Libby Ward made visiting Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan a priority during a recent three-hour flight layover in New York City. As tourists armed with shopping bags marched down Fifth Avenue's wide sidewalks, Ward, from Champlin, Minnesota, stood in front of the luxury apartment and business condominium owned by President-elect Donald Trump so she could get a “selfie” with the tower's gold-drenched facade in her "Snapchat" story.
“I wanted to see all the security and everyone’s extreme opinions. It's something worth seeing despite what politics you believe in. Now I can cross it off my bucket list,” said Ward. She was traveling during the Thanksgiving break to visit her fiancé, a non-U.S. citizen she fears could be deported under Trump’s presidential administration.
Tourists flock to New York City every holiday season to partake in its joyful festivities, such as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, ice skating in Central Park and The Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony. But the presidential election of Trump, a New York native and resident, has recently helped make a stop at Trump Tower’s marble-wrapped lobby a must-see sight before going home.
Since the election, Trump's supporters and naysayers alike from around the world have gathered at the 58-story building on Fifth Avenue near Central Park with the hopes of spotting political figures, bumping into one of his children or simply taking a "selfie" alongside anything with the word "Trump" on it. The property is flanked by high-end retailers Tiffany and Co. and Gucci in a neighborhood in Manhattan known for shopping and stunning holiday decor every December. On a recent day, police lined the entrance of the building where Trump both works and lives as protesters waved signs with messages such as "Trump Tower is not America."
A record 58.3 million tourists visited New York in 2015, with an estimated 59.7 million expected to arrive this year, according to a New York Times report on March 8, 2016. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, has set a goal for the city to attract 67 annual visitors by 2021. With Trump slated to serve as president for the next four years and his family promising to continue spending much of their time in New York City, reaching that goal shouldn't be too hard if the tourists wandering about his private residence in recent days are any indication.
Along with making it to the top of the Empire State Building, seeing The Statue of Liberty and walking among the falling red and yellow leaves of Central Park, Adriana Cardoso, a real estate broker from Buenos Aires, Argentina, said it would be “impossible” to visit New York City without having a peek inside Trump Tower.
“It’s a historic place now. I think Trump’s election was a historical moment not only for the U.S., but for the world,” said Cardoso, who was visiting New York City for the first time. “It’s so beautiful inside here, I think seeing Trump Tower shows that it is not about money for him, and electing him and not some politician meant choosing a better life with more freedom.”
For many visitors, a stop by Trump Tower is a chance to talk politics during the holiday season, when fighting with your cousin over, say, abortion rights or equal pay for women and men, is generally frowned upon.
Rolando Alvarado, from Syracuse, New York, posed for pictures with his family in front of the Trump Grill. Alvarado, a Spanish teacher and social worker visiting New York City for Thanksgiving, said he voted for Trump so the president-elect will follow through on his campaign pledge to eliminate Common Core standardized education, so he can “ teach specifically to the needs of each student.”
“Trump will put things in order,” Alvarado said. “He will make the country a more positive place by giving people a better life, because he lives really well. I wanted to take the kids here. It’s definitely one of the main tourist attractions now that he's going to be president.”
Charles Bouillon, an event planner from Brest, France, said he sought out Trump Tower because he was “curious” and wanted to know what the "iconic building of the future U.S. president” was like. He said he would enjoy "bumping into" one of the conservative-leaning politicians he had seen on the news in recent weeks passing through the lobby to meet with the president-elect.
As a gay man, Bouillon said he admired the cast of the Broadway musical "Hamilton" for directly addressing Vice President-elect Mike Pence about their trepidations going into a Trump presidency. After a performance on Nov. 18, actors from Hamilton read a statement to Pence, who was visiting the theater at the time, that expressed their fears about Trump’s promise of deporting 3 million undocumented immigrants on his first day as president, among other proposals. Bouillon said if he were to see Pence, who as the governor of Indiana signed a bill making it legal for businesses to discriminate against gay people along the lines of religious freedom, he would be forced to similarly speak up.
Rahim Prasla, who was visiting family in New York City for Thanksgiving from Plano, Texas, said Trump was the first Republican candidate he had ever voted for president because he was an “outsider” and “knew how to get things done.” Prasla boasted about going to Trump Tower last week and snagging a picture of former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He returned again a few days later in the hopes of getting a glimpse of Trump’s children.
“I wanted to see the building he always talks about on the news to see if he if will stay true to his campaign promises; it’s a landmark now.” Prasla said in the hotel lobby of the Trump Tower. “I think we should give him a chance, if he accomplishes 50 percent of what he says he is going to do, he’ll be more successful than our recent presidents.”
Matt Bateman, a dentist and Trump supporter, said he drove in an RV with his family from Nacogdoches, Texas, to witness the happenings around Trump Tower after seeing protests shutting down entire sections of Fifth Avenue on the news.
“I saw the dump trucks and the protests in front of Trump Tower on the news and wanted to see what was going on,” said Bateman as he stood across the street from Trump Tower on a recent afternoon. “I like that he (Trump) is fresh and I think that he will be good for the country. You have all these cronies like the Clintons and the Bushes in Washington who are getting paid to not do anything. That’s what has been stopping progress.”
Not everyone is excited about the flurry of activity unfolding at Trump Tower, an already popular area in New York City long before the president-elect ran for the White House. There had been at least four instances when demonstrations required the New York Police Department to temporarily close down both sides of traffic on Fifth Avenue in front of Trump Tower since the election, said former New York City Traffic Commissioner Sam Shwartz. He said there had been at least three protests a week at Trump Tower since the election, prompting locals to start steering clear of the city’s “golden block” of real estate on Fifth Avenue because it had been “taken over by demonstrators and tourists.”
“Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded,” he said in a telephone interview, quoting New York Yankee legend Yogi Berra.
Jason Hawkes, a physician at Rockefeller University in Manhattan who lives on the Upper East side of New York City, said he plans his work days around not walking past Trump Tower because of the number of pedestrians. But Hawkes said he has gone to Trump Tower several times during his time off to witness the protests since the election. Hawkes, a Democrat, said he worried about his foreign-born co-workers being deported under a Trump administration.
“A lot of people I know are staying out of the area completely,” said Hawkes as he stood outside Trump Tower on a recent day. “When I come here on the weekend to go to Central Park, there have been so many tourists it’s impossible to get anywhere. If you tell a taxi to drive down here, they might simply refuse.”
Some, however, view a visit to Trump Tower as a crucial part of understanding the unpredictable wave of populist support that fueled Trump's victory at the ballot box against Democrat Hillary Clinton, who was deemed the most experienced candidate in U.S. history by her supporters, including President Barack Obama.
Patrick Peter, an accountant from Frankfurt, Germany, said he went to Trump Tower during his recent visit to New York City to witness the impending chaos of a massive security operation erupting alongside some of the most expensive apartment buildings in the world. He said he was fascinated by Trump’s presidential victory ahead of Germany’s election for its next chancellor in September. Peter said he fears political figures in Germany who are running on similar campaign platforms rooted in sentiments of nationalism have a shot at becoming the country’s next leader, and went to Trump Tower to see what the Republican's supporters were like.
“People are frustrated because they think they are not getting a piece of the cake because of established politicians, so I am fearful of an outsider like Trump.... After he won, I felt Trump Tower was a must-see sight,” said Peter.