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Helmsley Mansion Blends Bad Omens And Opulence

August 28, 1989 GMT

GREENWICH, Conn. (AP) _ It covers a space roughly the size of a football field and boasts 10 bedrooms and 10 full bathrooms. But locals say Dunnellen Hall also carries a curse that has brought ruin to its previous owners and could be a bad omen for the home’s current mistress, Leona Helmsley.

The opulent, 28-room Jacobean mansion on the outskirts of Greenwich has been in the national limelight in recent weeks because of the federal tax evasion case against Mrs. Helmsley.

She and her billionaire husband, Harry Helmsley, were accused of billing $3 million in expenses at the house to their real estate empire and hotel chain. A federal jury in New York began deliberating the fate of Mrs. Helmsley and two former aides this weekend. Harry Helmsley was severed from the indictment because of mental incompetence.

The prosecutor, assistant U.S. attorney James DeVita, says the money was spent in a bid to turn the home into a modern Taj Mahal.

″It’s probably one of the most important houses in Greenwich,″ says Majorie Rowe, president and co-owner of Preferred Properties in Greenwich.

″This house has some history, if the walls could talk,″ said Rowe, who has twice handled its sale.

Two previous owners lost the estate to financial setbacks, another was indicted for forgery and a Dodge automotive heiress suffered marital problems with a husband who killed a busboy in Florida and later killed himself.

The three-story brick mansion sits on 26 acres of rolling hills in the northern end of this posh New York suburb. Stone walls, iron fences and a sophisticated electronic system keep the curious at bay. But a glimpse is possible through the main gate and up a 1,000-foot driveway painted brick red for Leona’s birthday in 1986.

The curious can also get a feel for the house by watching for a late night rerun of the 1968 film ″A Lovely Way To Die.″ The movie, starring Kirk Douglas, was filmed at the estate, and in keeping with the alleged curse at Dunnellen, it was a flop.

The Helmsley’s hometown newspaper, the Greenwich Time, recently obtained a rare look inside the house.

Its reporter described in detail the ornate dining room, with its chandelier, tapestry, paintings and floor-to-ceiling wainscotting; the limestone-walled reception hall; the grand staircase; the second-floor workout room where Harry Helmsley exercises on a treadmill under the eye of his personal instructor; and the pictures of a smiling Leona and Harry Helmsley that grace nearly every room on the first and second floors.


The main house stretches about 300 feet from end to end and is more than 200 feet wide. It has more than 28,000 square feet of living space, and includes 10 bedrooms and 10 full baths.

Separate from the mansion is a 100-foot-by-25-foot guard house that provides nearly an additional 4,000 square feet of living space. The building provides five more bedrooms and three more bathrooms, according to records at the Greenwich assessor’s office.

By comparison, the White House has 55,000 square feet of living space spread over six floors. The White House also has 132 rooms, much smaller than those in the Helmsleys’ mansion.

Dunnellen Hall was built in 1916 by Daniel Grey Reid for his only daughter. It had four more owners, each of whom suffered some ill fortune, before it was purchased by the Helmsleys in 1983 for $11 million.

Shortly after purchasing the home, the Helmsleys constructed a 4,453-square foot addition that runs more than 88 feet to enclose the swimming pool. Constructed of limestone and marble, and topped by a marble dance floor, the addition cost about $2 million. It also is one expense the Helmsley’s allegedly billed to their business.

Rowe said the house also features a ″dramatic″ stairway in the main entry, a ″handsome″ library and many other ″gorgeous″ rooms.

Other renovations made by the Helmsleys include a $130,000, remote-control outdoor-indoor stereo system, which is named in the 47-count federal indictment.

There’s also a wine cellar that can hold up to 5,000 bottles and maintain them at 54 degrees, according to literature on the house.

The kitchen features a huge walk-in bank vault that is 8 feet wide, 8 feet long and 10 feet high. Inside the vault are silver trays, goblets, candelabra ahd champagne buckets.

The mansion is maintained by a full-time staff of 15, including chambermaids, three gardeners, a chef, a butler and a 24-hour security crew, the Greenwich Time reported.

The previous owners who suffered the ″curse″ of Dunnellen Hall are:

-Loring Washburn, president of a steel fabricating company who bought the house in 1950, but lost it to a commercial financing firm in 1963.

-Sherwood Dodge Moran, of the Dodge automobile family, bought the house in 1967. A year later, her husband, a former New York City policeman, shot and killed a busboy who was apparently trying to climb into the bedroom window of their Florida home. The slaying was ruled justifiable homicide.

She sold the home in 1968; 10 years later her husband died of a self- inflicted gunshot.

-Investor Jack Dick bought the home in 1968. He was indicted on larceny and foregery charges in 1971, but died in 1974 before his case was settled.

-Ravi Tikkoo, who owned the world’s largest oil tanker, was the next owner. He lost his fortune during the Arab oil embargo.