I get out of the car. I want a better look. High above stands Leona Helmsley's $10 million house. It shimmers in the bright afternoon sun, seemingly clinging to the top of Mummy Mountain in Paradise Valley.
A large American flag flaps in the breeze from a very tall flagpole in the front yard. I am surprised. ²The flag is appropriate only if you figure the Internal Revenue Service has ordered a detachment of U.S. Marines to take command of the Helmsley property in Arizona.
Up on the mountaintop, it is deathly quiet. The house is three stories high with 26,000 square feet under the roof. But now only the caretaker and his wife are in residence. In order to make it up there, you must pass through two locked gates and navigate one of the steeper roads in the city.
These days there are very few visitors.
Leona is back in New York City and hasn't been here since last March. She's reportedly been traumatized by federal judge Thomas P. Griesa's order to report to prison April 15 to begin serving four years for income-tax evasion.
This house on Mummy Mountain has been the Helmsleys' getaway spot for the past four years. This is where they came to spend quiet time in the house on the hill.
They would arrive from New York amidst great clamor and excitement to stay for a week. They would come in their own 727 jet, which had been customized inside like a motor home. Accompanying them would be a team of chefs, housekeepers and their mysterious bodyguard, known only as Mr. Brady."
Leona, who is 5 feet 5 and weighs 120 pounds, would wear jeans most of the time. She would drive an old car into town and shop at A.J.'s grocery on Lincoln Drive all by herself. Her days would be taken up with exercising and backgammon.
Her husband would fall asleep while reading the newspaper by the pool.
Inevitably, there would be small crises.
Upon arriving for the first time, she took one look at a huge amount of pink tile that had been installed in her absence.
I hate that shit," Leona said. Rip it out and do it over in white." Once Leona hired three gardeners to work all day planting yellow flowers around the property.
When the job was finished, she flipped out.
My God, it looks awful," Leona shouted. Take them out and put in white ones." One time Leona was coming back from the store and came upon a timid salesman at the electric gate that blocked off the final section of road to her property.
Don't sit there like a dummy," Leona said. What are you looking for?" ²It turned out the man had come to see Leona's head housekeeper.
There's no problem," Leona said. When the gate opens, move your ass and get on through." One of the great impasses occurred one day when Leona realized that the man who had installed the safe where she kept her jewels also knew the combination.
A huge battle occurred until a way was determined that only Leona would know the combination.
The 48 acres on which the house stands were once owned by Guido Orlandi, an Italian importer of marble. Orlandi also owned other big chunks of land in the area, including the plot on which the Neiman Marcus department store now stands on Camelback Road.
The house was built less than ten years ago by Ron Hansen, a Paradise Valley builder, who lived in it for the first few years before placing it on the market.
In order to build it, special steel ramps had to be constructed elsewhere and then put together on the site so that tractors could be brought up the side of the mountain.
When Hansen owned the house, the 5,000-square-foot basement was used to house his motor home, pickup trucks and cars.
In addition to the house, there were also a tennis court and an outdoor swimming pool.
Ellie Shapiro, rated one of the most savvy real estate agents in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, handled the sale to Leona.
It was a wonderful experience," says the ever-ebullient Shapiro. Leona came to town and knew what she wanted. She wanted to be up high and have a view. Her house in Connecticut is high on a hill. She lives on the top floor of their hotel in New York.
I took her first to the old Walker McCune mansion, which was then owned by Gordon Hall and for sale at $30 million.
Leona took one look and shook her head. `Too ostentatious,' she said. She refused to even get out of the limousine."