Sarah Squire’s wedding wasn’t meant to be a political statement. But, she says, it probably seems like one now.
Back when Squire booked the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., for her January nuptials, Donald Trump was one of a dozen candidates clamoring for the Republican nomination. The real estate tycoon was widely presumed to be a long shot for the nation’s highest office.
But by the time Squire and her husband got married in the property’s presidential ballroom on Jan. 14, Trump was six days away from being sworn in as the next president of the United States.
“That definitely wasn’t something we ever considered,” said Squire, 27, who works in business development for a law firm in Nashville. “We had no idea this would happen.”
Added her mother, Elisabeth: “As the building progressed — and as Trump was progressing, too — we were thinking, ‘Oh, boy.’ ”
The reasons Squire chose the historic property on Pennsylvania Avenue, she says, were simple: It was a historic building in downtown Washington that could easily accommodate her 300 guests.
“And we heard that it was Ivanka behind the design — not her daddy,” Elisabeth added. “She has great taste.”
While a handful of couples have already tied the knot at Trump’s hotel since it opened in September, wedding planners say many others are eschewing the property in favor of less-controversial venues around town.
Trump spent $212 million renovating the historic property, which he is renting from the General Services Administration. The hotel has been the site of frequent protests, including an incident last month when a man apparently set himself on fire outside the building.
A spokeswoman for the hotel did not respond to requests for comment.
“A lot of brides are saying ‘This is very political for my guests, so I think I’ll go elsewhere,’ ” said a local wedding planner who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the backlash after an October wedding she planned at the hotel. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a place in the city that’s so polarizing.”
“The fallout of this — people threatening my family, calling for boycotts of my company — has been worse than anything I could’ve imagined,” she added.
Even brides and grooms who have already gotten married at the hotel are treading carefully. One couple asked that their names not be visible in any photos of their wedding shared online. Others have begun leaving the name “Trump” off invitations, referring to the property instead by its original name, “the Old Post Office Pavilion,” according to a local florist who provides arrangements for the Trump hotel.
The reaction to the property “has been as split as the election was,” said Jennifer Stiebel, owner of District-based SoCo Events, who planned a New Year’s Eve wedding at the hotel. “Let’s put it this way: There are definitely some clients I would never recommend it to. But at the same time, when you walk into that lobby, it’s hard to deny that it is gorgeous.”
That refrain — gorgeous, beautiful, stunning — was a common one among the area’s wedding planners. And, they said, they were impressed by the hotel’s events and catering team, made up of veterans of Washington’s toniest hotels. David Anderson, the head of catering, was formerly at the Four Seasons in Georgetown. Rebecca Ventura, director of social catering sales, came from the Hay-Adams.
“It’s beautiful — there’s no way around that,” said Katie Martin, owner of Elegance & Simplicity, a Bethesda company that specializes in eco-friendly weddings. “And, obviously, it’s sitting in a great part of town.”
But, she added, her clients have yet to show any interest. Instead, they’re booking weddings at the Decatur House, a historic building around the corner from the White House, and various hotels in town.
“We’re such a divided nation right now,” Martin said. “Nobody wants their wedding to become a political event.”
The phenomenon, she says, isn’t limited to Trump’s hotel. Martin says her clients had similar reactions to the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center when it opened in 1998. Other couples, she said, refuse to consider the Whittemore House mansion in Dupont Circle because it is home to the Women’s National Democratic Club.
“Politics really affect our emotions,” she said. “And we live in an area that’s very politically charged.”
Sara Robertson wasn’t sure what to expect when she walked into the Trump hotel on New Year’s Eve for a last-minute photography gig. Would there be protests? Vandalism? Politically charged debates?
The wedding turned out to be an opulent celebration, complete with poi dancers and women in short, glittery outfits spinning light-up Hula-Hoops in the dark. Guests danced to Top 40 hits, and a cannon blasted glitter and confetti at midnight.
“I left all politics aside when I walked in there,” said Robertson, who owns Wolfcrest Photography in Fredericksburg, Va. “And it seemed like everyone else did, too.”
Some, though, say they’ve faced backlash over their decisions to do business at the Trump. Aaron Broadus, band leader of BroadSound Entertainment, said other musicians questioned his intentions when he took to Facebook to write about his experience playing at the hotel.
“People started saying, ‘Oh, well I would never perform there,’ ” said Broadus, who is also a music professor at Georgetown University. “But that’s not where we stand. We’re impartial. And in the end, everything was okay. Everything was fine.”
Tara Melvin isn’t convinced. As the owner of Perfect Planning Events, she oversees about 15 weddings a year — but has no intention of planning any at the Trump.
“Honestly, I don’t ask my clients what their political views are, but I do know that integrity is important to a lot of them,” she said, adding that she was put off by some of Trump’s comments about women and people of different ethnic and religious groups.
“I would never go against a client’s wants or needs,” she added, “but this is one property I won’t voluntarily be recommending.”
When Katherine Callaway booked the hotel for her September wedding, she was sure of one thing: There would be a lot of gold.
She had yet to set foot in the building, which was still months from finishing renovations. “But when you think of Trump, of course you think gold,” said her wedding planner.
Callaway, 27, who grew up in McLean and is now a training manager for the National Park Service, said the Old Post Office had always been her favorite building in Washington. When she heard that it was being reopened, it immediately became her top venue choice, surpassing the St. Regis, where her parents had gotten married.
“It’s such a beautiful building,” she said. “We booked it immediately.”
Her wedding planner, for her part, said she was wary when she heard that Callaway and her fiance, Jeffrey Smeraglinolo, had signed up to host the very first wedding there. The building was under construction and wouldn’t be complete until a couple of weeks before their big day. Plus, she said, “a hotel’s soft opening is typically a disaster.”
But the staff did their best to quell her worries. Every few days, the sales team emailed her photos and sent updates on Snapchat. She watched as the scaffolding came off and made plans to decorate the venue with tall white candles, gold vases and white-and-gold tablecloths.
The night of the wedding, a few things were shuffled around — her team had to move some furniture to hide an unfinished wall panel, but nothing she says guests would have noticed. Everything went smoothly, she says, and the hotel’s catering captain even ran down the street to get her coffee from Starbucks.
“I went in thinking it would be a nightmare,” the planner said. “But walking into the reception, I was dumbfounded. It was beautiful.”
The backlash, though, was anything but. When word got out that she’d worked with the Trump hotel, people took to her Instagram account with hate-filled messages and threats, she said. They called for boycotts of her company, which resulted in her losing at least one corporate client.
“It was a complete downward spiral,” she said.
But, she added, “I would definitely do another wedding there. It would just be something I’d have to keep quiet.”