Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Leona Helmsley: 'The Queen of Mean'

The Palace and its Queen

During the 1970s Harry had a dream to build a luxury hotel unlike any the world had ever seen. After spending several years looking for the perfect location in which to build his dream hotel he found it. The property was located on New York's Madison Avenue, across the street from St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Few people have the ability to look at a piece of property and realize its intrinsic value at first glance. However, Harry had a unique talent for appraising the worth of a building and seeing its potential, where others could not. When Harry looked at the Villard Houses, a solid complex made up of six immense brownstone buildings dating from the late nineteenth century, he saw dollar signs in his mind's eye. From that moment on he was determined to build the palace of his dreams on that location.

In 1974, Harry struck a deal with the church to purchase the property for an unknown sum of money. He spent another four years developing the plans of what he hoped would one day be a world-class luxury accommodation. Finally, in 1978 construction began and over the subsequent two years Harry would watch his dream unfold story by story.

On September 15, 1980, the fabulously opulent Helmsley Palace Hotel had its grand opening party. The festive event was by invitation only. Leona and Harry's guest list included socialites, statesmen, government officials, celebrities and selected journalists. The occasion was a success and the hotel was a huge hit. Few had ever seen such an extravagantly lush hotel and most were truly impressed by the spectacle. The Palace had turned out to be everything Harry had envisioned.

The Palace rose to 51 stories and included approximately 1,143 rooms. The Palace's hotel rates were the highest in the city. However, it was no real surprise to those who entered the magnificent structure that the accommodations would be pricey.

Upon entering the Helmsley Palace Hotel, visitors were immediately struck with awe at the sheer beauty of the place. Guests walked along winding staircases with golden banisters, gathered in chandeliered rooms with vaulted ceilings, leaned against Romanesque style columns, marveled at the sun through the stained glass windows and relaxed in the courtyard decorated in colorful mosaics. The Palace was literally a vision of grandeur and a monument to decorative style.

Gold Room balcony, Helmsley Palace Hotel
Gold Room balcony, Helmsley Palace Hotel


Harry and Leona were proud of what they accomplished. Many years and much effort went into the planning, construction and development of the Palace. Harry managed most of the groundwork, whereas Leona spent a great deal of time and energy managing the decorating and staffing of the hotel. Harry found it only appropriate to reward his wife with the job of running the hotel. He believed his dream would never have been realized without the love, support and hard work of his wife. In June 1980, he designated Leona as president of the Palace. It was a job she took seriously and she was determined to give their guests unprecedented service.

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