The Untold Truth Of Trump Tower

Just like every Pharoah needs a pyramid, and every king needs a palace, every entrepreneurial billionaire needs a tower to call their own. The soaring and imposing testament to Donald Trump that has loomed large in the New York skyline since 1983 is a lot of things, but understated is not one of them. Its 58 stories wrapped in a glass exterior offer outsiders a glimpse of nothing except perhaps their own reflection starring back at them. Since its construction in 1983, Trump Tower has been one of the most desirable Fifth Avenue residences and home to its fair share of controversy.

Like all skyscrapers, Trump Tower often appears as if it was placed on the earth by an alien race of architects whose overriding concerns were utility and making a bold statement. As a rule, towers have little time for aesthetics or the surrounding environment. Their prerogative is power, positioning, and pomp. To some, the flash and panache of Trump's signature skyscraper are symbolic of the gaudy and greed-riddled decade in which it was built. To others, it is a towering testament to ambition and wealth. To most, it is simply the tower that Trump built. The closer we get to the heavens, the further we are removed from the earth, so let's take the elevator to the top of Trump Tower and keep one eye out for a few secrets along the way!

The site of Trump Tower was once home to a NYC landmark

Although it's tempting to joke that before Trump Tower there was nothing but never-ending darkness, that would be facetious. The site was once home to luxury retailer Bonwit Teller. According to Forbes, the 12-story building constructed from limestone and granite was initially designed by Grand Central Terminal architects Warren and Westmore. It was originally a women's clothing store, which fell foul of the 1929 stock market crash mere days after opening, and Bonwit Teller moved in. Bonwit Teller enjoyed a reputation as one of Fifth Avenue's signature stores. Yet as time ticked on and the chauffeur and doormen style of shopping began to seem like an old hat, its fortunes began to fade, and the sharks started to circle.

Discovering that the Bonwit Teller owners needed a quick cash injection, Trump applied the pressure for three long years before making them an offer they couldn't refuse. Trump purchased the site for $15 million and promptly ordered the wrecking balls to start swinging. Much to the shock of New York's art community, the building's intricate grillwork and priceless sculptures were also reduced to rubble (via The New York Times). Trump's vision differed from that of his architect Der Scutt, who strived in vain to gain approval for a more environmentally sensitive and aesthetically pleasing design. However, Trump's resolution to build a skyscraper made of bronze-colored glass would not be broken, and his dream became a reality.

Donald Trump used hardly any of his own money to finance it

It's often said that it takes money to make money, but when you use other people's money, the deal gets a lot sweeter. As a self-confessed master in "The Art of the Deal," Donald Trump must have been particularly proud of how things went down with Trump Tower. According to The New York Times, the real-estate maker and taker sweet-talked the Equitable Life Assurance Society and Chase Manhattan Bank to front up the necessary capital needed to realize his vision. Trump Tower cost $300 million to build, and most of that money came through loans, which Trump secured through the gift of the gab.

Chase Manhattan fronted the finances Trump needed for the various leases and rights, which amounted to $24 million, and also created a syndicate that financed the $150 million loan required for construction. Equitable Life Assurance, which owned the land where Bonwit Teller was situated, agreed to a deal that led to the creation of the Trump-Equitable Fifth Avenue Company. Trump was allowed to stamp his name on the Tower, while Equitable also had a controlling interest. Equitable's Mr. Peacock explained, "The Hyatt really got us acquainted with Donald and that led us to the next big one. Donald was the only developer who made sense to us." However, The New York Times reported that in 1986, Trump decided he wanted the tower all to himself and made a deal to purchase Equitable's interest.

Polish immigrants put in 12-hour shifts at subpar wages to help build Trump Tower

USA Today reported that in May 2018, while calling for stronger measures on undocumented immigrants, U.S. President Donald Trump announced, "We have people coming into the country or trying to come in. You wouldn't believe how bad these people are." Trump's rhetoric is unmistakably loaded, but his provocative words have a hypocritical edge. Thirty-eight years earlier, he had been using undocumented Polish laborers during the construction of Trump Tower. Time reports that for six months, and during 12-hour shifts where they were paid subpar wages, the workers helped clear the site of rubble.

Allegedly, one Polish worker was so fed up with not being paid that he visited Trump's office to have a word with the big man. Former labor consultant and Teamsters Union officer, Daniel Sullivan, explained, "Donald told me he had difficulties. That he had some illegal Polish employees on the job." Trump denied any knowledge of using undocumented workers to help demolish the Bonwit Teller building. He simply stated 36 years later, "I hire a contractor. The contractor then hires the subcontractor. They have people. I don't know." The Time investigation paints a different picture. There are sworn testimonies that Trump actively sought out the Polish workers, negotiated their hours, and created a company that would pay them.

Donald Trump started a rumor that Charles and Diana would move into Trump Tower

Donald Trump has never shied away from making headlines with grandiose statements and larger-than-life claims. His fans would call him a smooth operator, his detractors, a snake-oil salesman. Either way you slice it, Trump often goes all in to generate publicity, and when it came to Trump Tower's opening, he didn't pull any punches. CNN reports that before the skyscraper's opening in February 1983, rumors began circulating that the recently wed Prince Charles and Princess Diana were seriously considering buying an apartment in Trump's building. The Associated Press quoted an unidentified source saying that Trump had even met with Buckingham Palace aides.

The rumor was completely false, but it got tongues wagging and created a buzz. In his 1987 book "The Art of the Deal," Trump wrote that the speculation worked like gold dust. Yet he never took credit for the claim. He recalled a reporter asking about the rumor and explained, "Our policy was not to comment about sales, and that's what I told this reporter. In other words, I refused to confirm or deny the rumor." The rumor mill would go into overdrive again in September 1992. Under the headline, "Di A New Yawker?", The New York Post claimed Princess Diana was considering buying a Trump Tower apartment. Buckingham Palace denied the claims, but it had already put Trump and his tower back in the spotlight.

A host of famous faces have lived and stayed at Trump Tower

Even though Donald Trump prefers to spend most of the year at his Mar-a-Lago Resort, his presence still haunts his 664-foot-tall tower. Yet Trump is not the only larger-than-life character who has prowled the ornate and gold-fitted apartments that exist high above the heads and incomes of your average New Yorker. The Daily Express reports that Bruce Willis, Paul Anka, and Liberace have all purchased condos in the skyscraper. Johnny Carson was a former resident but the chat show host left on unfavorable terms in 1987 when he accused two Trump employees of stealing his coat. Carson later found the coat, but the employees had already been sacked.

Michael Jackson stayed in a duplex on the 63rd floor in 1994 for 10 months. The apartment was the former home of Trump's parents. Andrew Lloyd Webber once owned a 5,300-square-foot apartment in Trump Tower, and The New York Times reports that Steven Spielberg had an apartment there. Purchased for the director by Universal Pictures, Spielberg rarely used the apartment. Yet he did offer it to Hilary Clinton for use as a crash pad during her 2000 campaign to become New York's junior senator. Trump never revealed how often his future political rival would stay at Trump Tower, but he told The New York Post, "She has great taste in buildings, she obviously knows what the best is all about."

A number of Trump Tower condos are owned by secretive limited liability companies

It's not just famous faces that reside at Trump Tower. According to Vanity Fair, the skyscraper is notorious for having a large proportion of condos owned by corporate and anonymous owners. The apartments are under the names of limited liability companies (L.L.C.) such as Yellow Diamond, Lionson Tower, Dalimar Assets, and Hibiscus Properties. Some companies are registered in New York, but others lie further afield in locations such as Puerto Rico, Dubai, Panama, and the British Virgin Islands. It's been suggested that because wealthy people value their privacy, registering the apartments in the names of L.L.C.'s is merely a corporate facade and nothing else.

Yet, although some of the transactions might be used to protect income from taxes — such as the buyer "Legal 1031 Holdings 1787R," who purchased an apartment worth $16.5 million — they remain legitimate. The fact that foreign owners of Trump Tower apartments have previously been embroiled in money-laundering operations does not implicate the L.L.C.'s. In 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department got tough on laundering money through acquiring luxury real estate. The new stringent regulations required that in Manhattan, any L.L.C that makes a real-estate purchase above $3 million in cash requires the buyer to reveal their true identity.

Trump Tower has had its fair share of shady residents

The Village Voice reports that you're just as likely to rub shoulders with questionable characters as you are to mingle with high society at Trump Tower. In 1983, Italian financier Roberto Polo purchased his six apartments through offshore corporations. He was later jailed for fraudulent activity amounting to $110 million. Father and son duo Sheldon and Jay Weinberg, who were found guilty in the largest Medicaid fraud in history, lived on the 63rd floor. Their near neighbor David Bogatin was a high-up member of the Russian mob. After he went on the run, prosecutors ruled he used his apartments "to launder money, to shelter and hide assets."

Upon his release from prison, convicted coke dealer Joe Weichselbaum moved into his $2.4 million Trump Tower apartment, and Lucchese crime family associate Robert Hopkins was arrested in his Trump Tower apartment for being in charge of an illegal gambling operation. None of this is, of course, a reflection on Donald Trump, but it does prove quite poignantly that no apartment block, no matter how lavish or sought after, is immune to the insidious worms of crime and corruption.

A Haitian dictator owned an apartment at Trump Tower

Perhaps one of the most unsavory residents to ever step foot into Trump Tower has to be the former President of Haiti, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier. According to New York Magazine, the brutal dictator had gone on a looting spree during his regime. One of the assets the Haiti government was trying to recover was a Trump Tower apartment. Duvalier purchased the 54th-floor condo for $1.65 million in August 1983. The apartment was purchased by Panamanian shell corporation Lasa Trade and Finance. Investigators discovered the company was a front for the Duvaliers. The New York Times reports that in 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed an executive order that froze all assets in Duvalier's name, which included a Trump Tower condominium.

In 2018, a BuzzFeed investigation revealed that since the 1980s, more than 1/5 of Trump's U.S. condominiums were purchased solely in cash. Over 1,300 of them were also purchased by shell companies. The former Haitian President who once owned an apartment in Trump Tower was, according to a New York Times obituary, responsible for a regime of "bloody brutality." University professor Robert Fatton Jr said, "He [Duvalier] managed with the complicity of foreign powers to avoid facing justice."

The Trump Tower Grille was plagued by vermin

A tower, whether it be made from ivory or millions of dollars, is by definition a place where its inhabitants should feel safe and secure from the trials and tribulations of the world. A tower is also a fortress and, ideally, a safe and happy space where one shouldn't have to endure the vermin that plague every corner of modern life. We are, of course, talking about rodents, roaches, and flies! According to The Guardian, in 2018, the Trump Tower Grille fell foul of "live mice" and other health code violations when New York City health inspectors called. The restaurant was slammed as "not vermin-proof," "conducive to attracting vermin," and "allowing vermin to exist."

The New York Daily News reported that over a five-year period, the Trump Tower restaurant had been in breach of health code violations annually. "Live roaches" were spotted in 2016, and in 2017 there were sightings of "filth flies." Such violations are dramatically at odds with Trump's reputation as a germaphobe and self-confessed "clean-hands freak" (via The Washington Post). Trump's restaurant's problems with vermin didn't stop him from describing Elijah Cummings congressional district as "a disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess" in 2019. The Guardian reports that Trump aimed the cutting remark at the Democratic chair of the House oversight committee.

A man once scaled Trump Tower with suction cups to meet Donald Trump

Getting a one-to-one audience with Donald Trump before, after, or during his tenure as U.S. President has never been easy. He's a man who has shaken a lot of hands, done a lot of deals, made a lot of money, and ticked a lot of boxes. You've got to bring something a bit impressive or unusual to the table to grab Trump's attention. Failing that, you could also attempt a rather unorthodox method to meet the big man. Such was the case with Stephen Rogata. CNN reported that in 2016 the 19-year-old from Great Falls, Virginia, put on some suction cups and attempted to scale Trump Tower like a slow-moving Spiderman. To his credit, the inventive and ambitious climber did reach the 21st floor before being apprehended by members of the NYPD.

Rogata was charged with reckless endangerment and criminal trespassing. Bill Aubrey, Chief of Detectives with Manhattan South Precinct, told a press conference that a YouTube video Rogata had previously posted explained he was an independent researcher who wanted to meet with Trump. "That's the reason why he was climbing this building. At no time did he express that he wanted to hurt anybody. His sole intention was to meet with Mr. Trump," said Aubrey. Had Rogata made it to his final destination, he would have been disappointed to realize that Trump was not in his tower but on the campaign trail in Florida.

Cristiano Ronaldo lost $11 million on his Trump Tower condo

Accountants would probably tell you that buying a Trump Tower condo is a safe investment. Real estate, particularly Fifth Avenue real estate, has a habit of skyrocketing as time ticks on. So spare a thought for poor Cristiano Ronaldo. According to Realtor, the soccer superstar purchased a Trump Tower condo in 2015 for $18.5 million. The three-bedroom apartment with views of Central Park should have been a nice earner for the Portuguese soccer player. However, when Ronaldo unloaded it in 2021, he only walked away with $7.18 million. Losing over $11 million might not seem like much when you've earned over $1 billion during your career (via Forbes). Nevertheless, it's gotta hurt!

Part of the reason Ronaldo got such a raw deal was that the COVID-19 pandemic put the breaks on the real estate market. Additionally, luxury real estate specialist Dolly Lenz believes Ronaldo paid above the odds for the apartment. Yet there is another reason. Having an apartment in Trump Tower is seen in many quarters as controversial, and in 2017 Ronaldo fans started a petition urging their hero to move out. According to Bloomberg, during Trump's Presidency, Trump Tower was ranked as one of Manhattan's least desirable pieces of real estate, with most condo owners selling at a loss. Yet much like the man it is named after, the tower's future is not written in stone and is capable of weathering the fiercest storms. Its story is far from over.