Back In The Day, You Might Have Thought Everyone In Cincinnati Loved Fred C. Trump

Remembering when the development tycoon and father of an American president dipped his toes into the Cincinnati real estate market.
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People in Cincinnati were raving about Fred C. Trump a full decade before he ever dipped a toe into Cincinnati’s real estate market. Mildred Miller, in her Cincinnati Enquirer “Talk About Women” column [2 March 1954], begged the New York developer to buy some Queen City rental property:

“Sa-ay, why can’t it happen here? We sure could use a few ace-high landlords like Fred Trump of New York! He not only rents to families with children but also provides many extras to make them happy! . . . Such as playgrounds, indoor recreation centers, summer camps and baby sitters!”

A significant number of Swifton Village advertisements featured the landlord, making clear that Fred Trump’s ownership was a key selling point for the apartment complex.

From Cincinnati Post 25 August 1966 Image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

Ten years later, Mildred Miller got her wish when Fred Trump purchased the moribund Swifton Village apartments in Bond Hill. Originally constructed with Federal Housing Administration financing at a cost of $10 million in 1954, the complex was half empty in 1964. The FHA foreclosed on the property and put it up for auction when the original developer defaulted. Trump was the only bidder, snatching the complex for $5.7 million. The Cincinnati Enquirer [6 January 1965] was delighted:

“Before ink was dry on the Swifton deed, Mr. Trump said he sent his maintenance crews into the village on a $500,000 reconditioning and redecorating program. A new community center was built; streets and sidewalks were repaved; paint was dabbed here and there; new refrigerators and new laundry machines were installed; window shutters were ordered. New tenants started coming in.”

Although several sections of the complex were reserved for adult tenants, Trump did build playgrounds in the portions of Swifton Village in which children were allowed. He also maintained a private swim club and sun deck for the exclusive use of tenants.

Trump apparently worked overtime to satisfy the folks who lived at Swifton Village. One employee recalled when the owner visited Cincinnati around Mother’s Day and bought 1,000 orchids to distribute to the resident mothers. Trump passed out thousands of pre-stamped, pre-addressed post cards to all his tenants encouraging them to send complaints and suggestions directly to him. Enquirer business editor Ralph Weiskittel enthused [2 October 1966] about the benefit:

“This is the ‘service’ aspect of our plan, Mr. Trump said. When a tenant calls for a service he wants it ‘then’ – not an excuse that workmen are busy and will get to it the first thing tomorrow morning.” 

Although Fred Trump promised to make Swifton Village, seen here in an artist’s rendering, “a veritable paradise of suburban living,” he told business reporters the investment was essentially a tax write-off.

From Cincinnati Post 30 April 1964 Image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

Of course, the New York developer spent a lot of money burnishing his own image. The entire time he owned Swifton Village, every newspaper advertisement specified that the official name of the complex was “Fred C. Trump’s New Swifton Village.” Trump ran advertisements touting his concern for the tenants’ welfare. One advertisement in The Cincinnati Post [25 August 1966] promised a lofty goal:

“Who’s this man Fred C. Trump anyhow? He’s head man of Swifton Village. He loves this place. He’s out here regularly overseeing all the improvements that will make our Swifton Village a veritable paradise of suburban living.”

Another advertisement in The Enquirer [27 August 1966] emphasized his personal touch:

“This man worries a lot. If you lived here, you might be getting a phone call from Mr. Trump. Sound strange? Well, that’s the way Mr. Trump works. Several times a week (in addition to his regular visits) he picks up the phone and makes a long distance call to a tenant in his Swifton Village Apartments. Just to check up and find out if they’re content. Are things being taken care of? Anything he can do to help make living in his apartments a bit more pleasant? He’s the kind of landlord who worries about you.”

As a couple of lawsuits revealed, Trump reserved his worries for his white tenants. In 1969, according to testimony by his own lawyer, only two or three apartments out of 1,167 in the complex were occupied by Black families.

The Cincinnati lawsuit was filed on behalf of Haywood and Rennell Cash, a young couple living with relatives because they were unable to find an apartment. At Swifton Village, they were told there were no vacancies, but they suspected otherwise. They consulted with the Housing Opportunities Made Equal organization, who sent a white woman out to Swifton Village. She was immediately offered an apartment. When the H.O.M.E. shopper returned with the Cashes, the apartment manager threw all of them out of his office.

A New York case, filed in 1973, involved almost identical circumstances, including allegations that Trump’s managers falsely claimed that no vacancies existed and required higher rents from Black applicants. The New York lawsuit itemized incidents of discrimination at more than 17 Trump properties in New York and Virginia.

As it turned out, Trump had been accused of discriminatory rental practices for years. At one point, folksinger Woody Guthrie lived in one of Trump’s Brooklyn buildings and crafted a new verse for his song “I Ain’t Got No Home” as a protest against the policies that kept that complex exclusively white:

We all are crazy fools
As long as race hate rules!
No no no! Old Man Trump!
Beach Haven ain’t my home!

Despite his advertisements professing love for Cincinnati and his tenants, Trump dropped a few hints indicating he was on the fence about his investment here. He told The Enquirer [6 January 1965] that Cincinnati was “a real disappointment” because the market was “overbuilt.” He described Swifton Village as a “Mexican stand-off,” meaning he expected to do no better than break even on his investment and that the property would mostly function as a tax write-off.

In December 1972, Fred Trump sold Swifton Village to Prudent Real Estate Trust of New York for $6.75 million. He never again entered the Cincinnati real estate market. All of the original Swifton Village apartment buildings were demolished around 20 years ago to make room for a new housing development.

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