Denver never did get its Trump Tower.
Back in 2006, Donald Trump — the New York developer then best known for his yellow pompadour and starring role on The Apprentice — had just seen his $1 billion bid to redevelop Union Station shot down (his team’s six-paragraph proposal was considered “non-responsive” to the application requirements), but he didn’t give up on the Mile High City. Instead, Trump came back with a plan to construct the tallest building in town, one filled with a luxury hotel and condos, right at the corner of 18th Avenue and Sherman Street.
To make that plan concrete, he put the circa 1906 El Jebel Temple at 1770 Sherman and its three adjacent parking lots under contract for $22 million, and hired Denver architect David Tryba to design a sixty-or-so-story tower that would “complement and be a juxtaposition to the historic El Jebel building,” Tryba told the Rocky Mountain News. While the Moorish-inspired El Jebel, a landmark on both the state and national historic registers, would be used for meetings and other hotel services, Trump would take advantage of air rights and zoning approvals granted a few years earlier to create a companion structure that towered 715 feet above downtown Denver.
But plans for the Trump Tower came crumbling down when the sub-prime mortgage industry collapsed.
Tryba went on to create a towering reputation of his own. He’s done work across the country as well as here at home; he was the architect on the Union Station renovation project that just celebrated its second birthday (the Union Station Alliance, a local consortium, ultimately got that contract) and designed the stunning History Colorado Center, unveiled in 2012.
El Jebel still stands. It was never really a shrine; the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, aka the Shriners, sold the grand building to the Scottish Rite Masons in 1924; they sold it to Eulipions, a black theater company, in 1995. After the curtain fell on that overly ambitious artistic effort, a developer bought the property for $3.9 million in 2000. El Jebel continued to be used as the Sherman Street Event Center — until the structure and its adjacent lots sold again this past April for over $12 million.
But while the Trump name never graced Denver’s tallest building, you can still see it on the Trump Plaza Apartments.
This (very) modest complex stands in all its partially-boarded-up glory at 4950 Morrison Road, in the heart of Westwood, an area with 3,290 households, 35 percent of which live in poverty. Residents are 81 percent Hispanic and 40 percent foreign-born; city records do not indicate which neighbors might have been prevented from settling here had Trump’s proposed fence been built decades ago.
The apartment complex is quite far from a tower — and far from the glitz of downtown development, too. The one-story building was built in 1953 — back when young Donald was probably playing with Lincoln Logs — and last remodeled in 1959; it has sixteen units, only a handful of which show signs of life. No one answers the number on the Trump Plaza sign; according to apartments.com, none of the units — which range from 300 square feet to 646 square feet — are available.
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This Trump Plaza is clearly no relation to the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, which opened as Harrah’s at Trump Plaza in 1984 and closed ten years later — shortly after Trump, who by then had only a 10 percent stake in Trump Entertainment Resorts, filed an unsuccessful lawsuit demanding that his name be removed from the casino in order to avoid “further harm to the Trump name and brand.”
Since there’s been no similar lawsuit filed in Denver, Trump apparently doesn’t know of the existence of the Trump Plaza Apartments, since they do less for the Trump name and brand than does the Republican presidential candidate’s vice-presidential choice. But then, the city planner in the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development who created the new Westwood neighborhood plan didn’t know about them, either. In that plan, which Denver City Council approved Monday night, Morrison Road makes the list of local landmarks...without the Trump Plaza Apartments.
The history of that development is as lost as much of its paint. There’s no evidence that Fred Trump, a real-estate developer who did most of his projects on the East Coast, ever worked in Denver. But he left his son Donald with a fortune — and towering ambitions.