By Kate Murphy
Mar-a-Lago has become President Trump’s weekend getaway, and it’s also known as the winter White House. But before it became a hot spot for world leaders and Cabinet officials, it was his private home and club, and it has quite a history.
So what exactly is Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s “home away from home”?
It’s situated in the heart of Palm Beach, Fla., spanning 20 acres between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean, which explains the Spanish meaning of the name: “Sea to Lake.”
It’s also a National Historic Landmark, and that’s been the case since well before Trump became president. So how did he acquire it?
For that we have to travel back to the Roaring 1920s, when socialite and General Foods heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post was looking for a winter retreat.
In 1924, construction began on her estate with the vision of American architect Marion Sims Wyeth. And no expense was spared. Mar-a-Lago was built with stone from Italy, 36,000 Spanish antique tiles and roofing tiles from Cuba. Four years later it was finished.
In 1973, the cereal heiress died and the estate was willed to the federal government and presented as a possible presidential winter White House.
But in 1981, the property was returned to the Post Foundation because it cost too much to maintain at $1 million a year, and it was difficult to secure the flight space overhead because it’s in the flight path of Palm Beach International Airport.
Cue real estate mogul Donald J. Trump.
In 1985, Trump ended up buying the property for the bargain price of $8 million with Post’s antiques and furniture included.
Ten years later, he turned it into a private club, opening its doors to certain groups barred from other Palm Beach clubs including Jews, African-Americans and gay couples.
That same year, he also built a 20,000-square-foot ballroom with $7 million in gold leaf. Mar-a-Lago now boasts 126 rooms, a private 100-by-50-foot pool, a tunnel for guests to travel to the beach, and a spa and salon.
On Jan. 1, after Trump’s election victory, initiation fees reportedly doubled to $200,000 with an additional $14,000 in annual dues, and spots are going fast.
But for that kind of money, guests have already had a front seat to the president in action. While hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago in early February, Trump turned the dining patio into his makeshift situation room when dealing with a North Korea foreign policy crisis.
It’s an incident that raised security questions, as Trump aides used cellphone lights to illuminate sensitive documents with guests sitting just feet away.
Now any given time Trump decides to visit his Southern White House, roads are blocked off, the Secret Service is deployed, the Coast Guard patrols the coastline and a no-fly zone is enacted.
But a helipad is under construction for Marine One landings at the resort to make his visits more convenient.
So whomever the president chooses to invite for weekend retreats, or whenever he does so, when it comes to his winter White House, at least you can say, now I get it.