Some 40 years after its first owner willed Mar-a-Lago to the U.S. government as a winter retreat for presidents and visiting dignitaries, the estate is finally living up to its name “Winter White House.”
U.S. President Donald Trump has flown on Air Force One to the club in Palm Beach, Florida, for weekend retreats five times since assuming office, and even “officially” announced it to be the “Southern White House” in a tweet, as if the “Winter White House” could not say enough about his passion for Mar-a-Lago, one of the most lavishly built and widely recognized mansions in the country.
Before winning the election, Trump did not show a lot of enthusiasm when talking about Camp David as a presidential retreat. According to the New York Times, Trump said: “Camp David is very rustic. It's nice. You'd like it. You know how long you'd like it? For about 30 minutes.”
Meanwhile, Mar-a-Lago, one of the few buildings that Trump did not put his name on, is certainly the crown jewel of his many estates.
Trump's fondness for Mar-a-Lago is not only apparent from his frequent visits, but also from the fact that he has brought foreign leaders, business tycoons and celebrities to the members-only club which he considers home.
GILDED AGE TRADITION
Local residents of the Palm Beach Island are proud of their heritage, handed down from the Gilded Age.
“Think about Gilded Age, think about the Great Gatsby. That is the lifestyle of Palm Beach. It is extravagant, carefree, traditional, and it is reminiscent of the days in the literature of the early 20th century,” said Rick Rose, a local historian.
Up till now, Mar-a-Lago's first owner Marjorie Merriweather Post and her lifestyle have been respected and admired.
In the 1920s, Post and her then husband Edward Hutton decided to build a grand house to entertain royal and foreign dignitaries.
The heiress to what would become General Foods was at one time the wealthiest woman in the United States. With her fortune, she could easily afford the best architects and materials from Europe.
She brought together many Old World features of the Spanish, Venetian and Portuguese styles and worked closely with Marion Wyeth, a well-known architect, on the exact size, placement and design of the floor plan.
Joseph Urban, once the architect for Emperor Franz Joseph I and for the Khedive of Egypt, was called in from Vienna for more elaborate details.
The architecture, sculptures, planning and craftsmanship that went into this magnificent estate cannot be duplicated today, the Mar-a-Lago Club boasted on its website.
Post lived in the house in the winters from 1927 until her death in 1973 and established the Palm Beach season for the wealthy of the Gilded Age, together with other landmarks like the Whitehall, the Breakers and the Everglades Club in Palm Beach.
For about a century, Palm Beach has remained a resort destination. It is a converging place for the rich across the United States. The luxury hotels, boutique shopping centers, yachts and golf clubs reveal a lot about the lifestyle here.
The island has also rejected many investment offers, allowing the island's layout to be changed as little as possible.
“The Preservation Society of Palm Beach exists to preserve the quality of life there. They are saying, we can afford to say no to having tall buildings,” said Rose, who is also an official guide of the upscale Worth Avenue on the island.
“It is expensive to say, to do that,” he said.
WINTER WHITE HOUSE
Trump's impact on Mar-a-Lago was seen positively by local communities.
“Donald Trump saved the house, and one of the ways he saved the house was by making it a private club,” said Debi Murray, chief curator of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
The organization gave Trump the Judge James R. Knott Award for preserving the house, which was only one of the multiple awards he received for the same reason.
Murray said the mansion was on the verge of being torn down before Trump came in 1985. The New York businessman bought the property with less than 10 million U.S. dollars after his first purchase attempt got rejected. He used it as a private resort before opening it up as a luxurious club in 1995.
“That's why President Trump has really won respect because everyone knows he has big passion for Mar-a-Lago. The community shares that passion for that local treasure,” said Murray.