A Wallet Lost 40 Years Ago Now Is Found

Rudolph R. Resta, 77, walked out of a wintry rain recently, through the revolving door of a largely empty Times Square office building, and into his distant past.

He found his two sons, now in their 40s, when they were small enough to fit into the same lawn chair, side by side. He found his wife, Angela, posing before a knife-sharp Pontiac Grand Prix in Prospect Park, looking very sultry in a jaguar stole; “real jaguar,” he said, “not the stuff they have today.” He found a picture of his father, Nicola, that he once worried he would never see again. He found a Social Security card issued by the Federal Security Agency (the office hasn’t existed since 1953) and an American Express card so old that it wasn’t green, it was purple and white. (Member Since 64.)

In fact, Mr. Resta found just about everything with which a well-stocked wallet would have bulged in 1970. Except, of course, the cash he carried on the day he carelessly left the wallet in a jacket pocket in an unattended coat closet on the second floor of The New York Times headquarters at 229 West 43rd Street, where he worked as an art director in the promotion department.

When Mr. Resta went to fetch his jacket at lunchtime on that long-ago day, the wallet was gone. He wasn’t to see it again for 40 years. The reunion was made possible by José Cisneros, 46, a security guard who works in the former Times building, now called the Times Square Building. He came across the wallet last fall when he was investigating a void between an old unused window on the second floor and the masonry seal behind it. The wallet had apparently been stashed there after a thief found it in the coat closet and pulled out the cash.

What about you? Have you ever come across a lost object of obviously high monetary or sentimental value? Were you able to reunite it with its rightful owner? Did you even try? Or have you ever benefited from the kindness of a stranger who turned in, say, a Chinese erhu worth thousands of dollars that you’d left on the curb at 68th and Amsterdam? City Room wants to hear your story.

Here’s what Mr. Cisneros did. Recognizing that the wallet would surely have value to someone, he turned it over to Rafael Rodriguez, 38, the fire safety director at the Times Square Building. Because the wallet held several pieces of Times-related identification — including Mr. Resta’s membership card in The New York Times Employees’ Blood Bank — the two knew immediately that it had belonged to someone who had once worked in the building. “This is very good,” Mr. Rodriguez recalled saying to Mr. Cisneros. “We could give it back to him or his family. That would be a fantastic satisfaction.”

But how, exactly, does one make such a connection? Mr. Rodriguez tried calling The Times, but was stymied by the message: “To reach a particular department or person directly, press 0, then speak the name when prompted. For all other requests, please select from the following — ”

“To return a stolen wallet to a retired employee, press 9,” was not among the options. (We closed that division years ago as an economy measure.)

Enter — literally — Gordon T. Thompson, formerly the manager of Internet services for The Times. One night, waiting for a movie to begin in a nearby theater, Mr. Thompson wandered into the renovated lobby of the Times Square Building, where he’d spent many years. He explained who he was and asked if he could look at some architectural renderings that were on display.

Mr. Rodriguez happened to be on duty at the security desk and seized his opportunity. He showed the wallet to Mr. Thompson. Mr. Thompson called this reporter, who’s something of a Times historian. This reporter called Mr. Resta, who retired in 1999 but still lives in New York. Mr. Resta, laying aside his understandable suspicions, agreed to meet all of us at 229 West 43rd Street, share some memories and get his wallet back.

When Mr. Cisneros handed the wallet to him, Mr. Resta opened it gingerly and turned away for a moment, overcome by the tide of memory. After composing himself, he gave Mr. Cisneros a grateful kiss. And he didn’t lose a moment showing off the glamor-puss shot of Mrs. Resta from 1963. “She still is glamorous,” he said, with evident pride and pleasure.

Before coming into Manhattan on the morning of our meeting in November, Mr. Resta told his wife that he knew he’d find a clipping in the wallet from 1968 — Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s eulogy for his brother, Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Mr. Resta can still recite the phrase that meant so much to him: “Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”

The clipping was indeed in the wallet, as were pictures of two boys squirming in a lawn chair and gamboling on the lawn at their old home on Avenue J in Brooklyn. Christopher is now 47 and deals in stock options. Paul, 42, repairs and sells bicycles. He has two children of his own. Both Christopher and Paul live in Bell Harbor, Queens, not far from where their parents now live.

Nicola Resta, the very picture of Old World probity, has been dead 45 years. He came to the United States from Bernalda, in southern Italy, where he knew Francis Ford Coppola’s father. The elder Mr. Resta transferred his skills as a cabinetmaker to an industrial setting, becoming a pattern-maker for the Sperry Gyroscope Company. “My father always said, ‘Stick with a company,’ ” Mr. Resta recalled, which certainly turns out to be sensible advice if you’re going to lose your wallet for 40 years.

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