Occupying a full city block on New York City’s 5th Avenue is the General Motors (GM) Building. In her new book “The Liar’s Ball: The Extraordinary Saga of How One Building Broke the World’s Toughest Tycoons” New York Times best-selling author and former Vanity Fair contributing editor Vicky Ward documents the key players and behind-the-scenes deals throughout the history of one of the world’s most expensive office buildings.
“The Liar’s Ball” traces the building’s past back to the 1800’s and the days of William “Boss” Tweed, New York City’s infamous congressman and landowner. Using his influence, Tweed discovered where the boundaries for Central Park were set to lie, and then purchased the land just south of the park’s perimeter with plans to develop it as the Knickerbocker Hotel. A few months later, says Ward, Tweed would be bankrupt and in jail, where he would ultimately die.
Pursuits like Tweed’s and the “nature of excess” in the quest for the high-priced properties is a motivating force driving these major developers, and what Ward says is the “light motif” of her book and the backdrop of building’s history.
Ward compares the quest to acquire ultra-prestigious properties in the ruthless high-level real estate culture to the Greek Myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece. Of the building itself she says “…this would be it, there would be no golden fleece, it would be the GM building.”
A former owner of the GM Building and one of the key players in Ward’s narrative is also one of the most famous names in real estate, Donald Trump. He took swipes at Ward and the book on Twitter, calling Ward a "3rd rate writer" and the book “poorly written and very boring.”
In regards to his portrayal in the book, Trump told the New York Post, “I made a tremendous amount of money in that deal. The book doesn’t capture the essence, the glamour or excitement of what happened. It wasn’t bad about me, but it should have been great about me. She did a lousy job.”
Responding to his criticism, Ward says, “I don’t know how serious a literary critic Donald is.”
She also says she has received praise for being “even-handed” in her portrayal of Trump. “You see him being a very human employer… you see him being incredibly decent; you see him being very passionate about a building which is not something we always get to see…”
Ward also observes, “You also see him be very passionate actually about losing the General Motors building... I thought that was interesting, too - not surprising and very human that he wouldn’t like losing the most expensive building in America.”
When asked how things have changed over the years Ward responded, “nothing has changed since the days of Boss Tweed.” Based on her sources inside the real estate world, Ward describes it as “all smoke and mirrors, bluster, pretense.”
“The Liar’s Ball” is available in hardcover and ebook now, and there are rumors that a movie deal is in the works.
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