There’s a lot of money in the world. It can be a challenge to figure out new ways to show it off.
Not one but two homeowners within dog-walking distance of my place in Northbrook have bought the lot next door and added a second, ancillary new home attached to their already ample present house.
A practice I’d never seen, or even imagined, before. Nor can I imagine now, really, and I’m watching it done. An intriguing mystery: Why? The thing to do would be to knock on the door of the owner and simply ask, though I’m worried the question would come out, “What’s wrong with you?”
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So I wait.
Of course truly rich people buy and sell residences at the drop of a hat. Hedge fund multi-billionaire Ken Griffin owns $1 billion in high-end properties. He paid $58 million for a four-floor penthouse at No. 9 Walton, bought a $250 million condominium in New York City and assembled a “colossal” $450 million estate, with a quarter mile of beach, in Florida. The Versailles he’s building is a sprawling 44,000 square feet, the floor space of a dozen typical North Shore mansions.
Before he fled to Florida to be among his people, Griffin tossed a condo’s worth of cash — $125 million — at the Museum of Science and Industry, buying the promise to rename the Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science and Industry.
To its credit, the MSI has been slow walking the change the past three years. I imagine its administrators, whenever the subject arises, slumping in their chairs and moaning, “Awwww, do we hafta?”
The change will sting. I remember older Jewish relatives who called the place “The Rosenwald,” a de facto honor to Julius Rosenwald, who fronted the $3 million in 1926 — $51 million today — to create the Museum of Science and Industry, modestly declining the chance to put his name on it, knowing that a man is remembered by his good works, not by ponying up bucks to plaster his name over things in a self-aggrandizing fashion.
Speaking of self-aggrandizing. Last week the Trump International Hotel and Tower lost its legal bid to stick its insurer with the $12 million the city could fine it for pumping 20 million gallons a day of untreated hot water from its air conditioning system into the Chicago River, imperiling fish and other aquatic life.
My reaction was: “Good. Screw ‘em.” Although I also saw the glimmer of a possibility.
Twelve million dollars is a lot of money, even to the Trump Organization. Maybe especially to the Trump Organization, which pretends to be this financial juggernaut but is more smoke and mirrors.
Perhaps one of those famous deals can be struck. What I have in mind is this: If the sign, that has marred and shamed the riverfront since 2014 comes down, the debt will be forgiven.
Or since that isn’t the way fines from Clean Water Act violations work, some Ken Griffin-level billionaire on the more liberal end of the spectrum — they do exist — can buy the sign for $12 million and donate it to a scrap heap. Or fundraise with it — I’d donate $100 to, oh, RefugeeOne, in return for a money clip fashioned from the junked letters.
Yes, regular readers might remember this is a sea change from 2019, when I suggested the sign be landmarked, to remain there permanently as a grim reminder of our national tragedy, a version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, this one acknowledging the deathless shame of Americans rejecting the fundamentals of their own cherished democracy.
But that was four years ago. Now Trumpism has settled into a kind of sickening permanence that seems like it will just keep going with or without him, enduring as long as Americans want to embrace any self-flattering nonsense peddled by power-hungry politicians.
Pushback is important. Just as after World War II, the Army dynamited the giant swastika over the stadium where the Nuremberg rallies were held, so the Trump should come down to show the country has entered a new era.
Which it hasn’t, yet. Not by a long shot. A Wall Street Journal poll last week showed Trump leading Biden by a point. While I thought I would plant the seed, as far as anybody knows, rather than losing the one we’ve got, in a few years all the buildings downtown will have a huge Trump sign.