Empire: A Tale of Obsession, Betrayal, and the Battle for an American Icon / Edition 1

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"It is the most famous skyscraper in the world - a towering edifice whose silhouette defines New York's skyline. Each year, millions of visitors from all over the world flock to its upper reaches to take in its dramatic views. Yet few are aware of the triumphs and tragedies that have played out in its storied corridors. Ever since it was erected during the Great Depression, the Empire State Building has been coveted by ambitious, self-made men who have gone to great lengths to call it their own. It has carried some of them to prominence, others to the precipice of financial ruin. For a few, the building has exacted an even higher toll - costing them friends, family, and even their freedom." Empire is an account of a frenzied decade-long contest for control of America's premier skyscraper. Mitchell Pacelle takes us behind the scenes in a bizarre drama of greed, rivalry, duplicity, and betrayal. Taking advantage of extensive access to key players, he traces the saga from the boardroom where an intricate ownership web was spun to the time-warped world of a Japanese tycoon; from castles in Britain to jail cells in New York and France.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
In September 1930, when the last piece of its steel structure was riveted into place and an American flag unfurled at its apex, the Empire State Building assumed its position as a symbol of New York's economic might, an emblem of the promise of the modern age, and an embodiment of the human ability to rival the wonders of the natural world. Here is how Mitchell Pacelle, an award-winning journalist with The Wall Street Journal, describes the building in his outstanding first book: "Its profile -- the soaring limestone tower with its streamlined crown that glowed in the twilight like a dream -- was etched into the mind's eye of nearly everyone who had ever laid eyes on it. Was there another structure in the world with more iconic heft?" Yet, that very quality of "iconic heft" that led filmmakers Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack to place King Kong atop the building in their classic 1933 film also drew the attention of some other notorious inhabitants of the urban jungle -- aggressive and covetous real-estate moguls like Hideki Yokoi, the Helmsleys, and Donald Trump.

The centerpiece of Pacelle's narrative is his masterful recounting of the struggle among these famously rich and infamously ambitious tycoons for ownership and control of the Empire State Building: Each tycoon desires the building as the ultimate trophy, "the jewel in the crown" of their personal empire, and yet each ends up being thwarted to some degree. The result is a story rich in overlapping betrayals, desperate backstabbing, and familial strife -- all of the small human circumstances that inevitably seem to envelope even the loftiest and most inspiring of achievements. Scrupulously reported and skillfully told, Empire is a book that manages both to educate and to entertain; it is a book sure to delight readers of nonfiction as well as the many admirers of New York's landmark building. (Sunil Sharma)

Library Journal - BookSmack!
I caught sight of the Empire State Building, whose history this rudimentarily covers. "The building's skeleton marched upward at a rate of four and a half floors a week" and that the entire building was completed in 16 months (!). The local Mr. Handyman took two weeks to regrout my bathroom! Unfortunately, the book reads like Mario Puzo's fiction. Using the third-person omniscient voice, Pacelle plays fast and loose with the concept of history, ascribing all sorts of motivations and unexpressed thoughts to his subjects, who include Donald Trump and Hideki Yokoi. As gossip, though, this reads like a juicy tabloid. From my vantage point on Varick Street, I could see the glitzy Trump SoHo Tower, and while you'd think that The Donald would be the chief drama queen, he looks like a kitten playing with a feather compared to Leona Helmsley. ." Douglas Lord, "Books for Dudes," Booksmack! 10/7/10
Entertainment Weekly
a recounting of the story of the Empire State Bulding, which has now reclaimed its status as New York City's highest peak. A-
USA Today
It's a compelling read...Empire is memorable and has all the pieces of a riveting film: sex, divorce, money scams, even some jailbirds.
New York Daily News
...there's such huge entertainment to be had.
Financial Times
...It says much for Pacelle's forensic and narrative skills that he manages to tell this labyrinthine, fascinating tale with admirable clarity and fairness...
Mitchell Pacelle delivers a thrilling history of the mythic building.
Providence Journal
Pacelle...keeps the pace up in this convoluted tale of pride, prejudice and property.
Empire is a finely wrought narrative that embodies the style—and hysteria—of New York real estate.
TimeOut New York
...one of the best newcomers...[a] page-turner
Guardian Weekly
...it is a book - and a very good one...
Sunday Business
...This story is full of colour and rattles along at the pace of a thriller...Empire is a fascinating insight into an American icon.
Publishers Weekly
If you thought King Kong was the only monster who has 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 Leona 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 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 inthe Wall St. Journal. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Although New York City's Empire State Building is no longer the tallest building in the world, it unquestionably 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 Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Soundview Executive Book Summaries
The Extraordinary Saga of the Empire State Building
On May 1, 1931, one year and 45 days after construction began, the Empire State Building was complete. At a cost of $42 million, the 102-story skyscraper changed more than the skyline of New York City: It changed the lives of the many people who created it and eventually changed the fortunes of the many people who would fight to control it. In Empire, Mitchell Pacelle, an award-winning journalist for the Wall Street Journal and master storyteller, weaves a fascinating tale of greed, revenge, betrayal and family rivalry around the people who dreamed of possessing it as their ultimate trophy.

The Building
Created by visionaries, jumped from by the distraught, battled over by moguls, memorialized by artists, visited by millions and gawked at by countless admirers, the Empire State Building becomes the main character in Pacelle's book.

Conceived in the moments prior to The Great Depression and built while the stock market crashed around it, the building was the brainchild of GM executives John Raskob and Pierre S. Du Pont. These wealthy men hired Alfred E. Smith, the former governor of New York who had recently lost his run for presidency to Herbert Hoover, to head their venture into the new world of skyscraper erection.

Pacelle's tale travels the timeline between the early days of the monolith's existence to the controversial battles that have raged around the building's ownership in recent years. More than simply an enormous office building, the Empire State Building is a symbol of power that has been coveted by powerful men and women since it was built. Although its first ten years werean economic disaster - it remained only 25 percent occupied with little hope for prosperity - the postwar economic boom ended its slump, making it the most coveted building in New York in the 1950s. After changing hands a couple of times after the death of John Raskob in 1951, the building spent several years being overshadowed by newer skyscrapers, but remained a fixation for real-estate tycoons who aspired to adding the building to their collections of acquisitions.

Ownership Battles
Over the last decade, the fight for possession of this American icon has heated up.

In August, 1991, a controversial Japanese businessman, Hideki Yokoi, tried to buy the building but was turned down by the sellers. They called off the deal when they learned Yokoi had been arrested and convicted for gross negligence after a fire killed 33 guests in a Tokyo hotel that he owned.

Not to be thwarted, Yokoi ended up owning the Empire State Building three months later after using an American businessman to front his purchase. Soon, the building's owner was accusing his daughter and son-in-law of stealing the building from him.

Meanwhile, the building's long-term lease, controlled by real estate moguls Leona Helmsley and Peter Malkin, set the stage for Donald Trump to enter the battle on behalf of the Japanese family to wrest control of the lease from them.

Lives Shaped and Destroyed
Although the book spends ample time poring over the details of the money that changes hands and the fine print of the real estate deals surrounding the building, its highlights lie in the richly conveyed lives that have been shaped and destroyed by the mammoth proportions of the building and its rich history. No detail - from Tokoi's clip-on ties to the contents of the pockets of the building's first suicides - is left uncovered in this exhaustive, extraordinary story of an extraordinary building. Copyright (c) 2002 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471403944
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/28/2001
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 360
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Mitchell Pacelle (Brooklyn, NY) has reported on some of the most compelling business stories of the past decade for the Wall Street Journal. He won the New York Press Club's Business Reporting Award in 1999, was a finalist for UCLA's Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize by the Journal for his coverage of the collapse of the Long-Term Capital Management hedge fund.
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Read an Excerpt

The Deal and the Deception

How many millions might a man be willing to spend to raise his ego a quarter mile high? How much to lay claim to the heart and soul of New York City? What would a respectable businessman pay? Not a shadowy character looking for legitimacy or attention. On August 21, 1991, almost six years before Hideki Yokoi gazed in triumph off the top of the Empire State Building, Kurt A. Reich turned the questions over in his head. For the 15 years he had been buying and selling commercial property for Prudential Insurance Company of America, Reich had been trying to fathom what drives men to buy trophy real estate, to pay beyond reason for the opportunity to affix their names to spectacular buildings. On this morning, it was not a matter of idle curiosity. As the real estate gold rush of the 1980s was fading into bust, and financial pressure on the insurance company mounted, Prudential had decided to sell the Empire State Building, and Reich was waiting to meet the mysterious couple who had bid more than anyone else.

The ego buyers had indeed been out in force, because the world's most famous skyscraper, curiously enough, was likely to sell for a price that--in the lofty world of Manhattan real estate--was little more than a song. Thirty years earlier, Prudential had gutted the building's profit potential. It had leased the entire building--for 114 years, an eternity in real estate--to an investment company controlled by a pair of Manhattan real estate titans. Each year, the two moguls paid Prudential a paltry $1.9 million in rent for the 2.5-million-square-foot building, giving them both a motive to cling to their lease with the tenacity of Park Avenue millionaires in rent-controlled apartments. Whoever bought the Empire State Building now would face the prospect of wrangling with two of Manhattan's most difficult real estate magnates: Peter Malkin, an iron-willed Harvard-educated lawyer who was exacting to the point of annoyance, and Leona Helmsley, a notoriously volatile woman who was sowing terror through the billion-dollar real estate empire assembled by her ailing husband, Harry. What Prudential was selling, in truth, was little more than sizzle: the right to boast, "I own the Empire State Building."

Reich and a young investment banker from Salomon Brothers, Gregory White, had worked the numbers time and again. No sensible investor, they reasoned, would park money until the year 2076 for anything less than a 7.5 percent return. Unencumbered by the lease, the building might fetch $600 million to $800 million, they figured. But no matter which way they looked at it, the Empire State Building, saddled with that long-term lease, was worth only about $25 million to a rational buyer. How much more could Prudential squeeze from the ego factor? White boldly conjectured another $15 million to $25 million. But who was to say? Putting an asking price on the skyscraper, White advised, would merely stifle the imaginations of potential buyers. If someone wanted to overbid, he told Reich, it wasn't Prudential's business to worry about why.

One Salomon banker had even floated a proposal to organize a New York State lottery with the Empire State Building as grand prize. Who wouldn't put down $5 for a crack at owning the world's most famous skyscraper? The numbers could be astounding, he had argued. But Prudential had scotched the proposal as far too risky.

Just before bringing the 102-story landmark to market, Reich gathered his bankers to ponder the unknowable. Each of them anted up $10, mulled over what the skyscraper would fetch, and secretly jotted a number on a slip of paper. A few guessed in the high twenty millions. Others guessed the low thirties. Reich wrote down $39 million. Head banker White, who had been talking up the ego-play strategy, figured he ought to put his money where his mouth was. White wrote $39.5 million, and stuffed his guess into the envelope.

Reich wasn't sure what to expect as he waited for the Japanese woman and French-American man who had bid $41 million. The names Nakahara and Renoir had meant nothing to him. He punched the numbers into his calculator. The lease payments from Malkin and Helmsley would give the couple a scant 4.6 percent annual return on the purchase price. Reich didn't consider it his job to stop people from making foolish deals.

Reich could find no one who knew anything about Renoir and Nakahara. They were an enigma. Ordinarily, when Prudential was unloading, say, strip malls or suburban office buildings, it cared about little more than whether a potential buyer could come up with untainted cash. But the Empire State Building was a different matter. Prudential feared a firestorm of negative publicity if it sold the landmark to the wrong buyer. Under the circumstances, the seemingly ludicrous economics of the Renoirs' bid bore careful scrutiny, Reich decided. He wanted to put a question directly to the bidder. Why?

When Renoir and his wife arrived at Reich's spacious office on the twentieth floor of New York's Rockefeller Center, Reich rose to his feet and introduced himself. Renoir--a ramrod-erect 44-year-old with close-cropped hair, a boxer's face, and a penetrating gaze--handed Reich a card identifying himself as president of Lehman Brothers' asset management arm in Japan. Renoir told Reich he had come as a representative of his wife's family. Kiiko, a short, attractive woman whose dark hair curled around her face like a helmet, smiled demurely, then sank into a chair. "We understand you have an interest in the Empire State Building," Reich began. "Obviously, it's a remarkable asset. Why are you interested?"

Kiiko handed Reich a portfolio of pictures. Reich flipped through them, incredulous. He saw European castles, lots of them. "My father collects them," said Kiiko. Her billionaire father, who wished to remain anonymous, she said, had assembled a portfolio that included nine French châteaux, four British castles, a Spanish palace, and the second-largest private residence in America, a sprawling behemoth on Long Island. "The Empire State Building is just one of the buildings he wants," she said matter-of-factly. Renoir picked up the story. Kiiko's aging father, he told Reich, had made a fortune by manufacturing uniforms for the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II and by producing soft goods for American occupying forces after Japan's defeat. Later, he branched into real estate, snapping up treasures from Japan's royal family. Finally, he had been active in the stock market, taking runs at undervalued companies, not unlike the noted American raiders T. Boone Pickens and Carl Icahn. Reich, ever alert to potential controversy, interrupted. Renoir reassured him that his father-in-law hadn't been tainted by his takeover activities. The Empire State Building, Renoir concluded, would be another one of his collectibles.

To Reich, the bizarre story seemed a plausible enough statement of motive. After all, Prudential was looking for someone with a world-class ego. And from what little he could tell from the snapshots, this bidder appreciated grandeur. But Reich's gut was telling him something else. There was something unsettling about this couple. Renoir seemed brash, a little too slick, even shifty. Perhaps, thought Reich, he was just reacting to Renoir's French accent. Or to Kiiko's strange disengagement. As he bid the couple good-bye, Reich couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't being said. Was it that Renoir had trouble looking him in the eye? We'll need to find out more about this family patriarch, Mr. Nakahara, Reich decided after the meeting.

Soon Peter Malkin received a telephone call from an investment banker at Salomon. At 57 years old, the gangly six-foot three-inch Malkin had long ago emerged from the shadow of his late father-in-law, one of Manhattan's most respected property kingpins. By dint of inheritance and shrewd investments, Malkin controlled some 20 million square feet of commercial property, from Manhattan office buildings and retail properties to suburban apartment buildings and shopping centers. In an industry known for the rough edges of its dominant figures, Malkin was, at least on the surface, a notable exception. Erudite, civic-minded, and impeccably mannered, Malkin seemed less the product of his native Brooklyn than of the exclusive Greenwich, Connecticut, neighborhood where he had settled. Malkin took old-fashioned shoeshines at his desk and, when discussing his colleagues, seldom failed to attach a "Mr." or "Mrs." to their names. But some people in Malkin's business and social circles also associated him with a steely determination about matters large and small, a willingness, for example, to personally reproach people who violate the restrictions on leaf-blowing machines in his neighborhood of million-dollar homes. In short, he was not a man to be easily bullied.

As holders of the Empire State Building's lease, Malkin and Leona Helmsley were themselves the most logical buyers of the building. Their lease gave them almost absolute control of the building for 85 more years. Buying the bricks and mortar would consolidate their position, remove the potential headache of a troublesome new owner, make it easier for them to sell their valuable position outright. But in earlier meetings with Salomon's White, Malkin had been cagey. "I can be the best buyer," he had assured White. Nonetheless, he had bid only $32 million. White had warned him not to assume no one would bid higher. Malkin simply hadn't believed him.

Malkin was astonished to learn from a Salomon banker that a $41 million bid had come in from Asia. The banker assured him the bid was real.

"Well, I can't match that," Malkin replied. He hung up his phone, crestfallen. He had figured he could afford to bid more for the building than was economically reasonable, to protect the lease. But why, he wondered, would anyone else?

With Malkin apparently unwilling to engage in a bidding war, Prudential's Reich turned his attention back to the Renoirs. Prudential had a rule against selling buildings to anonymous buyers. Imagine the embarrassment that would come from selling the Empire State Building to, say, a blind trust backed by a Columbia cocaine cartel. Prudential would need to know exactly where any money for the Empire State Building was coming from, and Reich felt he hadn't gotten an adequate explanation from the Renoirs. He told White to pump his Salomon colleague in Tokyo for more information on Mr. Nakahara, the family patriarch. White's colleague, who had a commission riding on the deal, assured him the family company was solid.

Something else also nagged at Reich: the potential fallout from selling such a cherished landmark to a Japanese buyer of any sort. Recent years had seen a tsunami of Japanese purchases of American trophy properties, many at prices that left American real estate veterans bewildered. But the Japanese purchases of Rockefeller Center and the Pebble Beach golf course had sparked a xenophobic backlash, as commentators fretted that an all-powerful Japan was consuming America's corporate lunch and then moving on to its cultural treasures. White played down the concern. The building couldn't be loaded onto a boat and moved back to Japan, he told Reich. Reich met with his bosses at Prudential to discuss the prospects of negative press. If the high bid came from Japan, the group decided, so be it.

On August 23, 1991, Prudential signed a contract to sell the Empire State Building to an investment company set up by Renoir and Nakahara, pending approval of the buyer by Prudential's board of directors. Both Reich and White remained uneasy. Getting further information about Nakahara from Salomon's Tokyo office was like pulling teeth, White confided to Reich. White didn't want some enterprising reporter to uncover skeletons after the deal was closed. Both men pressed for more information from Japan. Finally, White began to get to the truth about Kiiko's father, the mystery billionaire. His name wasn't Nakahara, after all. It was Hideki Yokoi. When White's office punched the name into a computerized news search, it surfaced like a stink bomb. White was livid. He phoned Reich immediately. "Now we know why we're not getting a straight story," he told Reich. He rushed uptown to Reich's office.

"The guy you're selling to is probably financially credible," he informed Reich. "But you might want to think twice about doing business with him." White showed Reich newspaper accounts of an inferno that had gutted a massive Tokyo hotel in 1982, killing 33 guests. Yokoi owned the hotel. He'd been arrested, convicted of gross negligence, and was facing a jail term. Hideki Yokoi, the articles suggested, was one of Japan's most hated businessmen. And that's not all, White told Reich. Yokoi had long been said to consort with Japan's notorious criminal underworld, the yakuza, White said. He cautioned Reich that he had no idea whether the rumors were valid. But Reich had heard enough. This was hardly the caliber of buyer he was seeking. He told White he would urge his superiors to kill the deal. Shortly after White returned to his office, Reich telephoned. The deal was off.

Reich phoned Renoir's lawyer with the news, offering no explanation. "If you and your client would like to discuss the reasons, we can meet in my office to do so," Reich told the lawyer. To Reich's astonishment, he never again heard from Jean-Paul Renoir or his wife. Reich couldn't help feeling that Prudential had avoided catastrophe by the narrowest of margins.

There were those at Prudential who wanted to fire Salomon over the fiasco. But faced with the time-consuming process of starting again, Prudential relented, so White set about salvaging the sales process. He telephoned Peter Malkin and told him the deal had collapsed. He asked Malkin if his bid was still on the table.

"Absolutely," said Malkin, his hopes rekindled. When he hung up, Malkin was convinced the deal would break in his direction after all.

Within days, however, Salomon unearthed another prospect, a Wall Street investor named Oliver Grace Jr. Remarkably, Grace bid $39 million, nearly matching Renoir's bid. And he had pedigree. Onetime New York mayor William R. Grace had been his great-great-uncle, and industrial magnate Peter Grace was his second cousin once removed. White ordered an exhaustive background check. At one time, White discovered, Grace had mounted a hostile tender offer for a closed-end mutual fund. It was a controversial move, but hardly extreme in the cutthroat 1980s takeover world. Reich wondered why a man with Grace's savvy and connections would offer so much for a property with the meager income stream of the Empire State Building. Was this another ego trip? Reich told White he wanted to meet Grace directly.

Given the Grace family's stature, Reich was expecting a man with Wall Street polish. The man who presented himself to Reich had the slightly unkempt look of an eccentric professor, a bit overweight, his hair askew. Reich seated him in a conference room. He asked Grace why he wanted the Empire State Building. Grace paused for a moment, then looked Reich in the eye and explained in a soft voice that he planned to put the building into a trust for his children and grandchildren. When the lease to Helmsley and Malkin expired in 2076, the building would soar in value, to the benefit of his offspring. It struck Reich as a perfectly plausible motive. Reich invited Grace to join him in his office. Reich shut the door. "At $40 million, I'll do the deal," Reich told Grace. Grace agreed. But he warned Reich that he didn't want his name to surface. "This is the Empire State Building," Reich replied. He couldn't make any guarantees, but he'd do his best. He assumed Grace was embarrassed to be overpaying.

On November 27, 1991, the deal closed. The Empire State Building was sold through a web of offshore trusts to E. G. Holding, a shell company set up by Grace. At a celebratory party, Salomon Brothers bankers passed out cuff-links engraved with the building's signature profile, and the bankers expressed relief about averting disaster. It would be some time before Reich concluded that underneath Oliver Grace's soft edges and quiet demeanor had lain a gifted liar.

Nearly two years, in fact, would pass before Grace's lie began to unravel.

One day, celebrity developer Donald Trump phoned Malkin at his office. By all appearances, the two real estate kingpins had practically nothing in common. With the exception of the Empire State Building, the bulk of the Manhattan portfolio Malkin and his partners controlled was distinguished primarily by drabness and age, and Malkin himself seemed stuck in the bygone era when real estate men preferred that their names be unspoken and their vast fortunes untold. Trump, on the other hand, had turned attention-getting into a sort of core business philosophy, and he never tired of telling people that the Trump name added immense value to his glass office and condominium towers, which to some critics resembled gold ingots.

"I wanted you to know, I'm buying the Empire State Building," Trump told Malkin.

"Really?" said Malkin, not missing a beat.

"Yeah, it's the most amazing story," continued Trump. "Marla goes to this exercise class. And one day, the young Japanese girl on the bicycle next to her tells Marla that her father had given her the Empire State Building as a birthday present."

"That is an amazing story," agreed Malkin. "First of all, do you know that we have a lease on the property until 2076?"

"Oh, I know that," responded Trump. "But I'm talking about the ownership of the building."

"Well, as far as I know, the building is owned by a corporation that is the nominee for Oliver Grace Jr.," said Malkin, who had ferreted out the secret on his own. "E. G. Holding Company. I don't know of any Japanese owner. I think you may have something wrong here."

Trump seemed taken aback. "I'll check with my lawyers," he said, and hung up. Before long, Trump called back. He had checked with his lawyers, he told Malkin. It was true. He was buying the Empire State Building.

Now Malkin didn't know what to believe. Trump plowed ahead. "It was the greatest deal in the world. I didn't put up a dime," he said. The skyscraper had great potential, he continued. The top could be converted into apartment condominiums. Trump Empire State Building Tower Apartments, said Trump, would be fantastic. They would sell for thousands of dollars a foot. A huge price. With his name and his promotion, Trump told Malkin, it would be amazing. Trump reminded Malkin that New York law wouldn't allow Malkin, as the building's lessee, to attempt such a condominium conversion himself. "You and I together could create something terrific," Trump told him.

"Well, Donald," Malkin said, "I don't think this would really make too much sense. We have over 3 million people a year who go up the elevators that are used for those tower floors, to go to the observatory. These would be tourists of all kinds and descriptions." Not the kind of people that owners of deluxe condominiums would want to share elevators with, Malkin suggested.

Trump told Malkin that if he couldn't do that, he would do something that would result in an increase in the rent. The somewhat menacing implication was not lost on Malkin.

"You can't do that, Donald," Malkin said. "The lease goes to 2076, and it's a fixed rent."

Trump hinted that he could force a change in the lease by demonstrating that the building had not been properly maintained.

"Donald, that won't work either," continued Malkin, "because we're in the middle of this huge, almost $60 million improvement program for the building, which is more than we paid for it, and it's been going on for almost three years already."

"We'll see," said Trump. He hung up.

What in the world was going on? Malkin wondered. Malkin had been under the impression that he had solved the puzzle of Prudential's anonymous buyer two years earlier when he ferreted out the name of Oliver Grace. If there was even a kernel of truth in what Trump had told him, he had been sorely mistaken. The mystery, it now seemed, had only deepened. Malkin puzzled over Trump's claims: Trump is buying the building from someone I didn't even know existed. Trump isn't putting up a dime. And if we don't cooperate and convert the building into condominiums, I'm going to have a problem with the lease. Malkin realized that he was in the dark on the most basic question of all: Who really owned the Empire State Building?

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Table of Contents

1. The Deal and the Deception.
2. Reaching for the Sky.
3. Trophy Hunting.
4. Yokoi's Secret.
5. Yokoi Meets His Match.
6. Old Guard, New World.
7. East Meets West.
8. Who Owns the Empire State Building?
9. Trumps' Broadside.
10. The French Front.
11. Fall of the House of Harry.
12. Sibling Rivalry.
13. Behind Bars.
14. A Meeting with Daddy.
15. Yokoi's Last Stand.
16. Heirs.
17. Donald's Endgame.
Source Notes.
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Interviews & Essays

Exclusive Author Essay
It was the summer of 1994 when I first caught wind that Donald Trump had laid claim to a stake in the Empire State Building. As a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, I had been scrutinizing Trump for several years, trying to reconcile his bold claims that he had fully recovered from near-bankruptcy with the less sanguine picture his bankers were painting. I knew that a man named Oliver Grace Jr. had quietly bought the Empire State Building for $40 million in 1991 and had refused to say a word about why. Trump seemed to be in no position to pay that kind of money. Could Trump really have bought a stake in the world's most famous skyscraper? On its face, it seemed implausible.

Like many reporters who covered Trump, I had learned to be wary of his abiding love for self-promotion. It was seldom useful, I had discovered, to question Trump without first knowing the facts. I dug into the city's repository of property transfers records. To my surprise, I found the landmark at 350 Fifth Avenue had changed hands several times during the prior year and that Trump Empire State Partners had recently become its owner. After numerous calls to real estate operatives, all I could determine was that Trump was involved with an ownership group that included Asian and European elements. Stuck, I phoned Trump. Yes, he was part owner of the landmark, he told me. But he refused to identify his partners, to reveal how much of the building he owned, or to disclose how much he had paid. This, I decided, was a mystery that was begging to be unraveled. One of the undeniable pleasures of writing about the world of real estate is that many of its leading figures are hopelessly eccentric. It was true the world over, but especially in New York. Manhattan real estate tycoons are a breed apart: frequently unpolished, often arrogant, and prone to erratic behavior. I did not know at the time that Trump had struck a deal with a strange family that would make even the most bizarre New York property magnates seem straight-laced.

By squeezing bits of information from a number of people who knew something about the Empire State Building transaction, I determined that the new owner of the building seemed to be the illegitimate daughter of a reviled Japanese tycoon. Her French-American husband was also involved. Her father, the disgraced billionaire Hideki Yokoi, was then residing in a Tokyo prison. There was something decidedly off-kilter about the whole situation. How on earth had Trump gotten involved with this bunch? I wondered. And why was everyone being so cagey about the deal? Especially the Japanese family's New York lawyer, who refused even to confirm the identities of the new owners. "My clients have asked for anonymity," he told me. "In many countries in the world, private citizens try to hide their wealth, because they're susceptible to things like kidnapping." When I pressed him about whether the jailed billionaire was involved, he told me, "If you think some guy in Japan is the owner, you're mistaken." Experience told me that when people refuse to discuss business deals -- or their lawyers talk in circles in response to simple questions -- there is often an intriguing reason. Sure enough, within months, in an extraordinary New York lawsuit brought by Yokoi, the outlines emerged of a stranger and richer story involving deception, duplicity, and familial strife. The suit accused one faction of Yokoi's family from stealing the building from the other. Here, I realized, lay the heart of a tale whose unifying thread was an obsession shared by many people with the world's most famous skyscraper.

Uncovering the truth, I found, involved long hours of listening to conflicting stories -- winding narratives from battling family members, from Trump, and from the various New Yorkers swept into the maelstrom. I listened with an open mind, always with an ear toward measuring the teller's credibility. But there were reasons, it seemed, to be suspicious of nearly everyone. Who could be believed? The more I heard, the murkier it seemed. When I interviewed Yokoi's son-in-law, Jean-Paul Renoir, he was residing in a New York county jail. Was this man, whip-smart but hot-tempered, suspicious, and conspiracy-minded, telling the truth? How about his wife, Kiiko Nakahara? When I visited her in Paris, she displayed a disquieting tendency, when discussing grave matters, to break into a schoolgirl's giggles.

But it was Hideki Yokoi who proved to be the biggest enigma of all. The Japanese tycoon, then in his 80s, had suffered a stroke and could scarcely speak. Could he think straight? Was his memory sharp? Opinions differed. Yet the more I learned of his past, the more wary I had to become of his claims. When I spoke to his old friends in Tokyo, I was startled to see them chuckle openly about his ethics. The full story of his role in a deadly Tokyo hotel fire -- the event that had destroyed his reputation for good -- had not yet been told, they said. In the end, there was little about the battle for the Empire State Building that was as it first had seemed. That, more than anything, is what makes it such an intriguing story. (Mitchell Pacelle)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2002

    A Social History of New York's Tallest Building.

    Mitchell Pacelli has written a fascinating story about the Empire State building from its inception in 1928 to the present. There is a cast of characters including corporate gangsters, lawyers and business tycoons worthy of a Hollywood-type saga and a series of plots, deals and double-crossings motivated by greed, vanity and the desire to own the Empire State Building. Consequently, there is little space devoted to the architectural and engineering accomplishments that made the Empire State building a grear work of art and a symbol of New York's industry and culture. Nevertheless, Mitchell Pacelle has written an entertaining account of a cast of characters in pursuit of profit and fame.

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