Editor’s note: As New York braced for an historic visit by reform-minded Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in December 1988, media reports indicated a tour of Trump Tower would be on his itinerary. This Dec. 3, 1988 story in The Washington Post traced how that visit had been arranged. Days later, when Gorbachev’s schedule was finalized, Trump Tower was nowhere on it; Soviet officials later told the Post that Kremlin higher-ups had nixed the idea.
NEW YORK — “Blasphemy!” Donald Trump's executive assistant is horrified at the question — namely, how did Mikhail Gorbachev hear about Trump Tower, the Fifth Avenue shrine to acquisitiveness he's agreed to visit next week? “Everybody in the whole world knows about Trump Tower!” Like Gorby heard a coupla guys jawing about it on the Moscow subway the other day.
The fact is, the billionaire developer (casino czar, bestselling author, nouveau yachtsman, etc.) has been making overtures to Moscow for some time. The Soviets seem interested in him, too. The Gorbachevs' Thursday afternoon Tower tour — which resulted from a note Trump sent to the Soviet Mission to the United Nations in late November when the New York visit was announced — is only the latest encounter.
The courtship began in 1986, when Trump was seated next to Ambassador Yuri Dubinin at a luncheon given by Leonard Lauder, who runs his mother Este'e's cosmetics business. Turned out that Dubinin's daughter knew all about the Trump Tower, with its six-story-high atrium of apricot marble and blinding brass where a $2 million, 80-foot-high waterfall sloshes down one wall. As Trump recounts the conversation in his 1987 book, "one thing led to another, and now I'm talking about building a large luxury hotel across the street from the Kremlin." The plan was to build in partnership with the Soviet government.
In January 1987, the Soviet agency for international tourism, Intourist, expressed interest in a meeting. Trump and his wife Ivana, who speaks Russian, flew to Moscow that July and looked at half a dozen potential sites (none of them across the street from the Kremlin, however). "He met with a lot of the economic and financial advisers in the Politburo," says Trump spokesman Dan Klores. But he didn't meet the top man.
President Reagan remedied that by inviting the Trumps to the state dinner he tossed for the Gorbachevs a year ago. According to Klores, Trump managed quite a long conversation with Gorbachev about economics in general and hotels in particular.
The Trump Organization has had nothing much to say about a Moscow hotel since then. Trump's been preoccupied, perhaps, with his purchases of the Plaza Hotel and the Eastern shuttle and his $10 million refurbishment of his yacht, the Trump Princess, among other recent sprees. But when he heard of the Gorbachevs' visit, he fired off what Klores calls "a simple note" inviting them to tea at the Plaza and a tour of what Trump modestly refers to as the most luxurious building in the world. Sixty-eight stories tall, it combines six shopping levels with offices (include Trump's headquarters) and ridiculously expensive apartments.
"Very quickly, the Russians came back and said they'd be delighted," says Klores. The planning began last week. Trump Tower will not be closed to the public — it attracts about 75,000 tourists and shoppers on a December weekday — but it will be "fully secured," Klores says.
Despite Trump's public comments about the many splendors he'd like to show his guests, the visit will probably last only half an hour. There may not be time to whisk the Gorbachevs up to that $19 million apartment with the swimming pool that Trump mentioned, or to the Trumps' own penthouse triplex with the 80-foot living room (but no pool, yet).
But the probable tour will include a stop at Trump's 26th-floor office (with the Central Park view and the inspiring model of the Trump Princess) and a stroll through the glossy atrium. Trump has said he would like to show Raisa Gorbachev some of the Tower shops, which include Bonwit Teller, Abercrombie & Fitch, a gallery of Boehm porcelains and a number of distinctly nonproletarian jewelers such as Harry Winston, Cartier and Buccellati. A press pool will be permitted to trail along. Any slight disruption in the Tower's sales per square foot will no doubt be compensated for by tidal waves of free publicity.
And does this drop-in have anything to do with that unrealized hotel across from the Kremlin, the People's Trump? Spokesman Klores says the project is "certainly not dead." Trump's assistant Norma Foerderer would only say that the Organization was "very honored" to have the Gorbachevs come to call. As for news of the hotel, "call us after the visit."