NEW YORK >> On a recent afternoon, Sabrina Dabakarov stood under the colonnaded portico of her family’s brick home on Midland Parkway in Queens and gestured at a neighborhood lined with oak trees and stately houses that for a century has played home to doctors, politicians and political bosses on 500 acres of hilly, meandering streets.
"This is supposed to be the melting pot — it’s Queens!" she said. "But when you are living in Jamaica Estates, it’s more secluded. There are kids I know who are 16 who can’t go down the block to the subway. It depends on what you are exposed to."
This is the house and neighborhood that Donald Trump grew up in more than a half-century ago. A wealthy enclave built in part by his father, Jamaica Estates’ cloistered atmosphere nurtured the development of one of the city’s great developers, who is now the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.
Trump may live in a gilded Trump Tower triplex in Manhattan, but it is his Queens childhood that provided him with old neighborhood authenticity and the us-versus-them combativeness that the Republican base has eaten up. While his detractors charge that his language on the campaign trail is infected with an Archie Bunker-era nativism, Trump points in his defense to his formative years in one of the most diverse counties in the country.
But the Jamaica Estates of Trump’s boyhood was an exclusive and nearly all white place, resistant to outsiders and largely impenetrable to minorities.
"Different parts of Queens were rough, this was an oasis," Trump said in an interview. He said Jamaica Estates "was safe, it was very family oriented." He recalled taking the F train down the block into the city and called the area a "microcosm" that gave him perspective on New York and "what it was all about."
But some residents of his old neighborhood, and the more diverse areas that surround it, say they do not think he understands what the city, and the country, are all about. Hispanics, Trinidadians, Haitians and South Asians who walked this month in front of fried chicken joints, halal butchers and roti shops on Hillside Avenue, down the road from Trump’s old house, expressed disgust with his blunt vision of an America besieged by "rapist" immigrants who are in the country illegally and black activists who he has said are "looking for trouble."
They considered him a camera-hungry candidate who is capitalizing on the fear among white voters that the America they grew up in is fading.
"Old age is starting to creep up," Melvin Hanna, a 57-year-old African-American man who lives in an apartment building down the street, said about Trump’s assertion that immigrants who were in the country illegally were now infiltrating gangs in predominantly black cities. But Hanna said he worried that the high level of support for Trump, who explicitly appeals to what he calls the "silent majority" of Americans, showed that "some of what he is saying is what people are saying behind closed doors."
Not all of that talk remained behind closed doors during a recent visit to Jamaica Estates.
"I think he’s spot on," said Fred Quint, 52, Trump’s former next-door neighbor. He recalled watching Trump’s father, Fred, leave for work every day in his chauffeured blue Cadillac limousine and seeing Donald return home for visits in a red convertible with his first wife, Ivana.
Quint explained that "racially speaking," he and Trump "grew up in white America." Today, he added, "it’s a much more racially mixed neighborhood, much more diverse," with people who are Hindu, Muslim and Chinese.
"It’s the way of the world; white America is a thing of the past," he said with a shrug. "The white man’s gone."
Trump acknowledged that the neighborhood around his 23-room, nine-bathroom mansion had changed. "The world is much different, turn on the television," he said, adding, "That’s called life in New York, and I think that’s a wonderful thing."
And in an appearance on CNN’s "State of the Union" on Sunday, Trump answered questions about his failure to correct a supporter who asserted that Muslims were "a problem in this country" and that President Barack Obama was one by saying: "I have friends that are Muslims. They’re great people, amazing people."
He would probably not have met them in the Jamaica Estates of his youth.
A 1910 brochure assured prospective buyers looking for a refuge amid the acres of elm and chestnut trees that "Jamaica Estates is the same distance from Herald Square that Columbia University is from City Hall." Successive developers fought to keep building restrictions in the neighborhood in place and housing prices high.
The Trump family home was built by its patriarch, Fred C. Trump, who died in 1999. Trump called his father the person "I learned more from than anyone else."
Fred Trump was born in 1905 to struggling German immigrants and raised in the working-class neighborhood of Woodhaven, Queens, where a plaque honors him as "father of ‘The Donald.’"
Fred’s father, an innkeeper who quenched the assorted appetites of Klondike gold rush miners before becoming a struggling New York developer, succumbed to pneumonia when his son was 13. At the onset of the Roaring Twenties, Fred started his own construction business, forming E. Trump & Son with his mother, Elizabeth, because he needed a partner old enough to sign the checks.
They found success building garages for newly popular cars and moved to Jamaica Estates, where he eventually built suburban-style Tudors and Victorian and colonial-style homes for the upper middle class. After the Great Depression, he pretended to be Swedish so as not to drive off Jewish tenants, as he made his fortune building solid, low-cost housing. Along the way, he married Mary MacLeod, a Scottish immigrant, and together they had five children, including Donald in 1946.
The Trumps lived in a two-story mock Tudor home on Wareham Place, where on a recent afternoon Jose Rivas, 43, mowed grass on a small front lawn and shook his head at what he considered Trump’s anti-immigrant language. "Many, many Spanish people come here and work and pay taxes," he said, looking around and admiring the homes. "I like it here. It’s beautiful."
In 1950, the city opened the 179th Street subway station on the corner of Hillside Avenue and Midland Parkway. ("It’s the last stop on the F line, a neighborhood so outer-borough it might as well be in another state," New York magazine once sneered.) The new station was just down the road from where Fred Trump built the family homestead the next year.
Even as a child, Donald loved to build things. "I always loved playing with blocks, anything having to do with blocks," Trump said.
In the mornings, his father left for work in one of his two Cadillacs (license plates FT1 and FT2) and the Trump children often went next door to play with Heather Macintosh.
"The Macintoshes, nice people," Trump said.
Edmund Hayes, Heather’s eventual husband, said his wife told him that the Trump children "never got a hug or a kiss" in their strict home, and that Donald was hypercompetitive. "She really didn’t like him," he said of his wife.
Young Donald treated his home as a fortress. Laura Manuelidis, who lived behind Trump on Wareham Place, recalled that when a ball bounced into the Trumps’ grassy yard, he would not throw the ball back but instead would yell, "I’m going to tell my dad; I’m going to call the police."
Several people in the neighborhood fondly remembered the older Trumps bagging their own groceries when shopping along Union Turnpike, the northern border of the neighborhood, which now is increasingly modern Orthodox. One woman eating in a bagel shop on 188th Street had a less rosy memory of the Trumps.
"They lived right behind us," said Chava Ben-Amos, who recalled a time when Fred Trump asked her if he could put a television antenna on their roof, which, because it was higher than the Trumps’ home, could receive a clearer signal.
"We said, ‘Yes, but can we use it?’" Ben-Amos said. "Can we connect it to our TV?"
"They said ‘No,’" she said. "So we said, ‘Forget it.’"!~neIP~!
Donald went to a private school on Union Turnpike and struck up a friendship with Peter Brant, who became a billionaire industrialist, art collector and tabloid fixture for his off-again-on-again marriage to former Victoria’s Secret model Stephanie Seymour.
"Peter and I loved sports," Trump said.
They also loved causing trouble, leading his father to ship Trump to military school north of the city. From there, he went to college and into business with his father in Brooklyn before conquering Manhattan real estate.
"I wanted them to move into Trump Tower, and my mother loved the idea," Trump said. "But my father really loved staying in Queens."
Decades later, Trump remains the area’s most famous son. While his former neighbor, Quint, had read Trump’s book, "The Art of the Deal," and expressed confidence in Trump’s ability to build a wall along the Mexican border, Dabakarov, the young woman who lived in his old house was less enthusiastic about his candidacy.
"This whole country will basically implode" if he is elected, she said. "He’s like a half-century behind."