As I watched the implosion of Trump Plaza this morning, I found myself asking the following question: did Vera Coking get the last laugh?

A brief version of Vera Coking's story reads this way -- she bought a house on South Columbia Place in Atlantic City back in the 1960s. A decade or so later, Bob Guccione was building the Penthouse Boardwalk Hotel and Casino and he offered her $1 million for her property, which she refused. But that didn't stop Guccione, who built a steel structure all around her house. What did eventually stop him was a lack of money and the unfinished skeleton of what would have been a hotel and casino sat there for years.

In 1984, Harrah's at Trump Plaza opened (the name would eventually be shortened to just "Trump Plaza"). In 1989, Trump spent $62 million to buy the unfinished Penthouse Casino project. In 1993, a major expansion of Trump Plaza was in the works -- but one thing still stood in the way: Vera Coking. Trump offered to buy her home but, again, she refused. Legal battles ensued, including a run at using eminent domain to take her home from her, but that was rejected.

According to Wikipedia, in June, 2010, Coking transferred ownership of the house to her daughter. She tried to initially sell it for $5 million, then the price was reduced to $1 million. The property was finally sold for $583,000 in an auction in July, 2014; Carl Ichan, who by then owned Trump Plaza, bought it. He demolished the house that fall.

The location of Vera Coking's house at 127 South Columbia Place in Atlantic City - Photo: Google Maps
The location of Vera Coking's house at 127 South Columbia Place in Atlantic City - Photo: Google Maps

Since 2014, the plot of land between Caesars and Trump Plaza sat empty, only featuring some trees and a small parking lot. A far cry from what could have been there.

So, did Vera Coking get the last laugh?

What if she sold her house to Bob Guccione back in the 1970s? Granted, he did run out of money so it's doubtful that the Penthouse would have ever been fully built. But what about Trump Plaza? If Mr. Trump had been successful in buying her house, Trump Plaza would have been a much bigger casino right in the middle of town. Would that larger footprint have allowed it to stay open? Would it have been more successful in the long run? Would it have been able to survive the recent economic downturns in the city?

We'll never know all thanks to Vera Coking.

The implosion of Trump Plaza in Atlantic City on February 17, 2021

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