The ghost of Christmas present materializes over the entrance as you walk east from a downtown Manhattan hotel that appears nameless when viewed straight on.
But with each step the perceived angle of the midday sunlight changes and the faint trace of letters slowly appear one by one, right to left:
And then you read them all, left to right:
Until they were taken down early Thursday morning, the actual letters at the entrance to this condo hotel on Spring Street had spelled out in shiny brass the name that Donald Trump emblazoned on all his projects save for his very first one.
The first being the 1975 purchase and renovation of the dilapidated Commodore Hotel in midtown Manhattan from the imploding Penn Central railroad. Trump partnered in the project with the Hyatt corporation, which insisted on putting its name on the new incarnation.
The lead negotiator for the seller in the Commodore-Grand Hyatt deal was John Koskine, who would go on to become commissioner of the IRS at the time Trump was running for president. Koskine— who has since moved on — had Trump’s tax returns stored in a special vault.
A review of Trump’s records over the years would show that his first project was accomplished with a four-decade tax abatement worth more than $360 million so far. His 15 construction projects in Manhattan received a total of more than $885 million in tax breaks.
And despite that HUGE personal tax break, Trump’s businesses repeatedly went bankrupt and he ended up with such a woeful financial history that none of the major financial institutions save Deutsche Bank would lend to him. He seemed near a parting even with that final source of major cash after he missed a $40 million payment on a $330 million debt in 2008.
When Deutsche Bank sued to get its money, Trump filed a counter suit in his native Queens. He charged that he had been unable to make the payment because of a “once-in-a-century credit tsunami” that Deutsche Bank had helped create. He demanded $3 billion in recompense, further alleging that his reputation “for completing projects on time and under budget… and… for being associated with only the highest quality hotel operations will be irreparably injured in a manner for which money damages cannot provide adequate compensation.”
Deutsche Bank countered that Trump was engaging in a “baseless ‘grab bag’” of legal claims “to avoid repaying his debt in accordance with the loan agreement.” The bank noted that in the immediate aftermath of the fiscal “tsunami,” Trump had bragged that he and his company had amassed more than $2 billion in cash.
The bank reported in the court papers that “Trump boasted, ‘The world has charged financially and the banks are all in such trouble, but the good news is we are doing very well as a company and are in a very, very strong cash position.’” The bank further quoted Trump as having told the press, “All my stuff has been a great success. Somebody says, ‘How's the market?’ I say, ‘Not good except for Trump.’”
As for his reputation, the bank contended in the court papers, “A declaration that [Trump] failed to repay the construction loan in a timely fashion would only recapitulate what is already popular knowledge regarding Trump and his business dealings. Trump is no stranger to overdue debt.”
The bank went on, “In the early 1990s, he famously delayed payment on mounting bank debts, and even succeeded in extracting a $65 million bailout from his lenders, before those lenders finally resorted to dismantling many of his holdings for repayment.”
Despite this estimation of Trump as a credit risk, another part of Deutsche Bank ended up bailing him out with the part that was seeking payment. The magnanimous part happened to have extensive dealings with the Russians. Hence Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s present interest in Trump’s dealings with Deutsche Bank.
With regards to his reputation, Trump perpetuated the illusion of a golden touch so successfully that he was able to get a piece of projects simply by lending his name to them. That prominently included the Trump SoHo Hotel, which was bankrolled not by him, but by a company whose principals included a convicted felon associated with Russian organized crime who has a record for assault and stock fraud. The idea was to then sell the rooms as condos while the place continued to function largely as a hotel, which had the added advantage of getting around residential-only zoning restrictions.
But for the second arrangement to get an official go-ahead, just over 15 percent of the condos had to sell. The number had not yet been reached when the nature of the actual backers became public knowledge. The project seemed in danger of collapsing and some of the early buyers began asking for the return of their deposits.
Enter Donald Trump, Jr. and his sister Ivanka. Investigators at the Manhattan District Attorney's office says that the two Trumpkins sought to mislead the unhappy buyers. The word for this would be fraud and it was reportedly corroborated by emails.
But in the end, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance overruled some of his own prosecutors and decided not to seek criminal charges. Vance would follow this 2012 decision with a 2015 decision not to seek criminal charges against Harvey Weinstein for groping a woman, despite a recording of what amounted to a confession.
If Manhattan seemed to become a good place for celebrities to escape indictment, it was also a realm where the Trump name was increasingly a financial liability. The Trump SoHo fell into a steeper decline after LeBron James led by example what amounted to a boycott among NBA players. The wedding and special event business also dried up. What New York bride would want to endure the groping jokes that would accompany people hearing her reception was being held at a Trump establishment?
The California real estate concern that had become the actual owner decided to terminate a licensing deal with Trump’s company. The brand name turned liability was scrubbed from the hotel, right down to the robes and the toiletries in the rooms. The last to go were the brass letters over the entrance, which were removed early Thursday morning.
Not a trace of the name was visible to anybody who stood directly in front of the entrance later in the morning. An Amazon delivery man stood confused, gazing from a cell phone map that said “Trump SoHo” to the blank façade. The guests who emerged included a couple from Texas with their three children. The mother, who wished to give her name only as Lina M., allowed that she had not been happy when her husband, Said, made their hotel arrangements.
“When he reserved it, I didn’t want to have it because the name ‘Trump,’” she told the Daily Beast.
But upon their arrival they found a notice in their room that the hotel had been renamed the Dominick, after a street that runs behind the building.
“I feel better now,” she said.
She headed off west with her husband and children, girls aged 18 and 16, a boy aged 11, all of whom are growing up in a world polarized by a five-letter name.
Anyone who walked east would have seen the vanquished T-R-U-M-P reappear, the Trump who rode an illusion to the White House after being a mendacious deadbeat hustler taking nearly a billion dollars in tax breaks for himself.
His name comes down from this hotel in Manhattan even as he signed his name to a tax bill that is a boon to the rich and the corporations but he called “an incredible Christmas gift for hard-working Americans.”
“I said I wanted to have it done before Christmas," Trump told the country. “We got it done.”
Take a walk down Spring Street from west to east and see the ghost of Christmas present.