The New York Times in 1984 enthusiastically promoted the idea of a Donald Trump presidential run.
At the time, Trump’s independent-minded moves in New York City made him a titan of industry and the financial community on Wall Street was beholden to him. Real estate moves gave him political power in New York, and the newspaper of record was hoping to cement his independent-minded politics against the national conservative-movement politics of Ronald Reagan.
The New York Times probably wants to forget about how they promoted the hopeful idea that Trump could negotiate for nuclear peace. The profile concluded with Trump’s statement that his running back Herschel Walker — an African-American — was the nicest guy in the world.
‘DONALD! HEY, DONALD! DONALD!’ THE men were yelling, eager to call him by name. A storm front of cigar smoke was gathering above the hotel ballroom, packed elbow-to-elbow for a breakfast-hour sports forum with a crowd that included some of New York’s most wealthy, powerful and famous men.
Mayor Koch was there, former Mayors Lindsay and Beame, two United States Senators, the five borough presidents, judges, labor leaders, busines stycoons and sports celebrities, as well as team owners and executives such as George Steinbrenner, Sonny Werblin of the Knicks and Rangers, Fred Wilpon, president of the Mets, and several hundred men who make it their business to rub shoulders at such functions.
Yet, somehow, everyonme at this sports function was drawn to Donald Trump, the 37-year-old owner of the New Jersey Generals, a franchise in the upstart United States Football League. As Mr. Trump inched his way toward the exit, dragging a dozen reporters, emn int he crowd stood on their tiptoes to wave and call to him – like so many bejowled rock-star fans. There was a desperation about them as they reached throught he reporters to pat him on the back, to grasp his hand or just to stuff a business card into his coat pocket. If only he could cut them in.
Donald J. Trump is the man of the hour. Turnon the television or open a newspaper almost any day of the week and there he is, snatching some star form the National Football League, announcing some preposterously lavish project he wants to build. Public-relations firms call him, offering to handle his account for nothing, so that they might take credit for the torrential hoopla.
He has no public-relations agent. His competitors wonder how this can be, but watching him at the sports forum provided an explanation. While executives of the other teams told the audience about problems of negotiation and arbitration, about dirty restrooms inside their arenas and street crime outside and about ‘attempting to move the Mets in the right direction,’ Donald Trump was electrifying the room the rat-a-tat-tat revelations, dropping names of star N.F.L. players and coaches he would sign in a matter of hours. He said further that he would ‘continue to create chaos’ for the N.F.L. and, by the way, that he planned to build a domed stadium in New York.
IT IS NOT YET 9 AM SPENDING A DAY WITH Donald Trump is like driving a Ferrari without the windshield. It’s exhilarating; he gets a few bugs in his teeth.
His next appointment is with Philip Johnson and John Burgee, the eminent architects. ‘These guys are hot,’ Mr. Trump declares as he breezes into their office. Models are brought in of Mr. Trump’s next – can it be! – proposed building, a 60-story castle, Trump Castle, six cylinders of varying heights with gold-leafed, coned and crenelated tops to be built at 60th Street and Madison Avenue. There is to be a moat and a drawbridge. ‘My idea,’ says Mr. Johnson with a mischievous grin. ‘Very Trumpish.’
‘Trump is mad and wonderful,’ says Mr. Johnson. The 77-year-old architect proclaimed the castle his ‘most exciting project’ ever. ‘Other developers come in with sober faces, carrying their market-research studies on what the public will like.’
The combination of Mr. Johnson, who is leading the architectural charge out of the era of glassbox moderism with such unusual buildings as the ‘Chippendale’-topped A.T.&T. building, and Donald Trump, who is excited about putting up the most distinctive buildings imaginable, seems positively dangerous. One can almost imagine this: ‘Phil, I’d like to build a 135-story cheeseburger on Park Avenue.’ ‘Lettuce and tomato on that, Don?’
With castles on the drawing boards, the first tenants are moving into Mr. Trump’s $125 million Trump Plaza luxury cooperative apartment building at Third Avenue and 61st. Street. His Generals are off to a winning start in their first season under his ownership. He is hovering attentively over his newly operned Xanadu of conspicuous consumption, the $200 million Trump Tower condominium-office-retail complex on Fifth Avenue, also supervising the final touches on Harrah’s at Trump Plaza, a mammoth $220 million casino-hotel in Atlantic City set to open next month.
Just as the name Donald Trump is well-known to most New Yorkers, the name is now becoming recognized throughout the country. He is fast becoming one of the nation’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, able to buy practically anthing he wants. He controls a company with assets estimated – some say conservatively estimated – $1 billion, and casino-industry analysts say his half interest in Harrah’s may provide him with $40 million to $50 million more in annual income.
Although he is still interested in such ideas as putting up the world’s tallest building on the East River, his mind wanders from the business of New York real estate. The Generals were an impulse buy. He made a bid on The New York Daily News in 1982, when the paper’s fate was in doubt; he expressed interest in buying the Cleveland Indians. He has told people in the communications industry that he is ‘very interested in communications,’ which is like a 2,000-pound gorilla mentioning that he is very interested in becoming carnivorous. Until recently, he was purchasing large amounts of RCA stock, with an eye toward securing a controlling interest, but he gave up on that when the price of the stock more than doubled. He sold the stock, profiting handsomely from the failed takeover.
NEXT ON MR. TRUMP’S SCHEDULE IS A visit Trump Plaza on Third Avenue. The heads of several Fortune 500 companies have already bought co-ops here, along with Gov. John Y. Brown of Kentucky and his wife, Phyllis George; Martina Navratilova and Dick Clark.
While critics charge that Mr. Trump is a raving egomaniac, bent on putting his name on every inanimate boject in the city, he claims that putting on the Trump name is value added.
‘These units are selling,’ says Blanche Sprague, who is in charge of sales at Trump Plaza, ‘because of the Trump name.’ A man holding a trowel says he is proud to be working on a Trump building and always tells his friends.
‘I don’t think you understand,’ Mrs. Sprague adds. ‘When I walk down the street with Donald, people come up and just touch him, hoping that his good fortune will rub off.’
The Trump touch. It has set some people in New York to outright Trump worship; they call him ‘a real-estate genius’ who has helped lead the city out of the darkness of the mid-1970’s into a new era of glamour and excitement. Mr. Trump does not take exception to that.
To others, the notion that Mr. Trump seems to be able to do just about anything he sets his mind to is terrifying. They see him as a rogue billionaire, loose in the city like some sort of movie monster, unrestrained by the bounds of good taste or by city officials to whom he makes campaign contributions, ready to transform Midtown into another glass-and-glitz downtown Houston, with Central park for parking.
This faction believes that the Donald Trumps of this world are tending to have their way with our cities nationwide, receiving enormous tax abatements and whatever zoning variations they request – all in the name of revitalization. That government is helping rich developers to become richer does not sit well with them, not when small shopkeepers, who do not share in such government largesse, are forced out of business by rising rents, not when poor people are sleeping in the streets. That Mr. Trump builds shops and apartments for the world’s wealthiest people makes him that much more prone to attack.
Yet many urban-affairs experts view the developers as saviors of our postindustrial cities. ‘With manufacturing leaving,’ says George Sternlieb, director of the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University, ‘anmd with Federal and state aid diminishing, our cities desperately need the rich. Cities are tending to fall into two categories: cities of consumption and cities with no economic base.’
The rich of the world can live anywhere they want, explain the experts; Mr. Trump leads them to New York. Sales taxes, user taxes, jobs and resulting payroll taxes are generated.
‘The wheelers and dealers must be successful if New York is to be successful,’ says Mr. Sternlieb. ‘That doesn’t make them lovable.’ Mayor Koch says that, indeed, what is good for Donald Trump is often good for New York.
Of course, Midtown is perhaps the strongest real-estate market in the world. ‘It is, therefore, appropriate in this case,’ says Bernard Frieden, professor of city planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ‘for residents to ask if developers are being subsidized excessively.’
Mr. Trump and other developers respond that they are far from having their way with our cities. Mr. Trump notes that he was denied a tax abatement worth $15 million to $20 million on Trump Tower. Other de3velopers claim that it has never been more difficult to build in New York, what with planning boards, community boards, restrictive codes and regulations.
TALE OT FRANK! SHOUTS A WOMAN, wrapping her arms around one of the Trump Tower doormen. C’mon and take it, honey, take it! Finally, Frank does take it, a snapshot of his wife Melody, with a man who says he was hired to open doors – albeit revolving doors – at Trump Tower but who has shown up for work dressed to guard Buckingham Palace: red military coat, gold braid, black bearskin hat, the works.
Alighting from his limousine – license plates DJT – Mr. Trump admits there are those who consider his doormen ostentatious. But he probably suspects Trump Tower has never been walked past unnoticed.
Having just opened last year, Trump Tower is already becoming something of a New York landmark. The shimmering glass skyscraper rises above its understated neighbors on Fifth Avenue, upstaging even Tiffany, next door.
It is home to shops so exclusive Melody said she couldn’t even brag about seeing them because nobody back home had ever heard of the likes of Mondi, Fila, Amazoni, Botticellino, Buccellati. It all sounded like last night’s dinner at Mamma Leone’s to her. Johnny Carson, Sophia Loren and Steven Spielberg are among the notables who have purchased Trump Tower condominiums, which, with prices ranging from $550,000 to $10 million, are among the most expensive in New York.
All that is Donald Trump would seem to be embodied in this building. It is showy, even pretentious. Above the door are bronze letters two feet high that spell ‘Trump Tower.’ Just inside, past the palace guards, are two three-foot bronze T’s. Then comes the piano player and violinist, dressed in tuxedos. That’s entertainment.
‘I told Donald I hate all that stuff,’ says Philip Johnson, ‘but people like the show. It is undeniably one of the most popular buildings in New York.’ And these adornments would seem to be just the fuzzy pair of dice on the rear-view mirror of the Rolls-Royce. Architecture critics have hailed Trump Tower, Ada Louise Huxtable calling it ‘a dramatically handsome structure’ and Paul Goldberger describing its interior as ‘warm, luxurious and even exhilarating.’
That Mr. Trump was able to obtain the location, when every real-estate developer in the world would have done just about anything to get it, is testimony to Donald Trump’s persistence and to his skills as a negotiator. That he was able to put up a building of this dimension on this site demonstrates his finesse with the zoning code.
When he first proposed buying the site, occupied by Bonwit Teller and owned by the Equitable Life Assurance Company, he found that there are 29 more years on the lease. He called Genesco Inc., owner of Bonwit’s, for eight years, asking to buy the lease. ‘They literally laughed at me,’ Mr. Trump recalls. Learning through a major stockholder that the conglomerate was cash-hungry, Mr. Trump called again and was sold the lease.
‘He has the uncanny ability to smell blood in the water,’ a competitor says. He obtained the air rights over Tiffany, which allowed him to build a much higher building, and went to Equitable, which sold him the land for a 50 percent interest in the project. Typically, Mr. Trump did not syndicate the deal but took in one major partner, in this case Equitable.
As is his custom, Mr. Trump shoudl reap millions of dollars from the project through sale of the condominiums and rent from the stores and 13 floors of offices.
Several New York merchants question how stores in Trump Tower can survive paying the high rents they are charged – the Charles Jourdan shoe store, for example, pays $1 million a year – and a few of the 48 stores have said they are in trouble. Several other merchants are expanding, and Mr. Trump claims that 100 stores are waiting to get in.
Trump Tower represents his guiding principle: Spend whatever it takes to buid the est. Them, let people know about it. In New York, there is no limit to how much money people will spend for the very best, not second best, the very best.
Mr. Trump sums up Trump Tower this way: The finest apartments in the top building in the best location in the hottest city in the world. This is Trump-speak. Mr. Trump has said that Trump Tower is for the ‘world’s best people,’ and one who doubts his modesty commented that by way of proving it, Mr. Trump was moving in himself. The Trups recently had their third child, and the growing family will soon settle in a $10 million triplex penthouse.
The real-estate market is Mr. Trump’s thermometer for gauing just how ‘hot’ a city is. ‘New York is, right now, perhaps the hottest city ever,’ he says. Recalling recent years when Paris, London, Los Angeles and Chicago had been hot, ‘at some point, real estate here will have to go down, but that point is not in sight. One element that makes the market stronger here than in other U.S. cities is the Europeans, South Americans and others.’
Arriving in his office on the 26th floor of Trump Tower, Donald Trump is handed a sprial notebook by his secretary, Norma I. Foerderer, that lists about 50 telephone calsshe has received this morning that she deems worth mentioning. ‘It’s carzy,’ he remarks. ‘People are coming to me now because I have credibility.’ He says he senses it is ephemeral. He is seizing the moment.
Mrs. Foerderer and a few others guard the ramparts, beating back dozens, sometime hundreds, of callers each day who would like to throw in with Mr. Trump n a variety of deals. Visitors are treaed to a slide show on Trump Tower while they wait – with superlatives by The Trump Organization and vocal accompaniment by Frank Sinatra. In their efforts to get through to Mr. Trump, some of the visitors tell Mrs. Foerderer they are old buddies of his, others bring candy and flowers. They want to propose marriage to Mr. Trump or to put a tank of dolphins in the lobby or have him back a Hollywood film or do a television series about rich people living in Trump Tower or sell him some oil wells in Oklahoma or some land in Ankara or ask if he would be interested in a plan to bulldoze Ellis Island to build a nice golf course and clubhouse out there. Some people try to make it simple for him and just ask for cash. The day before he has sent $3,000 to an unfortunate family he has red about in the newspaper, something he does frequently, according to Mrs. Foerderer.
For a billion-dollar corporation, there aren’t too mny people around. Mr. Trump runs The Trump Organization, which includes several companies that buy, sell and develop land, own land and buildings, and a company, now inactive, that bought and sold gold, which, Mr. Trump confirmed, reaped him a $32 million profit. Mr. Trump owns all of these. He is a 50-50 partner in companies that own the Gran Hyatt hotel, Trump Tower and Harrah’s at Trump Plaza. He owns 90 percent of the Trump Plaza cooperative building partnership. The Trump family owns 25,000 apartment units primarily in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island – the empire that Fred C. Trump, Donald Trump’s father, built. The elder Mr. Trump looks after these apartments from an office at the rear of an apartment building at 600 Avenue Z in Brooklyn.
Fred Trump’s empire, which he built from scratch, had an estimated value of $40 million when Donal joined the business 16 years ago. Donald’s brother, Robert, is an executive vice president of the organization. (An older brother, Fred Jr., died several years ago.) His two sisters are Maryanne Trump Barry, a Federal Distict Court judge in Trenton, and Elizabeth J. Trump, a secretary at the Chase Manhattan Bank. They were raised in a 23-room house in Jamaica Estates. The family is of Swedish descent.
Donald Trump makes or approves practically all decisions. Although there is a board room, there is no board. At the moment, he is telling a doorman on the other end of the telephone not to put that tacky runner down on the eautiful marble floor when it rains. He does not seem to write anything down, keeping volumes of company files as mental notes.
Mr. Trump’s wife, Ivana, is also an executive vice president of the company and has an office next door to her husband’s. She is a former fashion model – ‘a top model,’ in Mr. Trump’s words – who was married to Donald Trump seven years ago by the family’s minister, the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale.
Ivana Trump, mother of three, retains her model’s figure and glamour at age 35. Designers and manufacturers of perfume, jewelry, dresses nad panty hose have proposed naming product lis after her and using her in advertisements. She says she is not interested. She works 10 hour days at the office, handles a heavy social calendar and does most of the cooking for the family. Without trying to arouse undue sentiment against her, it shoud also be added that she is a top-flight skier, an alternate on the 1972 Czechoslovak Olympic team.
She speaks with a thick accent that only seems to add to her allure. ‘Cowboys?’ she says, her eyes brightening and her voice rising, as it does when she talks about most anything. ‘We don’t want Cowboys! Where can we go with Cowboys?’ She was explaining why her husband bought the New Jersey Generals instead of the Dallas Cowboys. Says Louise M. Sunshine, another executive vice president: ‘If it is not the impossible, Donald is simply not interested. There has to be creativity. Money ceased to be the object a long time ago.’ Mr. Trump agrees with this assessment.
Mrs. Trump acts as interior designer for his projects, in concert with other designers. she and Mr. Trump make thousands of decisins, from picking all the wallpapers, curtain backings and braid for the doormen’s uniforms to menus and doorknobs. Their selections seem based on galvanic skin response. They want the bathmats for Harrah’s to add a measure of excitement.
Mrs. Trump spent a week at a quarry in Italy matching slabs of the distinctive, peach rose and pink Breccia Perniche marble for the atrium of Trump Tower. Some people criticize ‘that pink marble’ and Mrs. Trump responds: ‘And what do they prefer? The cheap white travertine that is used in baks and all the other buildings? It is too cold, too common. Donald and I are more daring than that.’ When people criticize the Trump Tower doormen’s uniforms, she ansers: ‘They are fun. Why must everyone be so serious?’
The couple’s attention to detail is exceptional. Workmen at the Trump Plaza say that ona recent visit, Mr. Trump spotted a hairline crack that others could barely detect in a bathroom of one of the 140 cooperative apartments. He not only complained but stood there until a work crew came and replaced the marble.
Another worker at the site recalled that Mrs. Trump had an entire elevator cab replaced rather than have a small gap filled where the trim failed to meet the elevator wall. The construction manager of the Atlantic City project, Tom Pippett, said, when Mrs. Trump gave birth to the couple’s third child, ‘We hoped to get her off our backs for a least a month or so.’ But she delivered the baby on a Friday and returned to work the next Tuesday.
Irving R Fischer, chairman of the board of HRH Construction Corporation, one of New York City’s largest, and construction manager of Trump Tower, recalls mrs. Trump’s decision that the handrails ont he balconies at Trump Plaza were the wrong color. ‘He saw a gold Cadillac down the block,’ he says, ‘and yelled, ‘That’s the color!’ We had to go out and buy goddamned Cadillac paint for the railings. These are things no other developer in the city ever thnks about. They leave it to architects and decorators.’
After lunch in the Trump Tower atrium restaurant – ‘have a roll, these are the best rolls in the city’ – Mr. Trump walks up to the Sherry-Netherland Hotel for talks, through an interpreter, with a group of Argentines. They are principal owners of 76 acres on the West Side, the largest single piece of undeveloped private property remaining in Manhattan, site of the proposed Lincoln West development. Although partners in the development say Mr. Trump is considering joining them in the project, a knowledgeable source says Mr. Trump left the meeting with an option to buy them out entirely.
‘He is an almost unbelievable negotiator,’ says Irving Fischer of HRH Construction. ‘I don’t worship at the shrine of Donald Trump,’ he says, ‘but our company has given up trying to negotiate costs with him. We just say: ‘Tell us what you want, you’re going to get it anyway.”
Mr. Trump refuses to dicuss his deals publicly, but his negotiating bilities were there for all to see recently when he decided to sign the Giant’s all-pro linebacker, Lawrence Taylor. Before the negotiating was over, Mr. Taylor’s agent found himself paying Mr. Trump $750,000 in cash to get his player released from a contract he signed with the Generals so that he could re-sign with the Giants, and Mr. Trump had reaped millions of dollars of free publicity for having gone after one of the best players in football.
Three years ago, Mr. Trump went into a room with the owners of the Barbizon Plaza Hotel and an adjacent apartment building, purchased the property for about $13 million, according to records, and less than two months later took out a mortgage on it for $65 million. Sources in the industry say the value of hat parcel on Central Park South may now be as much as $125 million.
Join the conversation!
We have no tolerance for comments containing violence, racism, profanity, vulgarity, doxing, or discourteous behavior. Thank you for partnering with us to maintain fruitful conversation.