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Mar-a-Lago National Historic Landmark
Mar-a-Lago, Marjorie Merriweather Post's estate on Palm Beach Island, pictured in 1967
|Location||1100 S. Ocean Blvd., Palm Beach, Florida, United States|
|Area||110,000 sq ft (10,000 m2)|
|NRHP reference No.||80000961|
|Added to NRHP||December 23, 1980|
|Designated NHL||December 23, 1980|
Mar-a-Lago (//) is a resort and national historic landmark in Palm Beach, Florida, built from 1924 to 1927 by cereal-company heiress and socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post. The 126-room, 62,500-square-foot (5,810 m2) mansion since 1995 contains the Mar-a-Lago Club, a members-only club with guest rooms, a spa, and other hotel-style amenities. It is located in Palm Beach County on the Palm Beach barrier island, with the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Florida's Intracoastal Waterway to the west.
At the time of her death in 1973, Post bequeathed the property to the National Park Service, hoping it could be used for state visits or as a Winter White House, but because the costs of maintaining the property exceeded the funds provided by Post, and it was difficult to secure the facility (as it is located in the flight path of Palm Beach Airport), the property was returned to the Post Foundation by an Act of Congress in 1981.
In 1985, Mar-a-Lago was purchased by Donald Trump for around $10 million. His family maintains private quarters in a separate, closed-off area of the house and grounds. Trump has frequently visited there as President of the United States, referring to it as the Winter White House and his "Southern White House". After Trump became president in January 2017, Mar-a-Lago was used to host meetings for international leaders, including Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe and Chinese president Xi Jinping. In September 2019, Mar-a-Lago became the primary residence for Donald and Melania Trump, who previously held primary residence in New York City, in spite of a legal agreement Trump signed in the early 1990s that converted the estate from a private residence to a private club.
It is the second largest mansion in the state of Florida and the 22nd largest mansion in the United States. In 2018, Forbes estimated the value of the estate at around $160 million, having appreciated greatly throughout the past decades since Trump's purchase due to several factors such as the extensive renovation, lavish features and furniture, the exclusivity of the location, as well as its historic meaning and significance.
Origin of the name
The company identifies the name Mar-a-Lago as Spanish for "Sea-to-Lake", referring to the fact that the resort extends the entire width of Palm Beach, from the Atlantic Ocean to what is now the Intracoastal Waterway, but previously was known as Lake Worth.
Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post Cereals business, paid for the house to be built with her husband Edward F. Hutton. She hired Marion Sims Wyeth to design it, and Joseph Urban to create interior design and exterior decorations. Post spent US$7 million (equivalent to $103 million in 2019), and it was finished in 1927.
The house has 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms, a 29-foot-long (8.8 m) pietra dura marble top dining table, 12 fireplaces, and three bomb shelters. Mar-a-Lago was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1980.
Federal government and foundation
Post, who died in 1973, willed the 17-acre (6.9 ha) estate to the United States government as a Winter White House for presidents and visiting foreign dignitaries. Richard Nixon preferred the Florida White House in Key Biscayne, however, and Jimmy Carter was not interested. The federal government soon realized the immense cost of maintenance, and the difficulty maintaining security for diplomats, and returned it to the Post Foundation in 1981. It was then listed for sale for $20 million. Dina Merrill and Post's two other daughters did not maintain the property in the meanwhile, expecting to sell it. But there was so little interest, the city approved its demolition to build smaller homes.
Donald Trump learned about the estate after unsuccessfully trying to purchase and combine two apartments in Palm Beach for his family. He offered the Post family $15 million for it, but they rejected it. Trump purchased the land between Mar-a-Lago and the ocean from Jack C. Massey, the former owner of KFC, for $2 million, stating he intended to build a home that would block Mar-a-Lago's beach view. The threat caused interest in the property to decline, and Trump ended up getting the property for $7 million in 1985. Different sources have put the combined total cost of the purchase at around $10 million.
After purchasing the estate, Trump did extensive renovations, adding a 20,000-square-foot (1,900 m2) ballroom. The club also has five clay tennis courts and a waterfront pool. His wife at the time, Ivana Trump, was charged with running the property.
In the early 1990s, Trump faced financial difficulties. While negotiating with his bankers, he promised to divide Mar-a-Lago into smaller properties, alarming Palm Beach residents; so the city council rejected his plan to do so. Trump instead turned the estate into a private club in 1995, fighting off what he considered to be excessive restrictions.
The new club hosted concerts by Céline Dion and Billy Joel, had beauty-pageant contestants as guests, and Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley spent their honeymoon there. Mar-a-Lago has frequently hosted the International Red Cross Ball, an annual "white tie, tails, and tiara" event. Founded by Post, it has a history of attracting wealthy socialites and ambassadors from around the world in support of the mission of the American Red Cross.
According to financial disclosure forms filed by Trump, the Mar-a-Lago Club had $29.7 million in gross revenues in the period June 2015 through May 2016. The club had revenues of $25.1 million for calendar year 2017, $22 million in 2018, and $21.4 million in 2019.
Mar-a-Lago has a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) for communications with the White House Situation Room and Pentagon. The Mar-a-Lago Crowd, an informal group organized by Trump which oversaw many of the activities of the Department of Veterans Affairs during the Trump administration, frequently met at the club.
Notable presidential visits
Donald Trump's first visit to Mar-a-Lago as president of the United States took place on the weekend of February 3–6, 2017. On Saturday, he hosted the Diamond Red Cross Ball at Mar-a-Lago Club, while on Sunday, he watched Super Bowl LI at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. On the weekend of February 10–12, 2017, Trump and his wife Melania hosted Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe and his wife. This was the first use of Mar-a-Lago to entertain an international leader, a task that has traditionally been held in the White House. Trump was also on vacation for the occasion of one of his first international security crises, that of a North Korean missile launch. Trump and Abe conferred in full view of the other diners.
During the third consecutive weekend visit to Mar-a-Lago on February 17–20, Trump conducted a campaign rally at the Orlando Melbourne International Airport. He also conducted interviews for a replacement National Security Advisor and named General H. R. McMaster as Flynn's successor on February 20, 2017.
After Trump's fourth weekend visit on March 3–5, 2017, questions were raised about the access his paying club members have to him and his entourage. A number of Democratic senators asked the President to release visitor logs of Mar-a-Lago and as well as a list of the members of the private club. Subsequently, the "Mar-a-Lago Act" was introduced, legislation requiring publication of logs of visitors at the White House and other places where the president conducts business. After a lawsuit was filed, a judge ordered, in July 2017, that these logs be released in September.
Trump's fifth presidential visit took place on March 17–18. Guests included Melania's parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs.
During his next visit April 6–9, Trump hosted the Chinese leader Xi Jinping for the first two days. At Mar-a-Lago the decision to strike a Syrian airfield was made. The following Easter weekend was also spent with family members at Mar-a-Lago.
On April 4, 2017, prior to President Xi's visit, ShareAmerica, a website run by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International Information Programs, published a blog post describing Mar-a-Lago's history. On April 5, 2017, the U.S. embassy in the United Kingdom's website shared snippets of the original blog post on its own blog, and the U.S. embassy in Albania's Facebook page shared the original post. On April 24, 2017, Democratic senator Ron Wyden, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, and ethics observers like former ambassador Norman Eisen, questioned the use of official government resources promoting a private property owned by Trump. By April 25, 2017, ShareAmerica and both U.S. embassies in the United Kingdom and Albania removed their respective posts. ShareAmerica, replaced their post with the following statement, "The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the president has been hosting world leaders. We regret any misperception and have removed the post."
With the seasonal closing of Mar-a-Lago by May 14 ahead of the Atlantic hurricane season, Trump uses Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, as his preferred retreat location during the summer months (calling it his "Summer White House").
In November 2017, Trump returned to Mar-a-Lago for his first presidential Thanksgiving celebration, and one month later he returned for his tenth presidential visit during his Christmas vacation.
During 2018, Trump visited Mar-a-Lago eight times prior to the seasonal closing in May. During this time he had a summit meeting with Shinzō Abe on April 17–18.
In November 2018, Trump returned to Mar-a-Lago for his second presidential Thanksgiving celebration. One month later, Trump canceled his planned Christmas vacation in Mar-a-Lago following the federal government shutdown. In November 2019, he returned to Mar-a-Lago for his third presidential Thanksgiving celebration, and a month later returned for his second presidential Christmas celebration.
On March 7, 2020, Trump hosted Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro for a working dinner, where the two leaders discussed the U.S.-led effort to oust Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, a future trade deal and peace for the Middle East. Also at the dinner was Bolsonaro's press secretary, Fábio Wajngarten, whose wife informed others on social media on March 11, 2020, that he had tested positive for COVID-19 after he had returned from the United States via Miami to Brazil. Others attending the dinner included Vice President Mike Pence, Ivanka Trump, and Jared Kushner.
When the president is in residence the Palm Beach region becomes a zone of temporary flight restrictions affecting flights and air operations severely within a 30 nautical mile (55.56 km) radius. Coast Guard and Secret Service secure the two waterway approaches, ocean and lake, and Secret Service cordons off streets to Mar-a-Lago during the president's visits. The Coast Guard also attaches an elite Maritime Safety and Security Team with unique capabilities that specializes in maritime security. By the third weekend in February 2017, nearby Palm Beach County Park Airport (Lantana Airport) had been shut down for three consecutive weekends, accumulating significant financial losses for multiple businesses.
The Mar-a-Lago Club
The primary business occupying the estate is the Mar-a-Lago Club, which operates as resort and hotel for dues-paying members, and rents out estate venues for private events. Membership at the Mar-a-Lago Club required a $200,000 initiation fee up until 2012 when it was lowered to $100,000. The decrease was reportedly in response to reduced demand following the Bernie Madoff scandal which affected many affluent Palm Beach residents. The fee returned to $200,000 in January 2017 following the election of Trump as president, with $14,000 annual dues. Overnight guests pay up to $2,000 a night.
The club has nearly 500 paying members (with a cap of 500) and admits twenty to forty new members a year. Members as of 2017 include oil executive Bill Koch, financier Thomas Peterffy, New Jersey Democratic Party leader George Norcross, lobbyist Kenneth Duberstein, real estate developers Bruce E. Toll and Richard LeFrak, media executive Christopher Ruddy, talk show host Howie Carr, talk show host Michael Savage's wife, and NFL coach Bill Belichick.
As of February 2017, Trump was considering at least three club members for ambassadorships.
In protest against Trump's remarks on the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, six nonprofit organizations canceled scheduled gala events at the club. The charities canceling included the American Red Cross and the American Cancer Society.
The club has been frequently cited for health code violations. In January 2017, Florida inspectors noted 15 infractions that included unsafe seafood, insufficiently refrigerated meats, rusty shelving, and cooks without hairnets. Since 2013, it has faced 51 health code violations.
On March 30, 2019, Yujing Zhang, a Chinese national, was arrested and charged with unlawful entry to the premises and making false statements to federal law enforcement officials.
Illegal flag litigation
On October 3, 2006, Trump raised a 20-by-30-foot (6.1 by 9.1 m) American flag on an 80-foot (24 m) flagpole at Mar-a-Lago. Town zoning officials asked Trump to adhere to town zoning codes that limit flagpoles to a height of 42 feet (13 m). This dispute led the town council of Palm Beach to charge Trump $1,250 for every day the flag stayed up. Trump filed a lawsuit against the Town of Palm Beach. Trump eventually dropped his lawsuit over the flag, and in exchange the town waived its fines. As part of a court-ordered mediation, Trump was allowed to file for a permit and keep a pole that was both 10 feet (3.0 m) shorter than the original pole and located on a different spot on his lawn. The agreement also required him to donate $100,000 to veterans' charities, and resulted in a change to town ordinances allowing out-of-town club members.
Claim of discrimination
In December 1997, Trump filed a lawsuit against the Town of Palm Beach in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida alleging the town was discriminating against Mar-a-Lago for allowing black and Jewish members, groups not typically welcome in the area's other clubs.
According to Vanity Fair, "Trump and his attorney had already implied that he and his club had been discriminated against because many of its members were Jewish, and, worse, that the council members who had placed the conditions on him had not placed those restrictions on their own clubs." The lawsuit was later settled.
Trump first filed such a lawsuit in 1995; that action was settled in 1996, with the county agreeing to collaborate with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and to change flight patterns so the noisiest jet aircraft flew over a wider area. As part of the settlement, Trump leased 215 acres from the county, on which he built the 18-hole Trump International Golf Club. In July 2010, Trump filed another lawsuit aiming to stop the airport from constructing a second commercial runway. That suit was dismissed.
Trump filed a third suit against the county in January 2015, seeking $100 million in damages for "creating an unreasonable amount of noise, emissions and pollutants at Mar-a-Lago". Trump claims that officials pressured the FAA to direct air traffic to PBI over Mar-a-Lago in a "deliberate and malicious" act.
In November 2015, a Florida Circuit Court judge ruled against most of Trump's arguments, dismissing four of the six claims and allowing the others to proceed. Trump dropped the lawsuit after winning the presidency, as the estate would likely have a no-fly zone imposed by the FAA. In January 2017, Palm Beach exempted Mar-a-Lago from a ban on landing helicopters on residential properties while Trump is president, including his own fleet and Marine One.
Use as a Trump residence
In September 2019, Mar-a-Lago became the primary residence for Donald and Melania Trump,[clarification needed] who previously held primary residence in New York City. The legality of this has been disputed because, in 1993, Trump signed a "use agreement" with the Town of Palm Beach, Florida that changed Mar-a-Lago's designation from a single-family residence to a private club and specified that guests, including Trump, could not stay there more than three non-consecutive weeks per year.
Hurricane insurance claim
Trump received a $17 million insurance payment for hurricane damage to Mar-a-Lago after the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, for damage to the "landscaping, roofing, walls, painting, leaks, artwork in the tapestries, tiles, Spanish tiles, the beach, the erosion", as he described. Anthony Senecal, Trump's former butler at the resort and later its "in-house historian", said some trees behind the resort had been flattened and some roof tiles were lost, but "That house has never been seriously damaged. I was there for all [the hurricanes]."
- List of presidential trips made by Donald Trump (2017)
- List of presidential trips made by Donald Trump (2018)
- List of presidential trips made by Donald Trump (2019)
- List of presidential trips made by Donald Trump (2020–21)
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