Absurd New York #126: Best of the Big Apple Gripe Box


When last we left ole Dreary Don Dreary, he’d just revoked his Trump Tower residency for that of Mar-A-Lago:




But if you thought his days of complaining about New York were over, think again. In the midst of mass unemployment, accelerating cases of Covid-19, and continued calls to defund police departments across the country, His Royal Presidency still had enough time to thumb one out to the grip box:



Screenshot via Twitter. July 1, 2020.
Screenshot via Twitter. July 1, 2020.



First off, it’s Polly Trottenberg, Commissioner of the Department of Transportation that would approve marking up a city street, not Mayor de Blasio; but that’s okay, we know you don’t remember the names of “nasty” women anyway.

Second, let’s say it takes ten 5-gallon containers of $115 dollar Glidden Premium matte from Home Depot to spell out the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” If you’re trying to make some expense comparison here, that’s $999,998,850 dollars cheaper than spending $1 billion on the NYPD; but hey, that’s okay, we know you’ve never personally bought paint for a project in your life. How are you supposed to know how much it costs? 

Now, third, neither the word “black” nor “lives” nor “matter” have the concept of “hate” in their Merriam-Webster definitions; but that’s okay, if you don’t read something as complex as your daily intelligence briefs, why would you dive into something as simple as the dictionary?

And, fourth, how would some transitory letters brushed on the asphalt “denigrate” this “luxury avenue?” For years longer than anyone can remember, the Fifth Avenue roadbed between 50th and 60th Streets has been jackhammered to oblivion and covered with temporary slabs of rickety steel for so many construction jobs in the area, it’s a wonder there’s an avenue still left there to chop. And how about those steel police barriers that cropped up along the sidewalks when you first announced your run for the presidency? They’re still standing in various degrees of decrepitude. Would you say they’re “tremendous” and “bigly” opulent?

There’s even the Department of Sanitation’s garbage trucks, remember, that parked themselves in front of your Tower when Melania and Baron lived there alone for a year. Filled to the brim with what appeared to be sand, projecting all the class of a cesspool odor and drivers slumped at the wheel, they looked more like harbingers of the old Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island than tell-tale signs of a “luxury avenue.” But, then again, that’s okay; when you live in the stratosphere, how would you know what happens on the streets?

Now, seriously, in the interest of full disclosure, you should probably go back and append your tweet. Because when it comes to 5th Avenue and 56th Street, nobody’s denigrated the northeast corner there more than you.

Remember the Bonwit Teller Building?



Bonwit Teller. 5th and 56th. Photo by Worsinger. Courtesy of the New School Archives. Circa 1940s.



You know, designed by Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore, the team behind Grand Central Terminal? It opened as Stewart & Company in 1929. In April of the following year, however, it turned into Bonwit Teller. And, as the years wore on, its two 15 foot bas-relief sculptures, made from limestone and installed by artist Rene Paul Chabellan between the 8th and 9th floors, became symbols of both the building and retail company itself. Here’s a closer glance:



Photo by the Wurts Bros. Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York. 1929.



Now when you acquired the building and planned to demolish it in 1980, you promised the two sculptures to the Metropolitan Museum of Art [the MET]. (It was the least you could do, considering the $87 million dollar tax abatement the city just handed you.) Then, suddenly, in June, you couldn’t be bothered.

Posing as “John Baron,” an “Executive Vice President of the Trump Organization,” you told The New York Times that “the merit of these stones was not great enough to justify the effort to save them.” And in spite of Robert Miller, an upscale gallerist across the street, appraising their value at more than $200,000 dollars, you claimed the three entities you hired to ballpark a price came back with less than $9,000. When the Times asked Ashton Hawkins, Vice President and Secretary of the Board of Trustees of the MET, for comment, he replied


Can you imagine the Museum accepting them if they were not of artistic merit? Architectural sculpture of this quality is rare and would have made definite sense in our collections…. The Department of 20th Century Art was interested in having them because of their artistic merit.


Even Der Scott, the architect you hired to design your new Tower was appalled. In July 1980, he spoke to Preservation News and admitted being “outraged at the loss of the sculptures.” After all, he explained, he “wanted to incorporate the reliefs into the new lobby,” but you “wanted something more contemporary.”

So, on the afternoon of June 5th, 1980, you had a crew smash them to bits instead:



Before demolition. Photo by Nathan Kernan. Courtesy of the New York Times. June 6, 1980.



Conveniently, you were “out of town” the day it happened and couldn’t be reached for comment; but when New York Magazine interviewed you about it in November, you harped on about how long it would have taken to do what Scott wanted:


So, I said, “F**k it! Blow them up!


You also groaned that “the art was worthless” and “the MET didn’t want it” even though you knew neither of those things were true. But the best was when you took New York on a tour of the new Grant Hyatt Hotel on 42nd Street. Remarking on the lion’s head medallions over the entrance to its ballroom, you snickered:


They’re real art, not like the junk I destroyed at Bonwit Teller.


So if people come painting along 5th Avenue, see, there’s no need to get down. No one will ever denigrate it better than you. 




(1) Screenshots by Rick Stachura. Courtesy of His Royal Presidency’s Twitter feed. July 1, 2020.

(2) Photo by Worsinger. Bonwit Teller Building. Northeast corner of 5th Avenue and East 56th Street. Courtesy of The New School Archives. Circa 1940s. 

(3) Photo by the Wurts Bros. Close up of one of the Bonwit sculptures. Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York. 1929.

(4) Photo by Nathan Kernan. One of the sculptures before demolition. Courtesy of the New York Times. June 6, 1980.




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