With Park Lane Hotel Sale Pending, Helmsley Real Estate Empire Is Fading Fast

Tear down or keep up?

Tear down or keep up?

Not even all the gaudy 1980s glamor in the world can stop the ravages of time. Empires rise and empires fall; the Helmsleys’ carefully-assembled real estate one is no exception. Leona Helmsley’s Estate has been selling off the couple’s carefully-assembled New York portfolio following her death in 2007, with one extensive renovation after another wiping out all the real estate magnates’ touches. And with the pending sale of the Park Lane Hotel, yet another trace of the tax-evading couple looks likely to disappear from the city’s landscape.

A deal has been reached to sell the Park Lane Hotel, the eye-catching 1970s tower on Central Park South, to a team led by the Witkoff Group for more than $650 million, the Wall Street Journal reported. And, as the purchase price suggests, whether or not the building is demolished, very little is likely to remain as is—the Park Lane’s appeal lies in its prime location. The dated architecture is just a bonus.

As the Journal notes, while the developers may be forced into a conversion if they wish to maximize the number of sprawling of luxury condos they can build at the site given that zoning regulations limit any new tower built on the site to two-thirds of Park Lane’s current size, an extensive remodeling job will be required. And the building has limited appeal as a conversion—low ceilings, undistinguished interior features, old but not nice old.

And it’s not easy to obliterate all signs of the Helmsleys apparently, as the Observer noted back in 2009, when the management of the Helmsley Hotel on 42nd Street underwent an extensive makeover to remove the queen of mean’s beloved touches, including bright red carpets and a marquee-like travertine backdrop at the reception desk. (The hotel has since shuttered, according to Yelp.)

It may also be quite expensive. Extell, which purchased the Helmsley’s Carlyle House, is spending $350 million on extensive renovations, moving the stairs, elevators, refurbishing the facade and ripping out the unsightly air conditioning units. “It is actually more expensive than if we tore the damn building down and built it again,” Gary Barnett told The Times in March.

The proceeds of all these sales are being funneled to the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, given that Ms. Helmsley’s bad-tempered dog Trouble is no longer with us. (Not that Trouble would have had an easy time collecting given that a judge slashed her inheritance from $12 million to $2 million, deeming it excessive for the needs of a dog. The previously shut-out grandchildren, meanwhile, got $6 million.)

And while she was famously a control freak in life, Leona Helmsley seems to okay with the idea of her and Harry’s empire disintegrating after their deaths. (At least, so one would expect from her decision to leave the grandchildren nothing.) Which may be for the best, anyway. As the travails of commercial developer Howard Ronson’s heirs at 828 Fifth Avenue illustrate, it may be best when real estate moguls’ dreams die with them.