The Short Answer: Donald Trump
By Preservation | From Preservation | July/August 2006
Donald Trump is a New York City real estate developer and the star of NBC’s reality television show The Apprentice. He restored the 1927 Mar-A-Lago estate, the former home of heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and investor Edward F. Hutton in Palm Beach, Fla.
Why did you buy Mar-A-Lago in 1985?
It was a great opportunity. It was sitting dormant. And the wrecking balls were getting ready. When I first saw it, I said, "Wouldn't that be a shame to have Mar-A-Lago demolished." At the time, there were many people looking at it, because Palm Beach is such a good location. But everybody else was looking to take it down and to do a subdivision with 15 or 16 houses because it's on 20 acres. I decided that I'd like to do something very different. First, I lived in it for a period of years, then around 1995, I opened the Mar-A-Lago Club, which became a success.
Why did you decide to turn the property into a private club?
It was too big a house to live in. It has more than 50 bedrooms and was the perfect size for what it's being used for now.
Can development and historic preservation exist side by side?
Absolutely, but a lot of it has to do with the developer. If you have developers like myself and others I know who are conscious of preservation, then the two interests can go hand in hand. There are quite a few who do a good job with this but far more who unfortunately do not. Mar-A-Lago is a great example of how historic preservation is possible. In keeping with the house's style, and under the tutelage of the National Trust, I added a great ballroom. Many have said that it's the finest ballroom ever built in this country. This was a form of development, yet it enhanced Mar-A-Lago greatly, because we had been holding social events inside the original house and perhaps hurting the place by subjecting it to so much wear and tear.
Is it typically cheaper or easier to demolish a structure and build anew than it is to adapt an existing structure to a new use?
We've all often heard the expression, "It's cheaper to build new than it is to reconstruct." That's not true. I've always found that it's much cheaper to use an existing structure. Now, doing so is more complicated, and you actually have to be a better builder to do that kind of work, but if you know what you're doing, it costs you less money. A lot of the building is already done—you already have your structure—so that's why it's much cheaper. For example, I saved a substantial amount of money when I built the Trump Park Avenue in New York City by reusing the Delmonico Hotel's foundation, frame, and exterior.
Did growing up in New York affect your perspective on historic preservation?
It greatly affected it. I watched as Penn Station was ripped down and saw what a tragedy that was. I watched as some of the great theaters on Broadway were ripped down, too, including the Ziegfeld Theater, probably the greatest movie palace we ever had in New York, which was replaced by the 50-story Burlington House.
Why did you donate $25,000 this spring to the restoration of Beauvoir, the home and library of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Biloxi, Miss.?
It's amazing what happened in that part of the world last summer. Through the renovation of Mar-A-Lago, I got to know National Trust President Dick Moe and other preservationists. I have great respect for the job they do. They really do have the interest of the country in mind. So I made a contribution, and it will not be my last. —Interview by Salvatore Deluca
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