Coking home

Vera Coking's house on Columbia Way in Atlantic City, Thursday, August 25, 2011. Vera Coking fought and won a battle with Donald Trump to keep her home.

ATLANTIC CITY — In the shadow of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino stands an old house owned for decades by an elderly widow who has symbolized the conflicts between Atlantic City homeowners and the giant casinos.

Over the years, Vera Coking thwarted attempts by casino mogul Donald Trump and others to buy or force her out, but now she has left on her own — her three-story former boarding house is empty and up for sale.

The asking price is just under

$5 million.

Stephen N. Frankel, a Ventnor real estate broker whose firm is selling the home, said the Coking family does not want any publicity about the sale and has instructed him not to talk to the media.

“They don’t want to be an issue in the press anymore,” said Frankel, declining further comment.

Property records show that Coking, who is in her 80s, transferred ownership of the house to her daughter, Claudia Coking Casey, on June 2, 2010. Attempts to reach Coking and her daughter for comment were unsuccessful.

The Coking property is assessed at $580,100, tax records show. A nearly $5 million sale price may seem extraordinarily high for a weather-beaten home pockmarked with missing or broken windows, but the Coking property at 127 S. Columbia Place is in the middle of prime casino-zoned land, just steps from the heart of the Boardwalk.

Trump Plaza, owner of the rest of the land on the block, is the logical buyer for the Coking property. However, parent company Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. has made no offers since the property went on the market and is not looking to buy it at this time, an executive said.

“They haven’t contacted us and we haven’t contacted them,” said David Hughes, Trump Entertainment’s chief financial officer.

For years, Donald Trump sought to buy the Coking home in private negotiations. Frustrated by not being able to reach a deal, Trump tried having a state development agency condemn the home so that he could use the property for a hotel expansion at Trump Plaza or as a parking area for limousines. Coking steadfastly held out against Trump.

In a nationally publicized New Jersey court case in 1998, a judge sided with Coking when Trump tried to use the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to acquire the home through eminent domain. The ruling was celebrated as a victory for private property owners who have been pressured by casinos to give up their land.

The Trump battle evoked memories of a headline-grabbing fight years earlier between Coking and another powerful businessman, Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione. Coking refused Guccione’s reported $1 million offer for her house in the 1970s, so he began building the steel superstructure of the proposed Penthouse casino around her.

Guccione ran out of money for his project and halted construction in 1980, but the rusting steel frame of the half-completed casino surrounded Coking’s home. Finally, the old Penthouse hulk was torn down by Trump in 1993 after he bought the Guccione property for Trump Plaza’s expansion.

Trump and Coking sniped at each other over the years during their failed attempts to strike a deal. Trump accused Coking of allowing the property to deteriorate into a “slum-like” condition.

Coking criticized Trump for the alleged hardships she endured living next to Trump Plaza. She also blamed Trump for the impasse in negotiations for her property.

“He thinks he’s God,” she said in a 2006 interview with The Press of Atlantic City.

Coking and her husband Raymond, an engineer who died in 1967, bought the house in the 1960s for $20,000. Before the arrival of casino gambling in 1978 dramatically changed the city’s landscape, the Coking house was part of a cluster of homes and small businesses in the Columbia Place neighborhood.

With all of those homes and businesses now gone, the Coking house stands alone, up for sale.

Contact Donald Wittkowski:


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