had developed between Hodges and various Said interests. Under Hodges's direction, NBW had become lender to other companies Said held ownership stakes in, including SouthernNet Inc. in Atlanta and the New York Seven-Up Bottling Co. Hodges was confident about his relationship with Said when he attended an elegant dinner in September 1987 at Manhattan's River Club. Hodges and Garfinckel's Fox were there, along with representatives of numerous other companies in which Said had investments.

One participant described it as a "love feast, a wonderful event." Said, in an expansive mood, made toasts after dinner, and doted like a proud father on his two Washington investments.

But the harmony didn't last long. Later that fall, Hodges was scolded by Said representatives for his plan to raise capital for the National Bank of Washington by selling stock to the public. While Hodges thought the bank needed the additional capital, the Said representatives opposed the move because it would diminish their ownership stake. After Hodges went through with the stock sale anyway, Said's friend Idilby told him he resented the fact that Hodges had not deferred to Said's wishes.

Sources close to Hodges and Said agree that the relationship between Hodges and Said would never be repaired, and the strains soon extended to Fox and Garfinckel's, too. Fox declined to be interviewed for this article. When Hodges named Fox to the NBW board of directors later in 1987, one of Said's representatives chastised Hodges again, indicating that Fox did not have the Said group's imprimatur.

That was only one of the problems for Fox in his relationship with Said, for by early 1988, Garfinckel's retail business was struggling. Fox thought he could revive Garfinckel's by sprucing up its image and going after a younger, trendier market. But the numbers -- and Said certainly seemed to be a man driven by the bottom line when it came to Garfinckel's -- indicated that Fox's program to turn the retail chain around was misguided.

It didn't help, of course, that the acquisition of Garfinckel's had been financed by tens of millions of dollars of borrowed money, increasing pressure on Fox, who held 51 percent of Garfinckel's stock, to produce rapid results. In the boardroom where Julius Garfinckel used to preside, Fox's bickering with Idilby led to shouting matches, sources said.

The estrangement grew after Idilby gave Fox specific ideas about how to improve Garfinckel's performance by, for example, suggesting that the retailer put more emphasis on its bridal registry. Sources said Fox thought the suggestion amounted to meddling by people who knew nothing about retailing.

Yet Said and his representatives thought that Fox's retail strategy was flawed and that he needed such advice. As the anger mounted on both sides, Fox and his cohorts began referring to Idilby and Said in ugly terms, sources said.

To survive, Garfinckel's needed what Said had -- more cash -- and that was something Fox could not provide. When a major bank refused to provide additional financing in 1988, Said seized control and ousted Fox. To try to save Garfinckel's, Said pumped in additional capital and brought in a respected retailer, George P. Kelly. Kelly, in part, was enticed to take on the challenge because Said invested in Mallards Enterprises Inc., a retail chain Kelly owned in Chicago.

To bolster his financial position, Said made other important financial moves with respect to Garfinckel's: He raised cash by selling the Garfinckel's headquarters building and the sister Raleighs chain. Whatever happened then to Garfinckel's, Said's losses would be minimized.

Said, who had open heart surgery at the Texas Medical Center in Houston last year, had a much tougher time ousting Hodges from NBW than he had forcing Fox out of Garfinckel's. Though he launched his formal campaign to get rid of Hodges in a 1988 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, a long and bitter battle for control of the bank ensued, with Hodges ultimately resigning last January. During that power struggle, the bank's finances deteriorated.

"They seduced me for a while," Hodges said, "but when I didn't take their advice I became their enemy."

The tensions that infected Garfinckel's and NBW from Said's fights with Fox and Hodges would linger, weakening both franchises as the Washington economy began to slow in 1990.

Some executives at senior levels of Garfinckel's and NBW resented Said's hands-on approach, feeling his representatives in Washington sought control over daily operations without pumping in enough money to deserve that right, and after indicating initially that they would be long-term, passive investors.

From his perspective, Said was trying to protect his reputation and the value of his investments amid other financial pressures. Although SIFCORP had made more than $100 million on some of its holdings in the 1980s, Said's company had also suffered millions of dollars in losses on others, including its buyout of Cuisinarts Inc., which later went out of business, and the failure of its London-based Aitken Hume International PLC investment firm to turn a profit.

"They've made a ton of money on their U.S. investments in general," said a SIFCORP spokesman, saying that the company was not under financial strain.

Still, as 1990 progressed, two institutions that had long been a part of the fabric of this city, NBW and Garfinckel's, found themselves fighting for survival. And they were under the control of a man who lived far away and who didn't share the emotional commitment to their survival of many the employees and top managers who lived and worked in Washington. Were he forced to choose between the two in a financial crunch, sources said Said appeared more committed to NBW because of the enormous prestige and power that went along with controlling a major commercial bank.

There was another reason, too. Garfinckel's was in worse financial condition than NBW. Its sales were declining rapidly, falling from an annual rate of about $100 million to only $60 million.

Still, George Kelly and his newly assembled executive team looked toward the future, moving Garfinckel's zigzagging retailing strategy back to its traditional upscale roots and laying some 1990 expansion plans. Kelly planned for a new store in Alexandria, recruited new managerial talent and commissioned two retail consulting firms to do studies on what steps should be taken to improve profitability. Both studies were positive, offering ideas about how the business could prosper.

"We felt that Garfinckel's could leverage some of the strengths of its former positioning," said a source at a New York consulting firm that submitted a report on Garfinckel's last February. "But if they were not willing to fund it, there was no way to pull it off."

As late as February, top Garfinckel's officials and Said representatives participated in a day-long session at the Hotel Washington to formulate a solid marketing plan. They came up with a new slogan -- "It's About Time" -- designed to encourage shoppers to look anew at the store.

"They were all jazzed up about the prospect of turning a fading institution around," said Alexandria consultant Michael L. Foudy, who ran the session that day.

But there also was a third consulting study. This report, prepared by Boston-based Bain & Co., contained bad news. It said Garfinckel's was not a viable business and that it would be imprudent for Said to throw good money after bad by putting in additional capital.

At the same time, Said was trying to exercise greater influence over NBW's fate by forging a relationship with local real estate and banking executive John Mason. Armed with a commitment of more capital from Said, Mason entered the fray at NBW as the struggling bank's new chairman in June. He declared he would raise tens of millions of dollars in new financing and that the bank's future could be ensured. But as regulators stiffened their standards and the Washington real estate market weakened, the problems with NBW's portfolio of real estate loans became overwhelming.

The end was near for both Garfinckel's and NBW.

On June 21, about three weeks after Mason moved in at NBW, Garfinckel's filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code. While Kelly, the retailer's chairman, publicly took responsibility for the decision, sources said it was Said and his representatives who made the decision not to invest more cash after reviewing the Bain study.

At a dinner party in Washington about a month after the Chapter 11 filing, Kelly indicated one major difference between Garfinckel's and the Woodward & Lothrop retail chain was that the investor behind Garfinckel's, Said, did not wish to advance additional funds, while Woodies owner A. Alfred Taubman was willing to invest.

Kelly "knew he was fighting a tough battle, but he felt if they had been willing to put more money in he could have turned it around," said Frank Rich, D.C. deputy mayor for economic development. "I think he felt as if they never gave him the chance."

Sources said Said remained committed to putting another $10 million or so into NBW. "They lived up to all their commitments," Mason said.

But on Aug. 1, spurred by a crisis of confidence among depositors, mounting real estate loan losses and Mason's inability to raise additional funds from other investors, federal regulators seized control of NBW, wiping out the investment held by Said and other NBW shareholders. Said's loss in NBW was more than $30 million in stock, records show.

One by one, the key officials in Said's SIFCORP investment group left its Connecticut Avenue offices, one to work for American Telephone & Telegraph Co., another to start his own investment company, and Said's friend Idilby to work for London-based Aitken Hume, in which Said has a controlling interest through SIFCORP.

Said didn't hold them responsible. Instead, he blamed his losses in NBW and Garfinckel's on Hodges and Fox, a Said spokesman said. "The single most important criterion for any investment is management," the spokesman said.

The proud old NBW headquarters on 14th Street, which cost a princely $1 million to build in 1929 with its German silver chandelier, gilded plaster ceilings and marble floors, sits eerily in its empty elegance. A black plastic drape covers the old NBW sign and a blue and white banner emblazoned with "Riggs Bank" hangs over the door.

Nearby, the sight of the vacant Garfinckel's flagship completes the sad tableau. Gone are the bustling crowds of patrons hustling into the elegant store. There is nothing left in this retail graveyard, no trace of any of it.

Except, that is, for a hand-lettered sign stuck up haphazardly on the front door. It is a simple epitaph for both of Wafic Said's Washington investments.

"The store is closed," the sign reads. "Forever."