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caption: The first Trump tower? Donald Trump's grandfather, Frederick Trump, leased a business that offered "private rooms for ladies" in Seattle's red light district. 
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The first Trump tower? Donald Trump's grandfather, Frederick Trump, leased a business that offered "private rooms for ladies" in Seattle's red light district.
Credit: Puget Sound Regional Archives

Trump Empire Finds Its Roots In Seattle

Donald Trump, the presidential candidate, is 100 percent Queens. But his grandfather, Frederick Trump, built his nest egg in the Northwest.

Frederick Trump moved to Seattle in 1891 in search of prosperity. He landed in Pioneer Square, which was then Seattle’s red-light district, better known by several names – Skid Road, the Lava Beds and "South of the Slot."

“He wanted to make money and pretty soon, he headed out to the Northwest, the last of the physical frontiers,” said Gwenda Blair, author of "The Trumps: Three Generations Of Builders and a Presidential Candidate.”

He was 22.

Frederick Trump, who had emigrated from Bavaria (now Germany), described himself on a passport application as a 5 feet 9 inches tall, dark-complexioned man. On the form, he wrote that he had a thin face and a large mouth.

“He was really sharp, as his grandson is today, about looking at the market and figuring out what it wanted,” Blair said.

“And what it wanted then, in Seattle, a town of single guys out for the main chance, was alcohol, food and women,” Blair said. “So he leased a restaurant, a place called the Poodle Dog. He advertised that it had private rooms for ladies, which was a not very disguised code for access to women, provided the booze, and he was off and running.”

Was Donald Trump’s grandfather a pimp, asked KUOW’s Bill Radke?

That’s a loaded word in 2016, Blair said.

“But it was in the red light district, where there were a remarkable number of seamstresses and milliners – which were coded professional titles for prostitutes. It was one of the few things open to women in that part of the world,” Blair said.

Frederick Trump, who went by Fred, sold his business in Pioneer Square and moved to Monte Cristo, which is now a ghost town in Snohomish County. He was following the gold rush, but he was aiming for the gold diggers' wallets, not the gold itself.

Before leaving Seattle, he bought 40 acres of land, according to a Seattle Times listing at the time, which he transferred to his sister Louise Trump in 1898 for $1. It represented the first real estate purchase of the Trump family, according to Blair.

Frederick set up two restaurants on the trail to the Yukon, and in 1900, he established a place in Whitehorse, Canada.

Many men emerged from the gold rush broke – or they didn’t emerge at all. But Frederick Trump got out at the right time, Blair said.

“When it turned out the town was facing a cleanup and scarlet women, as they were referred to, would no longer be allowed, he could see that the way he ran business was going to be a lot tougher,” Blair said.

“He had very good eye for what was needed, and very good timing for when to leave.”

Frederick Trump returned to his hometown in 1901, found a bride and moved to New York a year later.

“The actual money Frederick accumulated was equivalent to half a million in current funds,” Blair said. “That’s what got the basic nest egg together and got them established in the U.S.”

That money bought several properties in Queens, she said.

When Blair interviewed Trump for her book, she was prepared to share details about his grandfather. But Trump didn’t care.

“He had zero interest in his grandfather, much to my surprise,” she said. “He’s a guy who looks forward and is not interested in history. He wanted to talk about now and his own achievements, and that was it.”

Produced for the Web by Isolde Raftery.