If you thought King Kong was the only monster who laid claim to the Empire State Building, guess again. This highly entertaining, well-researched volume about the all-out, high-stakes battle in the 1980s and '90s over ownership and control of one of Manhattan's premier edifices is a cross between great business writing and even greater gossip. Built in 1929, the Empire State Building was bought in 1961 by Henry Helmsley and Lawrence Wein, who quickly resold it but retained a 114-year lease. When the Helmsley empire began to crack in the late 1980s (wife Leone went to jail for tax fraud), the building was nearly bought by jailed Japanese investor Hideki Yokoi, who used his illegitimate daughter, Kiiko Nakahara, and her husband, Jean-Paul Renoir, as fronts. When that deal fell through, Nakahara and Renoir secretly bought the building themselves, entering a deal with Donald Trump to try to shake the Helmsley lease. After Nakahara and Renoir were jailed in France in 1996 for the alleged theft of real estate, Trump and Leona Helmsley entered into a gigantic legal and public relations battle for control of the building. Pacelle, who writes for the Wall Street Journal
, is scrupulous in detailing the legal angles and how shifts in the world economy and U.S. business both affected and were affected by all this skullduggery. He also has great fun with the bizarre cast of characters, who plot and connive against one another in what reads like a cross between film noir and a Harold Robbins novel. In the end, though, the Empire State Building remains a beauty, not destroyed by these beasts. (Nov.)
Forecast: Expect solid sales in the Empire State and among real estate mavens, boosted by an excerpt in the Wall Street Journal. (Publishers Weekly, July 23, 2001)
Although New York City's Empire State Building is no longer the tallest building in the world, it unquestionable stands tall in the hearts and minds of the legions of tourists who flock to it each day. How did this building enter the realm of pop-culture iconography? Empire, a much-needed chronicle of the most famous skyscraper in the world, answers that question and more. Pacelle, who covered the recent ownership struggle for the building in the Wall Street Journal, describes its allure, indicating how it has become the ultimate prize in the commercial real estate ownership sweepstakes, possibly in the world. An eccentric Japanese billionaire, Hideki Yokoi, and various members of his extended family feature prominently in the scenario, but the cast of characters also includes such real estate tycoons as Donald Trump and Leona Helmsley. Although the story (and litigation trail) can get a bit complicated, it's vividly told and often gripping, evoking the best and worst in all of the participants. More history of the building and a clearer ownership schematic would have been helpful, but Pacelle clearly delivers the goods. Highly recommended for larger public libraries. -Richard Drezen, Washington Post, New York City Bureau. (Library Journal, September 1, 2001)
By tragic default, the Empire State Building has regained its rank as the tallest building in New York City. The restored status, of course, results form the cataclysmic terrorist attack that obliterated the World Trade Center in September. The earth's tallest structure from 1931 until the 1972 opening of the first of the World Trade Center's twin towers, the Empire State Building not only altered but defined New York City's skyline.
Although other construction projects in this country and abroad subsequently stretched higher into the sky, the Empire State Building remains in the company of the Great Wall of China and the Eiffel Tower as one of the most recognizable structures on the planet. In Empire, completed before September's attack, author Mitchell Pacelle delivers a thrilling history of the mythic building, which has drawn its share of suicidal souls and was the site of a 1997 shooting rampage by a Palestinian visitor.
The leveling of the World Trade Center by two aircraft recalled the day in 1945 when the Empire State Building itself was struck by an Army Air Corps B-25 bomber lost in dense fog. Fourteen lives were lost, the fire was extinguished in four hours, and the building opened for business two days later, thus erasing any questions about its structural integrity.
Pacelle recounts these and other sensational moments in the life of the building, but the real strength of his book lies in the story of the infighting and negotiating for ownership of the skyscraper—the stuff that might land on a newspaper's business pages rather than on the front page. In much more than a simple story about ambitious architecture, Pacelle, a Wall Street Journal reporter, describes what the Empire State Building's 3.8 million annual visitors cannot see from its observation deck, and some of his disclosures are bewildering. For instance, real estate tycoon Donald Trump finagled half-interest in the partnership that owns the building without putting up a nickel. The owners have no clout in operating the building and receive only a puny percent of its income, most of which goes to a lease-holding group controlled by Trump rival Leona Helmsley. For most of the last decade, nobody knew who really owned the skyscraper.
Trump's involvement traces to Hideki Yokoi, an entrepreneur with an unsavory background who built a multi-billion dollar empire in Japan's post-war boom. In a day when cramped, two-bedroom apartments in Tokyo were selling for $1 million, Yokoi went on an international buying binge and acquired the Manhattan colossus—the ultimate architectural trophy—for $42 million. Kiiko, his illegitimate daughter, scouted and nailed down properties for Yokoi around the world, but a series of acquisitions ended in a feud in which he accused her of stealing the 102-story structure for him.
Yokoi, who ordered his trousers sewn with the wallet pocket in the front to foil pickpockets, saw his dynasty collapse in Japan's financial tailspin before he died in 1998 at age 85. But the animosity between Helmsley and Trump, who had been enlisted by Kiiko in a failed attempt to break Helmsley's lease, continues to this day. Few principals emerged unscathed—some were jailed—from what Empire carefully documents as a story of greed, ego and vengeance in "the world's largest Monopoly game."
In the hands of another writer, the financial and legal maneuverings—a complicated but critical part of the building's history—might confuse the reader, but Pacelle, mercifully, has made it easy for those of us without accounting and law degrees to understand. Some day the story will demand a sequel, and Pacelle, winner of the New York Press Club's Business Reporting Award in 1999, is the one who ought to write it. (Bookpage, November 2001)
STREET FIGHT FOR A SKYSCRAPER
Real estate can be a sleazy business-as many reporters who cover it will attest. And it seems that the bigger the building and the bigger the city, the sleazier it gets. This may explain the plethora of family feuds, legal wrangling, political posturing, financial high jinks, and lost fortunes that are so expertly and enjoyably described in Empire: A Tale of Obsession, Betrayal, and the Battle for an Ammcan Icon, a biography of the Empire State Building by Wall Street Journal reporter Mitchell Pacelle.
The book appears at a time of morbid fascination with big buildings, following the attack that leveled the World Trade Center. Giants such as the Twin Towers or the Empire State are not attractive just to terrorists, however. Their size, visibility, and prestige make them targets also for some of the most ruthless and driven business people in the world. If Pacelle's prose does not always rise to the heights of the skyscraper whose history it describes the book nonetheless manages to bring alive in great detail the vivid characters who built it, bought it, and battled for its control. In doing so, Empire also gives the reader an overview of one of the greatest urban generators of wealth: real estate. What oil is to Texas, real estate is to New York, and the city's real estate pooh-bahs, such as Donald Trump, Leona Helmsley, and Peter Malkin, all play a part in the story of the Empire State Building.
Readers may feel they already know enough about some of these people. We've all heard how the tabloids dubbed Leona Helmsley the "Queen of Mean," and that at her 1989 trial for tax evasion, her housekeeper quoted her as saying that paying taxes was just for "the little people." It's common knowledge that Donald Trump has an outsize ego and outlandish ideas: He considered remaking the upper floors of the Empire State into luxury condos. So, wisely, Pacelle shapes his story around a less well-known figure: Hideki Yokoi, a Japanese businessman with a penchant for collecting trophy properties, including French chateaus, English castles, and, of course, the Empire State Building. According to the author, Yokoi used a front man to buy the property from Prudential Insurance Co. in 1991 for only $42 million. His illegitimate daughter, Kiiko Nakahara, would later say that he bought it for her. The low price was the result of a 1961 decision by Prudential to lease the entire building to a partnership--ultimately controlled by Harry and Leona Helmsley and Peter Malkin—for a period of 114 years. Annual rent for that lease is currently, only $1.9 million. Unencumbered by that lease, the building could be worth $1 billion.
Yokoi's fortune worsened in the early 1990s, however, when the Japanese economic bubble burst. That resulted in an alliance with Trump, who Yokoi hoped would be able to raise cash from the Empire State by devising a way to break the lease—and thus save Yokoi's remaining properties in Japan and Europe.
But the purchase is only the beginning of what turns into a lengthy, globe-spanning soap opera. Harry Helmsley dies, leaving his controlling interest in the Empire State lease to Leona, who proceeds to fight with Peter Malkin about almost everything-and to snub him by not inviting him to Harry's funeral. Yokoi is convicted of negligent homicide for a fire at a hotel he owned in Tokyo and is consigned to a Japanese prison, where he suffers a stroke. Yokoi's most trusted business aide was daughter Kiiko, who, without his explicit consent, allegedly transfers the Empire State and several French chateaus to entities controlled by her and her tough-talking French investment-banker husband. In due course, French authorities begin to question the transfers of the French properties. And back in New York, a disaffected office worker begins generating media coverage of tales of muggings and vermin infestations in the Empire State—all of which plays into Trump's plan to break the lease. Then, for $6,000 a month and a piece of the action, this Paris art student related to Yokoi decides to....
Well, you get the idea. Real estate can be seamy. And the battle goes on. Although many legal issues have been settled, some principals are still making news. Leona Helmsley, for instance, was recently reported to be hot and heavy with a Florida doctor who everyone, except her it seems, knew was gay. The poor lady was crushed. While Pacelle's narrative is engrossing, one is left with the big question: What does it all mean? Somewhere amid the stories about extradited Frenchmen and foul-mouthed real estate heiresses lurks a larger story of how one of New York's premier industries works-and how it is evolving. But Pacelle doesn't quite get to it.
By the 1950s, Helmsley and his partners had revolutionized the real estate business by making the syndication of large properties standard practice. But ownership remained dominated by a few large family dynasties. Pacelle's story seems to mark the decline of that way of doing business-as does the emergence of real estate investment trusts, which are public rather than private ownership vehicles. The old ways are dying, but the new ones have not fully taken hold yet. Writes Pacelle: "In many ways...the real estate sector remains a world unto itself, as far from the cutting edge as Harry Helmsley was from Silicon Valley."
It would have been lovely if the author had considered what refusing to change means for the industry and New York. Even with that omission, however, Empire is a finely wrought narrative that embodies the style—and hysteria—of New York real estate. (BusinessWeek, November 19, 2001)
"Empire is not about the vulnerability of skyscrapers (though Mitchell Pacelle does remind us of one incident, when a bomber accidentally crashed into the building in 1945, that underscores the point) or, for that matter, about most other important questions raised by the destruction of the World Trade Center. Instead it is a book -- and a very good one -- about the huge egos that often are behind the construction and operation of these buildings, about the extremes to which men and women will go in hopes of owning them, and about the symbolic import that becomes attached to them. This last does have some bearing on the World Trade Center, for those who attacked it clearly despised it as a symbol of globalization, American economic might and other such matters. But the Twin Towers were cookie-cutter modern architecture essentially indistinguishable in design, if not in height, from all the other glass boxes erected all over the world in the past few decades. The Empire State Building, by contrast, is distinctively American and distinctively New York.... It is, in the end, a story with no last chapter, another way of saying that the only real winners are the lawyers. It is certainly, Lord knows, a story with no heroes. But it is a grand human comedy, and Mitchell Pacelle has a fine time with it." (The Washington Post, Sunday, November 11, 2001)
A veteran Wall Street Journal reporter recounts the timely story of the Empire State Building, which has sadly reclaimed its status as New York City's highest peak. After a recap of the icon's Depression-era construction (and early failure as an investment), Pacelle's focus shifts to recent skirmishes over its ownership. Who'd have thought that real estate dealings could read like a gossipy novel of intrigue? Though he occasionally bogs things down with fine print, the author assembles a memorable cast of characters, including Leona Helmsely and Donald Trump. But even those tabloid staples are overshadowed by the bickering family of building owner Hideki Yokoi, a Japanese billionaire with a shady past and a shopaholic's appetite for trophies. Grade A Review — Thom Geier (Entertainment Weekly, November 16, 2001)
"...as both a history of a landmark building and as a window into the ego- driven world of big-bucks real estate, 'Empire' amply illustrates the economic misfortunes that have plagued the tower. It earns a place among the solidly reported business books of the last 15 years.... Readers with a taste for glittery, backbiting soaps will also find plenty to savor here." (Newark Star-Ledger, November 18, 2001)
"...As New Yorkers discovered firsthand on Sept. 11, even the mightiest skyscrapers can fall.... Knowing about the fragility of 'an American icon,' as Pacelle describes the Empire State Building, only improves the view." (USA Today, November 23, 2001)
"It's a compelling read...Empire is memorable and has all the pieces of a riveting film: sex, divorce, money scams, even some jailbirds." (USA TODAY, MONEY BOOKSHELF, Monday, November 26, 2001)
"...there's such huge entertainment to be had." (New York Daily News, Sunday, November 25, 2001)
"an engaging behind-the-scenes business history of what is once more the city's tallest skyscraper: the Empire State Building. The book treats real estate schemes as dramatic as anything on Broadway." (USA TODAY, November 29, 2001)
"There's more social criticism, and humor, to be found in Empire...[Pacelle's] tale of the battle for the Empire State features legal wrangling, political posturing, family feuds, financial high jinks, and lost fortunes. No wonder reviewer Robert McNatt called the book a 'finely wrought narrative that embodies the style--and hysteria--of New York real estate.'" (BusinessWeek, December 10, 2001)
"a recounting of the story of the Empire State Bulding, which has now reclaimed its status as New York City's highest peak. A-" (Entertainment Weekly, December 1, 2001)
Regardless of what's happening in the morning headlines, our need for imaginative thrills and adventure never diminishes. These tales of tycoons and literati breezing through extraordinary locations are just the ticket. Oddly, glimpses of historical New York happen to turn up all over the place in this season's nonfiction, a coincidence we find somehow comforting. One of the best newcomers is Empire: A Tale of Obsession, Betrayal, and the Battle for an American Icon (John Wiley; $27.95), by veteran Wall Street Journal reporter Mitchell Pacelle. This page-turner describes the struggle for ownership of the Empire State Building, whose illuminated spire still serves as our nocturnal compass. As Pacelle makes clear, the building has long been a trophy coveted by some of the most powerful real-estate magnates of the 20th century-including Donald Trump, Harry and Leona Helmsley, Peter Malkin and a shadowy Japanese billionaire named Hideki Yokoi. Over the years, the battle for control among these titans has led not only to backstabbing, double-dealing and a mountain of legal paperwork, but also to a fundamental confusion about the building's true ownership. (TimeOut New York, November 29-December 6, 2001)
"...it is a book - and a very good one..." (The Guardian Weekly, 29 November 2001)
"well-researched, engaging book.... Pacelle does an outstanding job of sorting out the mess of trusts, holding companies, partnerships, and paperwork that would leave many a veteran real estate reporter mystified. He also manages to write a cogent narrative that resembles scenes from 'Jerry Springer'." (The Boston Globe, December 13, 2001)
"At first glance, Empire looks as if it may be one of those books that only a New Yorker could love...But Mitchell Pacelle...is canny enough to combine a wealth of local details with a broader narrative flow.... It says much for Pacelle's forensic and narrative skills that he manages to tell this labyrinthine, fascinating tale with admirable clarity and fairness. Parts of the story seem too weird to be true - or, looked the other way, might be too strange for fiction." (Financial Times, December 19, 2001)
"...This story is full of colour and rattles along at the pace of a thriller...Empire is a fascinating insight into an American icon". (Sunday Business, 9 December 2001)
"If 'Empire' had appeared this summer, it simply would have made great beach reading for the business set. What's not to like when the world's most fabled skyscraper meets Leona Helmsley and Donald Trump?.... But the horrific attack of Sept. 11 casts a different light on the various battles to control the Empire State Building.... In the hands of Wall Street Journal reporter Mitchell Pacelle, the many odd twists are handled with just the right balance of business and bile." (The San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2001)
"...It says much for Pacelle's forensic and narrative skills that he manages to tell this labyrinthine, fascinating tale with admirable clarity and fairness..." (Financial Times, 18 December 2001)
The world's most famous skyscraper, the Empire State Building is an icon as immediately recognizable as the Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramids, or the Taj Mahal; and for some of the world's most powerful men, it is the ultimate prize. From the day it was erected, it has been the object of obsession for the heads of empires, conjuring their most hidden vices. In a riveting chronicle of betrayal, revenge, family rivalry, and raw greed, award-winning journalist Mitchell Pacelle tells the compelling tale of the history of the Empire State Building and the battle for ownership which reveals the inner workings of a world of powerful, self-made men. Pacelle brings to life the colorful cast of characters involved-a dramatis personae including the most powerful players in the international real estate markets both old and new, including John Raskob and Pierre du Pont alongside Donald Trump, the Helmsleys, Peter Malkin, and the eccentric Japanese billionaire Hideki Yokoi. Before the tale is over, Yokoi will accuse his beloved illegitimate daughter of stealing the building from him, several participants will land in jail, one will die suddenly, and a tense legal standoff will leave the landmark in limbo. One of the most fascinating characters to emerge from this richly layered story is the building itself, with its legendary romances and suicides, its odd tenants, and the countless human triumphs and tragedies that have been played out within its towering walls.
MITCHELL PACELLE is an award-winning journalist who has covered business for The Wall Street Journal over the past eleven years. He won the New York Press Club's 1999 Business Reporting Award, was a finalist for UCLA's Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism, and was part of the team nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the collapse of the Long-Term Capital Management hedge fund.