Ivanka Trump announced last week that she would be shuttering her eponymous fashion brand, a decision made out of reported frustration with restrictions put in place to avoid conflicts of interest while working in the White House. As of July 28, though, as Business Insider reported, her last brick-and-mortar outpost was still open in the vulgar beating heart of the Trump empire—Trump Tower itself. And so off I went, to inspect the ruins.
Once upon a time, I had fond feelings for Trump Tower, a utilitarian kind of haven for a person with time to kill: It had an easily accessible public restroom for which the lines were never too long, even on a Saturday afternoon, and a Starbucks. Now it’s a strangely half-fortified quasi-government building, requiring you to walk through a line of cops (complete with a bomb-sniffing dog) and put your bag through an X-ray machine staffed by somebody wearing a Secret Service vest if you’re in search of a restroom or, like me, the remnants of Ivanka Trump’s life’s work.
Trump Tower is visually overwhelming, all rosy marble and brass escalators everywhere you turn. It’s like being inside one of those handheld maze toys you’d find in the waiting room of a pediatric dentist, except you are the ball bearing rolling through its passageways. At 10 in the morning, when the Ivanka Trump store would be opening, the place was reminiscent of nothing so much as the abandoned end of the mall. Visitors were limited to a few scattered international tourists.
When I finally arrived at the Ivanka Trump store—really more of a pink-lit kiosk chiseled out of the marble wall of the atrium—I was disappointed to see that it had shut down and been rebranded, apparently overnight, into yet another store selling general Trump merchandise, including teddy bears wearing Trump sweaters, Trump travel bags, and Trump bathrobes. All that was left to remind you of the eldest Trump daughter was a $28 candle with a totally unmemorable scent and a tote bag that seemed fairly nice—solid canvas, nice size, pretty floral pattern—until you opened it and the words “DREAM AND DO IVANKA TRUMP” hopped out at you like a toad from a garden shed.
Like Ivanka herself in the years since her father first announced his presidential run, the brand identity she had carefully cultivated as separate from that of her family—feminine, more cosmopolitan, less crass—had been swallowed into the greater whole.
Finding myself with time to kill, I walked downstairs to the official TRUMP PENCE merchandise store opened, run by a woman careful to inform browsers that proceeds went to the campaign and not the Republican National Committee. A shopper considered the red MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hat in her hands; “I like the camouflage one, and it doesn’t stand out as much,” another browser commented to a companion.
Trump Tower, for all its fame, is ultimately little more than a particularly ambitious Ruby Tuesday’s stranded on the same street as Bergdorf Goodman. It’s fine, but it shouldn’t be a standout memory of Fifth Avenue, much less Manhattan. Until, that is, it became the home of the president.
So I drifted around, aimlessly, just like everybody else there to take that fact in. The crowds grew over the course of the morning, but there was really nothing for them to see in Trump Tower, other than the fact of it’s being Trump Tower. There’s no real attraction. There are no destination restaurants, nothing to distinguish the building on its historic Manhattan strip.
Instead, the first floor and basement are scattered with Trump-branded eateries that create a distinctly food court feel. There’s the aesthetically incoherent Trump Grill, designed to evoke some vaguely Delmonico’s adjacent Gilded Age restaurant aesthetics, and yet inexplicably including both a kitschy 18th century couple with a baby and a sort of wallpaper border on the top outside rim with a city skyline recalling an prime-time soap opera of the early 1980s. Overlooking the tables is a grinning portrait of Fred Trump. For the more casual visitor, there’s a buffet along the lines of some determinedly respectable early 20th century eatery like Schrafft’s crossed with one of those salad bars that from 1991 with toppings including cottage cheese, boiled eggs, and pineapple. There’s also an ice cream parlor that evokes the American Girl doll Samantha’s ideal outing.
On the far wall of the downstairs gift shop was a bunch of merchandise featuring the clock outside of Trump Tower, treating it as some sort of special landmark, when it’s just something they created in the 1980s to conjure up an image of luxurious history, creating a pedigree for the building. I recalled that in The Art of the Deal, Trump discussed the demolition of the Bonwitt Teller flagship that once existed on the site, during which he notoriously destroyed iconic Art Deco friezes that the Metropolitan Museum of Art requested for their collections. “I just wasn’t prepared to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars to save a few Art Deco sculptures that I believed were worth considerably less, and perhaps not very much at all,” the book explained.
There’s something wonderful about the place, resembling as it does some midcentury ranch home whose owner really and truly went for it, decorating in perfectly of-the-moment faddish styles never altered until being listed on Zillow decades later. It’s a battered Judith Krantz novel discovered, enjoyed, and left behind in a beach rental. It’s a magnificent time capsule, and if Donald Trump weren’t such a monster I’d probably love it.
The irony is that now this absurd building, its generic food court, and its damned escalator is now a site of genuine historical importance, the ludicrous chariot that set him on his path to the White House by way of a racist speech about Mexican immigrants. Riding that escalator, staring into my own reflection in the brass mirrors surrounding me like I’d found myself in the bedroom of the world’s cheesiest bachelor, made me feel all over again the sheer weight—and utter fucking ridiculousness—of this miserable chapter in American history.
New York is a city that is rapidly losing its history, its centuries-long churn between old and new thrown out of balance as soaring glass luxury towers for absentee oligarchs and chain stores and bank branches proliferate unchecked, a toxic algae bloom. But despite all the attempts to disavow Trump from our midst, he’s still there in that tower, the blockbuster project he parlayed into an outsized piece of the American public consciousness and, ultimately, the presidency. And so New York is also a city in which you are confronted, almost daily, with history being made anew.
Twenty years from now, 50 years from now, what will we do with this building? Will Don Jr. turn those empty upper floors of the atrium into an overpriced Donald J. Trump Presidential Memorial Multimedia Experience, halfway between the Nixon library and the viewing deck of the Empire State Building? Will it be preserved as a monument to a dark chapter in our nation’s history, or preserved in amber by devoted true believers, a Lenin’s tomb for the MAGA set.
Maybe it’ll just be quietly torn down as a faded embarrassment and replaced by some new, more anonymous glass tower for sketchy, publicity-shy international money. New York is like that.
After a morning inside, I escaped the building into the summer heat, weaving through tourists posing with police officers for cheerful selfies. I entered back into the sea of New Yorkers passing by the tower, just going about their daily lives.