An American real estate developer, Donald John Trump (born 1946) became one of the best known and most controversial businessmen of the 1980s and 1990s.
Donald John Trump was born in 1946 in Queens, New York City, the fourth of five children of Frederick C. and Mary MacLeod Trump. Frederick Trump was a builder and real estate developer who came to specialize in constructing and operating middle income apartments in the Queens, Staten Island, and Brooklyn. Donald Trump was an energetic, assertive child, and his parents sent him to the New York Military Academy at age 13, hoping the discipline of the school would channel his energy in a positive manner. Trump did well at the academy, both socially and academically, rising to be a star athlete and student leader by the time he graduated in 1964. He entered Fordham University and then transferred to the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania from which he graduated in 1968 with a degree in economics.
Trump seems to have been strongly influenced by his father in his decision to make a career in real estate development, but the younger man's personal goals were much grander than those of his senior. As a student, Trump worked with his father during the summer and then joined his father's company, the Trump Organization, after graduation from college. He was able to finance an expansion of the company's holdings by convincing his father to be more liberal in the use of loans based on the equity in the Trump apartment complexes. However, the business was very competitive and profit margins were narrow. In 1971 Trump moved his residence to Manhattan, where he became familiar with many influential people. Convinced of the economic opportunity in the city, Trump became involved in large building projects in Manhattan, that would offer opportunities for earning high profits, utilizing attractive architectural design, and winning public recognition.
When the Pennsylvania Central Railroad entered bankruptcy, Trump was able to obtain an option on the railroad's yards on the west side of Manhattan. When initial plans for apartments proved unfeasible because of a poor economic climate, Trump promoted the property as the location of a city convention center, and the city government selected it over two other sites in 1978. Trump's offer to forego a fee if the center were named after his family, however, was turned down, along with his bid to build the complex, which was ultimately named for Senator Jacob Javits.
In 1974 Trump obtained an option on one of the Penn Central's hotels, the Commodore, which was unprofitable but in an excellent location adjacent to Grand Central Station. The next year he signed a partnership agreement with the Hyatt Hotel Corporation, which did not have a large downtown hotel. Trump then worked out a complex deal with the city to win a 40-year tax abatement, arranged financing, and then completely renovated the building, constructing a striking new facade of reflective glass designed by architect Der Scutt. When the hotel, renamed the Grand Hyatt, opened in 1980, it was popular and an economic success, making Trump the city's best known and most controversial developer.
Trump married Ivana Zelnickova Winklmayr, a New York fashion model who had been an alternate on the 1968 Czech Olympic Ski Team, in 1977. After the birth of the first of the couple's three children in 1978, Donald John Trump, Jr., Ivana Trump was named vice president in charge of design in the Trump Organization and played a major role in supervising the renovation of the Commodore.
In 1979 Trump leased a site on Fifth Avenue adjacent to the famous Tiffany & Company as the location for a monumental $200 million apartment-retail complex designed by Der Scutt. It was named Trump Tower when it opened in 1982. The 58-story building featured a 6-story atrium lined with pink marble and included an 80-foot waterfall. The luxurious building attracted well-known retail stores and celebrity renters and brought Trump national attention.
Meanwhile Trump was investigating the profitable casino gambling business, which was approved in New Jersey in 1977. In 1980 he was able to acquire a piece of property in Atlantic City. He brought in his younger brother Robert to head up the complex project of acquiring the land, winning a gambling license, and obtaining permits and financing. Holiday Inns Corporation, the parent company of Harrah's casino hotels, offered a partnership, and the $250 million complex opened in 1982 as Harrah's at Trump Plaza. Trump bought out Holiday Inns in 1986 and renamed the facility Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino. Trump also purchased a Hilton Hotels casino-hotel in Atlantic City when the corporation failed to obtain a gambling license and renamed the $320 million complex Trump's Castle. Later, while it was under construction, he was able to acquire the largest hotel-casino in the world, the Taj Mahal at Atlantic City, which opened in 1990.
Back in New York City Trump had purchased an apartment building and the adjacent Barbizon-Plaza Hotel in New York City, which faced Central Park, with plans to build a large condominium tower on the site. The tenants of the apartment building, however, who were protected by the city's rent control and rent stabilization programs, fought Trump's plans and won. Trump then renovated the Barbizon, renaming it Trump Parc. In 1985 Trump purchased 76 acres on the west side of Manhattan for $88 million to build a complex to be called Television City, which was to consist of a dozen skyscrapers, a mall, and a riverfront park. The huge development was to stress television production and feature the world's tallest building, but community opposition and a long city approval process delayed commencement of construction of the project. In 1988 he acquired the Plaza Hotel for $407 million and spent $50 million refurbishing it under his wife Ivana's direction.
Trump reached south to build a condominium project in West Palm Beach, Florida, and in 1989 he branched out to purchase the Eastern Air Lines Shuttle for $365 million, renaming it the Trump Shuttle. In January 1990, Trump flew to Los Angeles to unveil a plan to build a $1 billion commercial and residential project featuring a 125-story office building.
It was in 1990, however, that the real estate market declined, reducing the value of and income from Trump's empire; his own net worth plummeted from an estimated $1.7 billion to $500 million. The Trump Organization required a massive infusion of loans to keep it from collapsing, a situation which raised questions as to whether the corporation could survive bankruptcy. Some observers saw Trump's decline as symbolic of many of the business, economic, and social excesses that had arisen in the 1980s.
Yet, he climbed back from nearly $900 million in the red: Trump was reported to be worth close to $ 2 billion in 1997. Much of Trump's regained Taj Mahal have an ever increasing value.
Donald Trump's image was tarnished by the publicity surrounding his controversial separation and the later divorce from his wife, Ivana. But, Trump married again, this time to Marla Maples, a fledgling actress. Their marriage, which also ended in a highly publicized divorce in 1997, produced a daughter.
Further Reading on Donald John Trump
Trump described his life and career to 1987 with the assistance of Tony Schwartz in Trump: The Art of the Deal (1987) and his controversial activities of the late 1980s with Charles Leerhsen in Trump: The Art of Survival (1990). Jerome Tucille has written a critical unauthorized account of Trump's early career in Trump: The Saga of America's Master Builder (1986). A former employee, John R. O'Donnell, updates the career in Trumped: The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump—His Cunning Rise and Spectacular Fall (1991), not a flattering portrait.