The Apprentice, a ‘golden escalator’ presidential launch and some notorious guests – Trump Tower has seen it all

It’s a place that’s played a major role in the history of the business tycoon-turned-president-turned accused felon’s life. Now it could fall into the hands of someone Donald Trump views as a staunch enemy. Joe Sommerlad reports

Monday 25 March 2024 16:56 GMT
Donald Trump rides the building’s lurid golden elevator
Donald Trump rides the building’s lurid golden elevator (Getty)

Donald Trump has been granted a sudden reprieve from his struggle to secure the $464m bond needed for his civil fraud judgement in New York after a panel of state Appellate Division judges gave him a 10-day extension to pay just $175m of the total judgement.

Last month, Judge Arthur Engoron ordered Mr Trump to pay around $354m in fines and a further $110m plus in interest for misrepresenting the value of Trump Organization assets between 2011 and 2021 in order to obtain favourable loans from banks and insurers.

The luxury property tycoon turned Republican president then had until Monday 25 March to find the money if he wished to appeal the ruling, inspiring real fears he could be about to lose some of his most prized real estate assets.

With interest ticking ever-upwards at 9 per cent or $120,000 a day, the exact total he owed as deadline day dawned, according to the helpful Trump Debt Counter website, had topped $468.1m.

Mr Trump, no doubt breathing a huge sigh of relief, has since pledged to pay up and “post either a bond, equivalent securities or cash” but, if he fails to do so, New York attorney general Letitia James is entitled to begin freezing his bank accounts and seizing his real estate assets.

And top of her list could be Mr Trump’s famed Trump Tower – the Fifth Avenue skyscraper that has been integral to the businessman’s glitzy personal brand for several decades.

It’s a place that has played a major role in the history of the business tycoon-turned-president-turned accused felon’s life, meaning that to lose it to a prosecutor he regards as a staunch enemy would come as a major blow to Mr Trump.

Way back in 2004, the Trump Tower boardroom and suites served as a vital backdrop to his hot shot executive act when he began hosting the NBC reality show The Apprentice.

Trump Tower seen from street level (AFP/Getty)

The skyscraper was also the site from which he plotted his first presidential run in January 2015 alongside lawyer Michael Cohen and such soon-to-be-returning ghouls including Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone.

The following June, he descended from the golden escalators with his wife Melania Trump to announce his candidacy in the blustering and provocative manner for which he has so long been known, notoriously promising a crackdown on migrants from Mexico.

It also provided the setting for the infamous “Trump Tower meeting” of 9 June 2016 when Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner and Manafort met with a number of people, including the Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, ostensibly to discuss the American adoption of Russian orphans but really to hear an offer of “dirt” on Mr Trump’s election rival Hillary Clinton, a matter of some interest to FBI special counsel Robert Mueller when it later emerged.

And remember that awful picture of Mr Trump, Nigel Farage and the latter’s triumphant entourage of Brexiteer goons posing with oily grins and thumbs aloft?

That was taken outside of the building’s garish marble and gold elevator in November 2016.

A promotional banner for The Apprentice adorns Trump Tower (Getty)

The former president has already hinted at how much the building’s potential loss means to him by sending out a panicky memo to supporters urging them to donate in order to stop his foes getting their “filthy hands” on his pride and joy.

New Yorkers approached at street level by The Independent were rather less moved by the prospect of him losing the keys to the front door, however.

The mixed-use property, which stands 664 feet tall and has 58 floors (despite its owner’s insistence on numbering them up to 68 to make it appear yet taller), sits on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan between 56th and 57th Street, an area once principally associated with Tiffany’s celebrated jewellery store (whose bosses, incidentally, stopped renting floor space from Mr Trump in February 2021, a month after the January 6 Capitol riot).

The former president first acquired the building in 1979 after it had served for half a century as the home of the sophisticated women’s clothing store Bonwit Teller.

Shoppers browsing at Trump Tower (Takahiro Nagao)

He hired Der Scutt of the Big Apple firm Swanke Hayden Connell Architects to realise his modernist dream for “the first super-luxury high rise property in New York to include high-end retail shops, office space and residential condominiums”, according to the property’s website.

Demolition work on the old Bonwit Teller place began in 1980 and immediately sparked controversy when a series of two-tonne limestone reliefs of dancing women decorating the exterior – which had been promised to the city’s Metropolitan Museum of Art – were destroyed under orders by Mr Trump’s construction crew, who duly “jackhammered them to bits” to save costs, according to The New York Times, with no thought for style or posterity.

Mr Trump was lambasted over the desecration by then-mayor Ed Koch, who accused him of “ignoring the interests of the city”.

Shoppers and diners visiting Trump Tower (AFP/Getty)

The resulting construction, made from reinforced concrete and dark glass and immediately recognisable for its 28-sided jagged facade, was opened to the public on Valentine’s Day 1983, with retail and restaurant space accounting for the first 13 floors, offices on the 14th to the 29th floors and 263 plush apartments covering the 30th to the 68th floors.

The latter promised views over Midtown and Central Park, as well as “white glove service” for their occupants.

Mr Trump’s penthouse, accessed by a private elevator, occupies the top three floors of Trump Tower and originally featured black lacquered walls and velvet furniture introduced by famed interior designer Angelo Donghia, before the businessman had dinner with Saudi billionaire Adnan Khashoggi one day and was thereafter inspired to remodel by introducing Greek columns, gold leaf paint and Louis XIV-inspired furniture.

Its current look is intended “to emulate the Palace of Versailles, decked out in 24-carat gold, marble and mirrors”, according to House & Garden, which winced at the end result as “a monstrosity” and took exception to the Trumps’ taste in “extravagant rococo decoration”.

Donald and Melania Trump’s three-storey penthouse at Trump Towner (YouTube)

The publication also accused the tycoon of lying about the penthouse’s value and square footage, reporting in July 2020 that his claims of 33,000 square feet of floor space going for “at least $200m” were an inaccurate inflation of the truth (sound familiar?).

Instead, they said the building was about 10,996 square feet in size and closer to $64m in value.

Some celebrity former tenants of Trump Tower, according to The NYT, include Liberace, Johnny Carson, Bruce Willis, crooner Paul Anka and Michael Jackson, who rented a duplex for 10 months in 1994 and installed a mirrored dance studio.

Incredibly, the aforementioned Ms Clinton, of all people, also stayed there in 2000 while running to be a junior senator, accepting an invitation from Hollywood movie director Steven Spielberg to use a Universal Studios apartment in the property.

In those days, Mr Trump considered her “tough and smart” and even donated to her election campaign.

A security guard reflected in the glass as he patrols outside Trump Tower (AFP/Getty)

The NYT also lists a number of rather more notorious renters, including deposed Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, fraudster Jay Weinberg, Russian gambler Vadim Trincher, jailed art dealer Hillel Nahmad and Guido Lombardi, affiliated with Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League political party.

The building’s official blurb – which, interestingly, happens to read as though written by a real estate agent hoping to sell – boasts of Trump Tower’s “dramatic, angular design covered by a singular glass curtain wall with a series of planted outdoor terraces anchoring the lower floors”, its “extraordinary five-storey atrium”, “spectacular 60-foot high waterfall” and “dramatic suspended walkway”.

Actually, thinking about it, the former president may well have composed the above himself, because who else would have added the following?

“Today Trump Tower stands as a world famous testament of Mr Trump’s grand vision and ability to achieve tremendous success with everything he touches.”

So, will the building be known as Trump Tower for much longer?

After Judge Engoron’s ruling, Ms James registered the judgement from Mr Trump’s 11-week fraud trial in New York City, the first step towards seizing his assets in the city.

On 7 March, she then registered the same judgement with the county clerk’s office in upstate Westchester County, where his Seven Springs estate and Trump National Golf Club are situated.

The prospect of other iconic Trump properties falling into her hands has the former president’s many enemies rubbing their hands with glee, relishing the schadenfreude of seeing him face losing what matters most.

Mr Trump’s ex-White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham was recently asked by CNN which of his buildings the mogul would most hate to part with and said: “I think if it were to happen, 40 Wall Street is probably the one that he would, I mean, he would hate it.

“But I think if she tried to seize Mar-a-Lago or Bedminster or Trump Tower even, I mean, those are his babies.”

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