The history of Trump Tower is a tale of undocumented workers, the destruction of art, the power of ego, and the creation of a building that literally put Donald Trump on the global map for the first time. Reporter Grace Rauh dug into the backstory behind the building and filed the following report.
It was a presidential campaign launch unlike any other, and it began with an escalator ride at Trump Tower.
Donald Trump thought nothing of using his luxury condominium building, where one apartment is on the market for $23 million, to jump-start his populist bid for the White House. Because for Trump, there is likely no other place he could have imagined doing it other than Fifth Avenue at East 56th Street, where he made his biggest and most indelible mark as a real estate developer.
"What he wanted it to be was a superlative building and recognized all over as being the best. And that is what he went after," said Trump Tower construction manager Barbara Res.
When the building opened in 1983, New York was still getting back on its feet after nearly going bankrupt in the 1970s. And here was something grand and shiny and new.
Architecture critic Paul Goldberger reviewed the building for the New York Times.
"I mean, all those faceted corners made for a really, I thought, handsome shape in the city," Goldberger said. "It was very different from a box. It was a much livelier thing on the cityscape."
Trump pulled out the most positive line from Goldberger's piece and put it on a huge poster in the atrium.
"Sort of like the way with a movie or Broadway show, they might take a line from what the critic says and put it on the marquee. Well, he sort of did that with an architecture review," Goldberger said.
Libby Handros is a documentary producer behind the film "Trump: What's the Deal?"
"I thought the film was going to sit on a shelf until Donald died, and then someday, it would be an obit piece," Handros said.
The movie, which is now online, never reached a large audience. Handros says potential buyers were afraid Trump would sue. It takes a close look at the project that has best defined Trump's career.
"We spent for the finest marble, for the finest bronze, for the finest everything else," Trump said in a clip from the film. "You have to be careful, to be perfectly honest. Because it really does add to your risk. And we decided to go absolutely first-class all the way, and it's something we're very happy that we did.
Trump Tower rose up on the site where the Bonwit Teller department store once stood. Trump bought the building and started demolishing it in 1980, after having promised to save the Art Deco grillwork above the entrance and the sculptures above the eighth floor, as long as it did not cost too much. The Metropolitan Museum of Art wanted the pieces from the building.
But without a word, all were destroyed. A spokesman for Trump, who was likely Trump himself, told the New York Times the sculptures "were without artistic merit." As for the grillwork, he said, "We don't know what happened to it."
"It was an early sign of how indifferent he is to cultural values, how indifferent he is to the value of his own word and his promises," Goldberger said. "I think that maybe was the most important lesson of that, that a promised gift from Trump is worth nothing if he decides it is no longer in his interest or convenient to deliver."
That was hardly the only controversy during the demolition of the building that had opened in 1929. Trump hired a window-washing firm to tear down Bonwit Teller. And the firm brought on about 200 Polish workers, who were in the country illegally, to do the work. They were known as the Polish Brigade
"The Polish workers had no safety equipment, no hard hats, no goggles. They didn't have masks, even though there was asbestos in the old Bonwit Teller building," said David Cay Johnston, author of "The Making of Donald Trump." "They didn't have power equipment. They took down the old 12-story Bonwit Teller building by hand with sledgehammers.
They earned little money for their labor, not even the paltry $4-an-hour wages they were owed. A federal judge found Trump and his associates conspired to cheat the workers. Trump settled the case years later, but the agreement is sealed.
Marco Rubio, February 25, 2016: You are the only person on this stage that has ever been fined for hiring people to work on your projects illegally. You hired some workers from Poland.
Trump: I am the only one on the stage that has hired people. You haven't hired anybody.
Trump also made the unusual decision to use concrete for the project, even though the mob maintained a firm grip over the industry. Trump's friend and lawyer, Roy Cohn, had ties to organized crime, which ensured that the project went smoothly. The notorious Cohn first made his name as Sen. Joseph McCarthy's lawyer during McCarthy's communist witch-hunts.
Trump, who has faced criticism over his treatment of women, hired Res to manage construction at the site.
"He said, 'Men are better than women, but a good woman is better than 10 good men,'" Res said. "He meant it as a compliment.
She wrote a book about her work: "All Alone on the 68th Floor." It is a reference to the top floor of Trump Tower. Except the building is not actually 68 stories tall. It's 58 stories. Trump played with the numbers to make buyers think they were getting an apartment on a higher floor.
"He was just amazing, how he managed to promote that building and get the buzz about it. People were talking about it everywhere," Res said. "He is an amazing salesman. He could sell ice in the winter to the Eskimos."
Then, there were the tax breaks. Trump took Mayor Ed Koch's administration to court, and won, after he was turned down for a tax benefit City Hall argued was meant to help struggling neighborhoods. The city says it was worth $22.5 million.
In 2004 he got another big tax break, worth $15 million, to renovate commercial space in the building.
And he cut a deal with the city that allowed him to build taller if he made parts of the building open to the public. But Trump has not lived up to his end of the bargain.
Rauh: We wanted to film the public gardens.
Guard: You have to bring insurance and everything in case something happens.
Rauh: But it's like, a public space.
Guard: I understand, but what about if you fell?
After protesting, we were allowed to shoot the public gardens, with a security escort. But that's not all.
"He was supposed to provide a bench in the atrium space, which has disappeared over time," said Gina Pollara of the Municipal Art Society.
A Trump Store kiosk took over where the bench once stood, and Trump was fined $14,000 for the violation. With little fanfare this summer, a bench returned.
Trump has also closed the atrium for his political events, in violation of his agreement with the city.