The Schmooze

That Time Donald Trump’s ‘Spokesman’ Trashed the Work of a Jewish Designer — And “John Baron” Took the Hit

It was late spring, 1980. The eleven-story Bonwit Teller building on Fifth Avenue in New York was in the process of being demolished. The Metropolitan Museum of Art had said that they wanted to preserve two of the building’s 1930 bas-relief sculptures — female nudes.

But, before that could happen, the building and sculptures were destroyed beyond any hope of repair. Despite the outcry of the museum and preservationists, a spokesman for the real estate developer responsible for razing the structure told The New York Times’s Robert McFadden, “The merit of these stones was not great enough to justify the effort to save them.” As for the grillwork — credited to the Jewish decorative designer Ely Jacques Kahn — the developer’s spokesman told The Times, “We don’t know what happened to it.”

So, why do we still care?

This story, covered in several stories in The Times, might not merit much of a mention today were it not for the names of the real estate developer and his spokesman. The developer was Donald J. Trump; his spokesman, as identified in The Times, was alleged Trump sock puppet John Baron who claimed the sculptures were “without artistic merit” and certainly not worth the trouble and cash outlay it would take to save them.

“It’s odd that a person like Trump, who is spending $80 million or $100 million on this building, should squirm that it might cost as much as $32,000 to take down those panels. That’s small potatoes,” Otto J. Teegen, who was commissioned by Ely Kahn to do the grillwork, told the New York Times then.

As opposed to his voluble spokesperson “John Baron,” the president of the Trump Organization had a reply back then that has become quite familiar in recent months.

“Mr Trump,” the Times wrote, “did not return a reporter’s phone call.”

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That Time Donald Trump’s ‘Spokesman’ Trashed the Work of a Jewish Designer — And “John Baron” Took the Hit

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