Donald Trump: Preservationist?

You decide. Now seems an appropriate time to revive this feature, since the GOP just nominated Donald Trump for President of the United States at their convention in Cleveland last week.

Back in 1980, the then little-known developer was building his now-famous Tower on 5th Avenue in New York City. The location was already home to the 1929 Bonwit Teller Building, which featured two bas-relief Art Deco sculptures and a decorative grillwork. The Metropolitan Museum of Art wanted these items and Trump promised the museum could have them, so long as their removal was not cost prohibitive. At the end of the proverbial day, both the sculptures and the grillwork were destroyed. You can read more about the controversy over at the Washington Post (yes, the same Washington Post that Trump has denounced, go figure).

But wait, didn’t Trump spend millions restoring the National Historic Landmark, Mar-a-Lago? The 1927 estate of cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post in Palm Beach Florida? Yes, actually, he did in 1985, and even donated an easement to the National Trust for Historic Preservation ensuring its preservation in perpetuity. His involvement in Palm Beach was not without its detractors but his success there is one of the things Trump points to in his campaign for President as evidence of his negotiating skills.

More recently, Trump has infamously promised to build a wall along the U.S. southern border with Mexico. Comedian John Oliver pointed out that an earlier border fence resulted in the desecration of Native American remains according to testimony from Ned Norris, Jr., Chairman of the Tohomo O’Odham Nation. As someone who used to prepare NEPA documentation for transportation projects, I can only imagine the kind of environmental impact construction of Trump’s proposed wall would have not only to archaeological and historical resources, but also to wildlife species and water resources.

Regardless of who wins in November, Trump may soon have another opportunity to demonstrate his preservation ethos, just down the street from his intended White House residence. Washington, D.C.’s Old Post Office, built in 1899 and located along Pennsylvania Avenue, is owned by the federal government but now under control (for the next 60 years) of Donald Trump, who won a much sought-after contract for its redevelopment in 2012. The mogul plans to turn it into his latest luxury hotel. Some believe his involvement to be a conflict of interest now that he is running for President. According to Buzzfeed, sources say he won control by making two major promises: 1) Employing the architect, Arthur Cotton Moore, who had championed the building’s meticulous historic restoration and 2) involving Colony Capital, a real estate investment firm with a sound financial reputation (because several of Trump’s companies had well-publicized bankruptcies). However, after winning the contract, Trump backed out of both promises. The article further states:

…insiders said that Trump’s company has pushed the government to accept design and decorative changes that run counter to the principles of historic preservation, which are the basis on which he applied for a tax subsidy. For example, Trump is covering century-old marble floors with carpeting and concealing historic wood and marble walls with drapery. And he has asked to festoon the grand lobby with gold leaf…when it came to preservation, the Trump team had a doctrine…‘Apologize, do not ask.’

And this isn’t the only time Trump has been accused of “dressing up history.” So what do you think? Is Trump a preservationist? Tell me in the comments.


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