Leona Helmsley - Hotel career

Leona Helmsley and her hotel career

Leona Mindy Roberts Helmsley (July 4, 1920 – August 20, 2007) was a billionaire New York City hotel operator and real estate investor. She was a flamboyant personality and had a reputation for tyrannical behavior that earned her the nickname Queen of Mean. She was promoted by the Beber Silverstein Group and its co-founder Joyce Beber who persuaded her to call herself Queen of the Palace Hotel.

Leona Helmsley
Following allegations by unpaid contractors that work done on her home had been charged to her company, she was investigated and convicted of federal income tax evasion and other crimes in 1989. Although having initially received a sentence of 16 years, Helmsley was required to serve only 19 months in prison and two months under house arrest.

Helmsley's fate was sealed when a former housekeeper testified during the trial that she had heard Helmsley say: "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes...", a saying that became notorious and was identified with her for the rest of her life.

Leona Roberts was a real estate salesperson in 1964 when Abe Hirschfeld hired her to sit in the lobby and sell co-ops at 925 Park Avenue in New York. Leona was a condominium broker in 1968 when she met and began her involvement with the then-married multi-millionaire real estate investor Harry Helmsley.

In 1970, she joined one of Harry Helmsley's brokerage firms—Brown, Harris, Stevens—as a senior vice-president. At that time, she was already a millionaire in her own right. Harry Helmsley divorced his wife of 33 years and married Leona on April 8, 1972. Leona's marriage to Harry may well have saved her career. Late in 1971, several of Leona's tenants sued her for forcing the tenants of one of the apartments she managed to buy condominiums. They won, and Leona was forced not only to compensate the tenants, but to give them three-year leases. Her real estate license was also suspended, but she focused on running Harry's growing hotel empire.

Supposedly under her influence, Harry Helmsley began a program of conversion of apartment buildings into condos. He later concentrated on the hotel industry, building The Helmsley Palace on Madison Avenue. Together the Helmsleys built a real estate empire in New York City including 230 Park Avenue, the Empire State Building, the Tudor City apartment complex on the East Side of Manhattan, and Helmsley-Spear, their management and leasing business. The couple also developed properties that included the Park Lane Hotel, the New York Helmsley Hotel, the Helmsley Palace Hotel, and hotels in Florida and other states.

Leona Helmsley was featured in an advertising campaign portraying her as a demanding "queen" who wanted nothing but the best for her guests. The slightest mistake was usually grounds for firing, and Helmsley was known to shout insults and obscenities at targeted employees just before they were terminated.

On March 31, 1982, Leona's only child, Jay Panzirer, died of a heart attack resulting from arrhythmia. Mimi, her son's widow who lived in a property Leona owned, received an eviction notice shortly after Jay's funeral. Leona successfully sued her son's estate for money and property that she claimed he had borrowed, and was ultimately awarded $146,092. Mimi later said the legal expenses wiped her out, and stated, "To this day I don't know why they did it.


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