Vera Coking was an elderly homeowner in Atlantic City, New Jersey whose old house became the center of an ugly eminent domain battle involving infamous developer and 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump.
In 1961 Mrs. Coking and her husband bought the former 3-story boarding house at 127 South Columbia Place as a summertime retreat for $20,000. They thought it was a good investment due to its proximity to the beach & boardwalk.
But in the 1970s, Mr. Coking passed away and Vera was left with the house. In memory of her husband, she began living there full-time. That’s when Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione offered Coking $1 million for the property so that he could build the Penthouse Boardwalk Hotel and Casino.
Vera refused his offer, but Guccione had purchased all the surrounding property so he went ahead with construction of the hotel-casino in 1978.
The project was built around the Coking house, much like that little house in Seattle owned by another tenacious elderly real estate holdout named Edith Macefield.
Edith Macefield’s house in Seattle
Fortunately for Vera, Guccione’s company ran out of money in 1980 and the construction project was halted.
Unfortunately, the hideous steel structure was left standing in a towering claustrophobic shell around Vera’s house. Obstinate to the bone, she continued to live in her home.
Vera Coking’s house in 1979
The steel framework was finally torn down in 1993, affording Vera some much needed breathing room. But not for long.
Here’s when The Donald comes into play.
In 1993, Mr. Trump purchased the then vacant construction lots which were adjacent to his Atlantic City casino and hotel with the intention of building a limousine parking lot. The only problem was, Vera Coking’s house was smack-dab in the middle of it all.
Trump wanted to buy the house so that he could tear it down for his parking lot, but Vera refused. She had been living in her house for 35 years at the time, and by golly, she was not moving for anyone.
When Coking refused to sell to Trump, he convinced the city officials to condemn her house on the argument that it was an eyesore. Using the power of eminent domain, Vera’s house would be confiscated for the greater good of the community – a parking lot – and she would be compensated only $251,000 for the prime property.
Ever the holdout, Vera fought the local authorities and Trump in court and was eventually victorious.
The judge ruled that, because there were “no limits” on what Trump could do with the property, the plan to take Coking’s property did not meet the test of eminent domain law.
So the little historic boarding house remained standing and defiant, albeit in the shadow of Trump’s monstrous Plaza.
Vera Coking displaying the Victory sign in front of her house
Vera remained contentedly living in her home until 2010, when she moved to a retirement community in the San Francisco Bay Area to be closer to family members.
She subsequently tried to sell the house in 2011, with an initial asking price of $5 million. By September 2013, the price had been reduced to $1 million. The real estate market in Atlantic City had tanked in the financial crisis of 2008 and much of the area was already over-built.
In the end, the property sold for $530,000 at auction on July 31, 2014.
The highest bidder was developer Carl Icahn. Sadly, he immediately had Vera Coking’s house demolished.
The lot remains vacant as of the current date. Icahn says he is still deciding what to do with the property.
But don’t think that Vera Coking didn’t get the last laugh.
No, the stubborn holdout can take solace in the fact that Donald Trump’s Plaza Hotel and Casino went out of business in September of 2014.
Now, as he runs his presidential campaign, Trump has to answer to questions of land-grabbing and his use of eminent domain. He isn’t very happy when people bring up Vera Coking’s house in Atlantic City.