Colossus on the Hudson: Monuments of Global Kitsch

20. In a world where everything has become smaller, and space has effectively contracted, the over-the-top grandeur of positioning Columbus on a scrolled Corinthian column once again, celebrating the navigator as having made truly global progress across the Atlantic, here revealed on the map that decorated the current base of the monument finally erected one of Puerto Rico’s uninhabited fishing villages, outside the capital of San Juan, seemed a blatantly self-serving appeal to a mythistory of discovery, perseverance, innovation, and individuality erected on the basis of a mythic map, made to promote a legend that never existed, but that may well have led Trump to fetishize Columbus as a figure and image of authority on the map of the nation that he has in his head.

The development which would itself be a monument to Trump Properties, built by leveraging funds from to build what he boasted would be the largest development ever in New York City, subsidized by federal funds and mortgage insurance, city rezoning and tax abatements, and expedited approval from city agencies, all to offer unobstructed riverfront views, would have complemented a one hundred and fifty floor skyscraper itself hoped to transform the urban skyline, and itself been a monument to his vanity. For hopes to bring such a monument to Manhattan says much about Trump’s ambitions to map global grandiosity and, in addition, a map of the complex web of international negotiations that he wove and were born of his free-wheeling negotiations for multiple residences, linking the long-desired riverside site on the old West Side Yards, squired in the 1970s, to leverage his own anticipated entrance into the Moscow real estate market in the post-soviet period.

Rendering of Unbuilt Proposed Development Television City on site of West Side Yards

Trump had negotiated intensely with Mayor Ed Koch, in the 1984-86 period when he had a ghost writer pen a boastful Art of the Deal that combined Norman Vincent Peale’s ten-step program for success with a narrative of his entrance into New York City real estate with the Trump Organization. After dealing with Ed Koch to smooth the building process whose environmental impacts and structural challenges of a waterfront development, trusting in leverage that personal negotiation would lead him to advantages by juggling promises of economic advantage, he sought similar leverage in Moscow from a prominent mayor, with even more direct control over urban realty, Yuri Luzhkov, on the heals of an early trip to Moscow, quite plausibly arranged by KGB insiders, in the late days of the Soviet Union.

Returning from Moscow in 1987, Trump boasted he had given approval to the gift of a colossal monument, conveying instructions the final plans by forwarded to Rudy Giuliani, by then New York City’s mayor, to approve the project. When Trump treated the Mayor as if he had comparable rights to adjudicate urban realty, he seems to have seen a possible end-run around regulatory boards already skeptical of the development. He perhaps hoped to escape discussion of environmental impact of placing a 600-ton statue in a development built on landfill, enamored of the idea of presenting the monument to Columbus to New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whose similar reach for grandeur and attention might have credibly lead to its fast-tracking of its delivery and erection on the lands for which he had gained federal tax abatements: indeed, what better way to land a greater abatement than by trading in a symbol of national grandeur–even if one of a level of theatricality whose impact is hard to imagine?

Trump’s interest in gaining Russian properties, and probably backers for the West Side complex building, led to the aspiration to bring a monument of Columbus across the Atlantic to be erected in New York–taller than the Statue of Liberty, with hopes its theatrical presence would transform the Manhattan’s skyline in definitive ways and promote the Trump brand. It would complement the global dimensions of a complex housing the world’s largest shopping center, residential tower, and his own largest project yet, after all, and launch the Trump Brand on a global stage.

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Filed under Christopher Columbus, Donald J. Trump, globalization, monuments, real estate

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