Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Queen of Mean's Weekend Retreat

SELLER: Estate of Leona Helmsley
LOCATION: Close Road, Greenwich, CT
PRICE: $125,000,000
SIZE: 23,000 square feet (approx.), 7 bedrooms, 14 bathrooms

YOUR MAMAS NOTES: Dead billionairess Leona Helmsley may have been widely and infamously known as the "Queen of Mean" who epitomized 1980s consumerist greed, but the lurid lipped and bug eyed bee-hawtcha sure knew how to choose, buy and hang on to a prime piece of real estate.

At the time of her death in 2007, not only did the once convicted and imprisoned tax evader possess a gigantic and sumptuous suite at the eponymous Helmsley Park Lane Hotel on Central Park South, which she also owned, natch, she had a majority interest in the Empire State Building, and she owned Dunnellen Hall, one of the crowning jewels among the many large and lavish back country estates in uber swank Greenwich, Connecticut. Some of the children may recall that it was in fact Dunnellen Hall that became the focus of Miz Helmsley's 1989 tax evasion trial wherein she was accused of illegally billing millions of dollars in renovations to the estate back to her company...apparently a real no-no as far as the federal government is concerned.

Since the often snarling and notoriously prickly Miz Helmsley kicked the proverbial bucket and left her dog Trouble a stunning $12,000,000 and two of her four grandchildren nothing, there has been much speculation about when the 40 acre Connecticut estate on Close Road would hit the market, and for how much. Now we know.

Thanks to the eager B.S. Beaverman, Your Mama was directed to a recent Wall Street Journal article by the always well informed Christina S.N. Lewis who reports Dunnellen Hall will be listed with an affiliate of Christie's Great Estates with a blistering $125,000,000 price tag (now reduced to $95,000,000). The princely price tag not only puts it among the most expensive homes available for purchase in all of the U-nited States, it guarantees heaps of publicity from all the real estate gossips like Your Mama who get light headed and drool with delight over the unseemly spectacle of such gargantuan asking prices.

The estate of Miz Helmsley can certainly ask what they want for the approximately 23,000 square foot neo-Jacobean brick behemoth, but keep in mind children that the highest price ever paid for a Greenwich property to date is somewhere around $50,000,000. Finding a ridiculously rich house hunter willing to fork over the obscenely big bucks asking price is most assuredly easier imagined than done, even with all the disturbingly rich hedge fund heavies who call Greenwich home.

Madam Mean and her hotelier huzband Harry Helmsley (who died in 1997) purchased Dunnellen Hall in 1983 for $9,000,000. The couple paid an additional $2,000,000 for the furniture and at the time, the combined purchase price was the second highest price ever paid for a single residential property. When the big spending Helmsleys purchased the estate it included just 26 acres. The couple later added 14 acres to bring it's total size to an impressive 40 acres.

Built in 1916-8 as a wedding gift for filthy rich financier Daniel Grey Reid's only daughter (see this article for some excellent background on the property), the monstrous mansion includes a decadent marble stair case, a 47 foot long reception hall and an 86-foot long gallery that crosses the entrance hall. The 1,125 square foot living room features dee-luxe and gor-gee-us teak floors, a massive carved limestone fireplace, and a spectacular molded plaster ceiling. The oak-paneled library sports more of the jaw dropping molded plaster ceiling patterns that are seen throughout the house and the carved stone fireplace mantel is almost as old as our saucy pal Fiona Trambeau and dates back to the 15th century. The kitchen and dining room complex includes a walk in silver vault, an extravagence rarely seen in modern houses. Upstairs are seven bedroom suites including an entire wing devoted to a master suite with his and her bathrooms (or his and his or her and her as the case might be for the new owner), two dressing rooms, and a sitting room. Somewhere in the big pile there is a marble floored ballroom the Mister and Missus Helmsley added after they purchased the already mammoth mansion.

Naturally a house of this magnitude includes a staff wing, and Dunnellen Hall proudly features 8 staff rooms with an attached sewing room in the main house. Now children, why rich people prefer to have staff living up in the main house is just beyond Your Mama's ability to comprehend. If you've got 40 damn acres to work with, why not build an entirely separate residence for the staff? Who needs or wants these people, or any other people for that matter, privy to your morning gas release, fornication rituals and knock down and drag 'em out arguments? If we've said it once, we've said it a thousand times to all the enormously rich people out there with live in staff who launder their designer duds, vacuum the heirloom Aubussons and scrub the damn terlits: If you think your live is staff does not pay attention to what you're doing, who you're doing it with and how, you're simply being naïve. And if you don't know that when you're away they all set around drinking your booze, wearing your furs and snickering about your every misdeed and misdemeanor, well, you're just being stoopid.

Anyhoo, back to Dunnellen Hall...The extensive and manicured grounds feature a monumental motor court, sculptured gardens, a koi pond, reflecting pools, acres and acres of rolling lawns, a tennis court that Your Mama can't imagine Miss Leona ever used, an outdoor pool that appears to be full of algae, an indoor pool, and up on the third floor of the main house there was once a concrete floored handball court, although it's unclear to Your Mama whether this particular piece of unusual exercise equipment is still functional.

Also on the grounds appear to be a small shack for a security guard to monitor coming and going guests, a large potting shed that Your Mama hopes houses an impressive fleet of rider mowers, and a detached garage complex that appears to include more staff quarters or office space. Anyone know?

As for the interiors, well, it all looks like the sort of 1980s left over hotel furniture we would expect to find in the haughty hotelier's house. But children, don't look at the dee-pressing furniture, look at the architecture, because like it or not, they don't build many houses like this anymore. Your Mama is breathless trying to calculate the yearly taxes and seriously high maintenance bills, not to mention the cost of heating this brobdingnagian pile of bricks.

When the estate does finally sell to some Croesus rich family in need of 23,000 square feet of opulence that will require a dozen or more full time staff to run smoothly, the proceeds will not be directed into the pockets of any of Miz Helmsley's (few) heirs, but rather into a charitable trust. Who knew that the not known for being generous ladee infamous for hissing, "Only the little people pay taxes" would care to actually help the little people with her vast and wealthy billion dollar estate. Hmm, we may all have to rethink our not so nice impressions of Miz Helmsley after all.

Check out all the real estate porn pix here.

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mama, who is Mark Davis?

pch said...

Same general vibe as Greystone in Beverly Hills. Not what I'd want for myself, but sweet zombie jesus, they're cool.

Anonymous said...

the living quarters in the garage are for the drivers. duh!

Anonymous said...

for what the realtor is going to make on this deal, they probably should have cleaned the pool before taking photos......nice to see how the other side side lives, thanks mama.

Anonymous said...

The patterned ceilings are driving me crazy. Otherwise, I love the decadence!

lil" gay boy said...

Ah, the good old days . . .

Nowadays you're lucky to get Tiffany gravy boat as a wedding present.

She certainly was the Queen of Mean, however. I once had a friend who worked for her and had the misfortune of using the same elevator as her; when she noticed a small run in her stocking, she fired her on the spot, right in front of the other guests in the elevator.

I wonder who the lucky "guardian" of her little doggie with its $12M is?

luke220 said...

Of course, that is Close Road, as in actress Glenn Close, a child of Greenwich.

Alessandra said...

Opulent and and excessive, and yet, I am covetous. 'Tis true, kiddies, that they don't build 'em like this anymore.

Anonymous said...

One shot of the outdoor pool looks green and the other looks fine? I'm guessing a weird reflection. Otherwise the old bat is spinning in her grave.

Anonymous said...

It could have just been lifted up from the english countryside & placed in Greenwich - it looks like an english estate ... it's stunning though the new owners will need a nice gay decorator ...

It kinda annoyed me the way this woman was portrayed in the media following her death - yeah, she may have been a bitch at times & said some nasty things but at the end of the day she left her BILLIONS to charity, she must have had a heart in their somewhere.

I worked for her said...

No she was not a bitch she was that other word that starts with a C,and she was evil.Maybe she was trying to buy her way into heaven.

lucy said...

Beautiful.

Oh, the craftsmanship and oh, the taxes.

Sandpiper said...

So beautiful, and so substantial. I do not believe it could ever be replicated.

This estate will be interesting to monitor. Didn't she also hold significant interest in the Enpire State Building?

Little Buddie, I think her brother got the pricey puppy. Instructions were to inter it next to her "when the time came." But there's a law against pets with people, so won't happen. $12MM? How did she come up with that number?

fairfield girl said...

This reminds me of that movie about the ice skater...the one that says "toe pick".Greenwich you dont hear much about these days great post Mama. Ct has lost it's glory to Hamptons younger set and less formal imop. I would nix the court and turn it into a ballroom (if it didn't have one).

so_chic_darling said...

For all that money it just looks like a country hotel in the South of England circa 1983.Posh ladies drinking tea in the afternoon and the Gentlemen having a glass of port in the evening and talking about the war.
Expensive but boring.

bentley said...

Mama, that was one hell of a read!

High class lady decorator said...

I mean look at it,there is no evidence of any kind of taste or style,just money thrown around on loud things.

Bigdaddyj said...

Classic pre-income-tax era bling...probably the closest thing left to being able to live in a Vanderbilt mansion...I would love to see someone buy this place and unleash a team of contractors and decorators to transform it so that one could live in the true bones of a turn-of-the-century manse but update the interiors to modern livability...and mama, I think it's time to shorten the lecture(s) on not having help live in the house, it's getting old and the article was long enough as is, but anyway, in a house this size, even if the help were in residence, would you even notice?

lil' gay boy said...

The last of an era - when truly anyone could rise from the ashes and make something of themselves.

Before taxes and the war, when there was more than just too much money to be spent, when Americans raided the treasures of Europe, and these unique and unduplicatible homes went up all along the East Coast.

Some may consider them vulgar, I consider them national treasures, a reminder of a time when anything was possible.

Jay Gatsby, although fictional, is an icon that is irreplaceable.

videodoll said...

god i love greenwich. I used to live right near there...

Hi There said...

Hey Big Daddy J, Your a pretty regular dude around here so I'm kind of surprised at your critique. How about showing some respect. There's constructive and there's asshole. Not that what I say matters to you or anyone else, but guess which camp I'm putting you in today?

sunny in sj said...

My dad lived in Greenwich, well Riverside but who's counting? A private road and the house had a pond with a strip of land that separated it from the Long Island Sound. He lived there for eight years, he married a woman with money and I think those were the happiest years of his life. He loved Greenwich dearly, he was born for it and I mean that literally. When his wife died, he still lived in a gate house so he could be part of the social scene.
I used to love going to visit him there, it was like stepping into another world. I would drive around and look at all the beautiful houses. We always got invited to someone's house for dinner and oh my What beauty and taste!

LGB, I left you a message.

lucy said...

My (former, thank God) in-laws have Staff. Their last majordomo (my term, but the description fit his duties) was a wretched gossip...quite frankly, it was a pain in the ass. I was not sorry when he 'retired'. The new one is a decent sort, but I am always aware that my business is never private in that household when their staff is quietly milling about.

I grew up with household help, although not live-in, and I can attest that Miss Emma knew what I was doing before I did it. She prodded me to clean my room up ("I'm not your personal maid") and ironed my pillowcases knew every gory detail of our family....because she was family, at the end.

So....household staff can be great, and can be terrible but Mama is right- they know EVERYTHING.

Barren Karen said...

Where's the big happy "family" when it's time to reign in one of their own smart mouthed monsters?

bentley said...

I think it comes down to respect. We have a nanny and a housekeeper who live with us. They are family, and without them we'd spend all our time scrubbing our "terlits" and floors and not with our young children.

We pay them well, treat them like humans, and we have a ripe old time.

My parents and in-laws were more "old school" in their attitudes, and I shudder to think how much spit my mother-in-law consumed in her vichyssoise.

Oh, and consequently, my family had business interests with the former Baroness of Bitch, and "i worked for her's" is a very apt description.

I think the house looks like a country club - neither here nor there. The dining room is lovely.

sandpiper said...

Bentley,
Needed to read your mother-in-law comment twice...and I'm still laughing.

Anonymous said...

she did not rise from the ashes,she sat on Harry's desk in her cheap secretary's poly blend short skirt and flirted her way into his billions!Bitch!

Somebody's sister said...

Recent article addressing Mama's point on house staff.

http://property.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/property/article3245481.ece

aunt mary said...

Bentley, you can get spit on your Big Mac at McDonald's. The lesson here is cook your own food and be nice, very nice $$$$, to the wait staff.

My only familiarity with live in help is "Upstairs, Downstairs" on PBS. Hudson, Rose, and Mrs. Bridges kept that family from spontaneous combustion, dread diseases, social ostracism, and all manner of dire consequences of their pea brains.

bentley said...

sandpiper, needless to say I clung to my wine glass, got plastered, and politely refused the soup :)

Bigdaddyj said...

Jeez, you offer a little constructive criticism and people jump all over ya...well, I'm not gonna take the bait and get in any little bitching matches with anyone, but I stand by what I said - anyone who reads this column regularly will recognize that mama has repeated her point about live in help ad nauseum and she can choose to listen to my point or ignore it, don't know why the rest of you have your panties up in such a bunch, not like it was a comment aimed at any of you...

lucy said...

Bentley- Dead on.

David Alexander said...

Way, way, way too big.

Love the huge grounds.

But the house is too much like a hotel.

lil' gay boy said...

C'mon, bigdaddyj, lighten up - the staff ALWAYS talks about us; when do we ever get to talk about THEM?

;-)

Viva! said...

Not nearly as horrific as I would have thought. Grand but sterile. An odd mix. Hmph.

StraightinWEHO, seriously said...

Beautiful in every way. Total class. This makes big look good--50 cent makes big look like sh*t. The lady knows her real estate--even Donald Trump has to shut his mouth when it comes to her properties--and he won't ever shut that thing!!

Anonymous said...

Actually I beleive Harry , Leona's husband already had the charitable trust foundation in place before he died. The house had a succession of terrible owners and the last ones certainly left there mark on the place uuugh

Anonymous said...

With the pool photos, it looks like one was taken AGES ago, when the pool was clean - the other was taken - likely in the winter - more recently - filled with algae and leaves.
The maintenance and upkeep of this place would be such a huge job, I shudder.

aussie child said...

I soo agree with Mama about live in staff

Anonymous said...

Well, there is a separate building for staff on the property. It's a two family home separated by six car garage, but to my knowledge The Helmsleys never used it for staff, just kept it unoccupied....but furnished though. I spent three months with them alltoghter, about ten days at the Dunnellen Hall. Rest of the time in Manhattan and Arizona.

AA said...

Getting to this piece rather late, but just want to point out that the outrageous price tax is because of the 40 acres the house sits on - not the square footage.
If you broke that into 20 2acre plots they'd actually make more than the current asking price. All the new flashy hedge funders would be snapping up the land to build on (instead of tearing down old classic houses like usual).... Needless to say, Greenwich has changed quite a bit since Leona's early days.

Anonymous said...

Fucking rich people. Rich people cant keep money in the wallet and a wife in the bed. Fuck them. I would rather be poor and living paycheck to paycheck than live in that home. WTF, I am poor. holla!