Destroyer in Chief

How Real Estate, Violence, and Public Protest Destroyed These Iconic New York Artworks

Artsy Editorial
By Isaac Kaplan
Oct 14th, 2016 10:41 pm

Art Deco bas-reliefs, Bonwit Teller building


Donald Trump courted controversy and a reputation for destruction long before his current presidential campaign. In 1979, when he was a relatively unknown New York real estate developer (the mind boggles), a 33-year-old Trump acquired the historic Art Deco Bonwit Teller building, only to demolish it a year later to build what would become Trump Tower. He promised, however, to save two 15-foot-high bas-relief panels that adorned the Teller building and donate them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art should he be able to remove them. Despite his word, the “pieces that had been sought with enthusiasm by the Metropolitan Museum of Art…were smashed by jackhammers yesterday on the orders of a real estate developer,” as the New York Times report from the time tells it.

That unnamed developer was Trump, and the paper condemned his actions. Trump’s organization retorted that the two-ton panels lacked “artistic merit,” and that saving them would have created an undue delay on construction and cost $500,000 (that figure was a fraction of the total cost of the building, which was estimated at $100 million). The Vice President of the Met’s board, Ashton Hawkins, provided a dismayed quote to the Times, saying that “architectural sculptures of this quality are rare and would have made definite sense in our collections. Their monetary value was not what we were interested in.”

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