The world’s most powerful man’s house was built by a woman. A new documentary is attempting to make sense of the unorthodox and unexpected trajectory of Donald Trump; a complicated story of a man who went from property mogul to President of the United States.
After inheriting the family business, Donald Trump began his rise to prominence in New York City.
New York was in an unprecedented economic slump in the 1970s - but that didn’t deter Donald Trump from asking for tax abatements or cuts on new construction projects.
Due to the economic slump, the Commodore Hotel had fallen into disrepair and had become an eyesore to the city’s inhabitants.
Trump applied for and was given a 40-year tax abatement to renovate the Commodore Hotel in New York City - an historic contract, the first of its kind in commercial property.
Trump expressed his wish that the city would “stop playing around”. He wanted the decision makers in New York to trust him to reinvigorate a city in disrepair with the projects his business planned.
After being granted the tax abatement, Trump was given $70 million by a collection of banks to complete the project. Trump explained in his slightly muddled way:
“The new hotel, which is going to be spectacular, something that New York has never seen; with elevators on the outside, and atriums and the largest ballroom in the city. We feel all of these are going to combine with, really, potentially, the best area in New York city and probably New York city’s most important area, the Grand Central area. All of this is going to combine to make, probably, the most successful hotel in the country we’ve seen.”
Trump used glass and steel to make the building look like a premium skyscraper. In 1996, the Hyatt Corporation who owned shares in the building bought Trump’s shares for $142 million. All in all, the Trump dynasty was responsible for 15 buildings in Manhattan and had benefitted from tax breaks to the tune of US$885 million.
Women & Concrete
Then came the construction of Trump’s most audacious project yet - the Trump Tower. He ambitiously attempted to jostle the government for yet further tax reductions for this project. He eventually won them!
He began construction on the project, enlisting the help of a female engineer named Barbara Res. In a TV appearance, Res said:
“I am a graduate engineer and currently project manager of the newest addition to the New York city skyline known as the Trump Tower. I am proud of the fact that I am the first woman to have overall supervision of the construction of a major skyscraper in the New York metropolitan area.”
Res notes that the chances of a woman engineer getting the project manager position on a build like that was a rare occurrence in the industry. Females made up 1% of the engineering workforce in those years, Res recalls.
“It was a spectacular building. It was cutting edge, it was forward-thinking; the shape of it, the style of it, the idea of it, the location of it, the height of it. And the views were unparalleled. I mean, you had unobstructed views of whatever it was you were looking at. This was all very special stuff, and Donald had come up with this himself. He was a schemer and a dreamer and I just wanted to be part of It.:”
Trump moved away from the glass and steel approach of his previous projects, he built Trump Tower out of concrete. The construction manager for the Tower persuaded the structural engineer to switch to concrete; a cheaper and faster alternative to glass and steel.
Trump trumpeted that 5,000 construction workers were part of the build and added as a non sequitur that many people would be employed within Trump Tower as well!
Barbara Res admits that the general apartments in Trump Tower were cheaply made; she recalls Trump wanting to save as much money as possible. The allure of buying in Manhattan meant, however, that the lack of quality was overlooked.
Res, in the new documentary, Trump: An American Dream, said: “Yeah, it was Trump’s building - he conceived it...but I built it.”
Mr Trump is now the President of the United States and is promising tax cuts that will reportedly benefit the middle class. I dare say these hard working people deserve them – they would certainly not have had the opportunity to lobby governments for tax cuts while simultaneously feathering their nests.
There has, however, been a silver lining to it all: many engineers have benefitted from the array of construction projects that Trump has driven over the years. Barbara Res has opened up about her experiences, I am sure there will be others eager to reminisce about the man who is now the most powerful man in the world, for good or bad.
Bagli, Charles V. “A Trump Empire Built on Inside Connections and $885 Million in Tax Breaks.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 17 Sept. 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/09/18/nyregion/donald-trump-tax-breaks-real-estate.html.
“Trump: An American Dream.” All 4, www.channel4.com/programmes/trump-an-american-dream.