President Donald Trump has owned the Mar-a-Lago estate for decades. It is not being dubbed the "Winter White House" as he is spending much time there.(Photo: Joe Raedle, Getty Images)
When heiress and socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post donated her Mar-a-Lago Palm Beach estate to the U.S. government in 1973, her vision was for it to become a presidential retreat.
Presidents such as Jimmy Carter decided to winter elsewhere. But now her wish has finally come true. President Donald Trump has spent many of the first weekends of his presidency at the 20-acre estate.
“She finally got what she wanted and so did he,” says Rick Rose, a local historian who was born in Palm Beach.
The president bought the mansion in 1985 for $5 million. He used it as a residence for a while but in 1995, he turned it into a private club.
Since he became president, he himself has dubbed it the “Winter White House” on twitter. In one tweet two days before his inauguration, he showed a photo of himself “writing my inaugural address at the Winter White House, Mar-a-Lago, three weeks ago.”
He has had White House staff and dignitaries there. One recent weekend, he and First Lady Melania Trump hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife. During dinner at the club, he and the Japanese president received news of a missile launch in North Korea, an event that was captured on camera by at least one diner.
Even before Trump bought Mar-a-Lago, the property was one of the most famous mansions in the tony Palm Beach community.
According to the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, Post, whose family owned a cereal empire, bought it in 1924. The house was finished in 1927.
Post hired Marion Sims Wyeth, who designed both the Florida Governor’s mansion and the Shangri-La Doris Duke house in Honolulu, as the architect of the 126-room, 110,000-square-foot house. Joseph Urban was the interior designer. By all accounts, Urban turned it into the theatrical home for entertaining that Post intended it to be. It made sense given that Urban, an Austrian-American, also frequently designed stages for the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
“She was really kind of the dowager queen of Palm Beach for roughly 50 years,” says Rose, who also owns an inn in Palm Beach. “The thing that is so unbelievable about Marjorie Merriweather Post is that she is the one who made that property famous ... She was famous for her opulent entertainment, and the house was designed for that purpose.”
Rose says that the house was built with such unique materials as stone from Genoa, Italy, and hand-crafted red clay from Cuba.
The property was named a National Historic Landmark, in 1980. That’s the same year the government returned the mansion to Post’s family because it did not want to keep paying the $1 million a year maintenance.
When Trump took it over, he made such additions as an opulent ballroom with more gold trimming and chandeliers than you can count, says Emily Pantelides, the owner of Pantelides PR and Consulting.
Pantelides has organized several events in that 20,000 square-foot ballroom, which is one of the largest in the city. It’s the site of many charity galas, including this month’s Red Cross Ball that the President and First Lady attended.
“It does live up to what Marjorie Merriweather Post wanted it to be,” Pantelides says. “It’s a magnificent estate.”
Many celebrities have stayed at Mar-a-Lago, including Michael Jackson and Jennifer Lopez.
The property is an oasis with tennis courts and a waterfront swimming pool. Only members are allowed to take advantage of the resort, though they are allowed to bring guests.
Last month, the initiation fee increased from $100,000 to $200,000. There’s also a $14,000 annual fee, according to reports. Mar-a-Lago officials did not return a call for comment.
The Trump family stays in a private wing of the house, but the President can be spotted dining with friends and recently stopped in to a wedding to congratulate the couple.
Though Trump has tussled with Palm Beach County in the past for such things as allowing flights from Palm Beach International Airport to fly over his estate, residents say they have appreciated his determination to preserve the property.
"It’a national historic landmark and the local community is proud of that,” Rose says. "All politics aside, the local community has admired the way he has protected that historical resource. You’re not only owning a house that’s landmarked at that level, you’re taking over something that is going to be passed on to the next generation, and I do believe that President Trump believes that.”
In any case, he has gotten yet another wish. When the President is in residence, the skies over Mar-a-Lago are a no-fly zone.