Mar-a-Lago (/ˌmɑːrəˈlɑːɡ/; Spanish for 'Sea-to-Lake') is a resort and National Historic Landmark in Palm Beach, Florida. It is the official residence of Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, which he has owned since 1985.

Mar-a-Lago National Historic Landmark
Mar-a-Lago in 2023
Mar-a-Lago is located in Florida
Mar-a-Lago
Location1100 S. Ocean Blvd., Palm Beach, Florida, United States
Coordinates26°40′37″N 80°2′13″W / 26.67694°N 80.03694°W / 26.67694; -80.03694
Area62,500 sq ft (5,810 m2)[1] on 17 acres of land[2]
Built1924–1927
Architect
NRHP reference No.80000961
Significant dates
Added to NRHPDecember 23, 1980[3]
Designated NHLDecember 23, 1980[4]

Mar-a-Lago was built for businesswoman and socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post between 1924 and 1927, during the 1920s Florida land boom. At the time of her death in 1973, Post bequeathed the property to the National Park Service,[5] 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 because it was difficult to secure the facility,[a] the property was returned to the Post Foundation by an act of Congress in 1981.[6]

In 1985 Donald J. Trump, (primarily a businessman and real estate investor at the time) acquired Mar-a-Lago and used the 126-room, 62,500 sq ft (5,810 m2)[1] mansion (on 17 acres of land[2]) as a residence before 1994 when he converted it into the Mar-a-Lago Club, a members-only club with guest rooms, a spa and other hotel-style amenities. The Trump family maintains private quarters in a separate, closed-off area of the house and grounds, marked by decorative dolphins.[7] During his tenure as President of the United States, President Trump frequently visited Mar-a-Lago[8] and hosted meetings with international leaders there, including Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese president Xi Jinping. Since 2019, Trump has designated the estate as his primary residence.

Origin of the name edit

Mar-a-Lago means "sea-to-lake" in Spanish,[9] referring to the fact that the resort extends the entire width of Palm Beach, from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Worth Lagoon, which forms part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.

History edit

Exterior of Mar-a-Lago, 1967
Living room of Mar-a-Lago, 1967

Design edit

During the 1920s Florida land boom, Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post Cereals business and then the wealthiest woman in the United States,[10][11] 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.[12][13] Post spent US$7 million (equivalent to $118 million in 2022), and it was finished in 1927.[14] At the time of building, it was the most expensive non-royal residence built in history.

Winter residence of Marjorie Merriweather Post edit

Hutton and Post regularly used Mar-a-Lago as their winter residence, typically staying from mid January to late March. Post used the residence to host dinner parties, charity events, concerts, costume balls, and a circus.

In 1935, Hutton and Post went through a divorce. Post re-married Washington lawyer Joseph E. Davies, who was appointed ambassador to Russia. Mar-a-Lago was shuttered for five seasons. Post only made brief visits to Mar-a-Lago in the early 1940s and did not stay at the estate from 1941 to 1948. In April 1944, the house was turned into a training centre for returning servicemen.[15]

Post returned to Mar-a-Lago in 1948 and began using Mar-a-Lago to host social events regularly again. In 1957, she began the tradition of using the estate to host the International Red Cross ball, and the gala event has been regularly held there since.[9] In 1961, she built a pavilion with a 30-foot-by-50-foot dance floor and held square dance evenings.[16]

Federal government and foundation edit

By the 1950s and 1960s, social tastes had changed, and many mansions constructed in the 1920s were demolished.[17] In 1969, Mar-a-Lago was designated a national historic site.[18] A contemporary report prepared by the Department of the Interior attributed its significance to providing "an excellent picture of winter resort life in Palm Beach prior to the Depression".[12]

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.[19] 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 of maintaining security for diplomats,[20] 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 meantime, anticipating a sale,[21] but there was so little interest that its demolition to build smaller homes was approved.[22]

Mar-a-Lago was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1980 for exemplifying "the baronial way of life of the wealthy who built mansions in Florida during the Florida land boom of the 1920s".[4][23][24]

Trump ownership edit

 
Entrance gate in 2014

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,[25] 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.[26][21] Different sources have put the combined total cost of the purchase at around $10 million.[27][28][29] The minimum acceptable bid had been $20 million, and the interior furnishings were appraised at $8 million.[30]

After purchasing the estate, Trump did extensive renovations, adding a 20,000-square-foot (1,900 m2) ballroom.[22] The club also has five clay tennis courts and a waterfront pool. His wife at the time, Ivana Trump, was put in charge of running the property.[31]

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 1994,[32] fighting off what he considered to be excessive restrictions.[33][34]

The new club hosted concerts by Céline Dion and Billy Joel and had beauty pageant contestants as guests.[22][21][35] Mar-a-Lago has frequently hosted the International Red Cross Ball, an annual "white tie, tails, and tiara" event.[36] Founded by Post, it has a history of support of the mission of the American Red Cross.[37]

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.[38] The club had revenues of $25.1 million for calendar year 2017, $22 million in 2018, and $21.4 million in 2019.[39][40]

In 2022, Forbes estimated the value of the estate at around $350 million.[27] Forbes said that 'Real estate experts outside of Palm Beach guessed that the place was worth more than $200 million. Brokers on the island thought it could be worth far more, with the most aggressive estimate coming in at $725 million. When Forbes last valued the property in March, we went with a conservative $350 million.' In a 2022 lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, it was alleged that Trump inflated the value of Mar-a-Lago to $739 million, when the property should actually be valued at $75 million.[41]

Architectural style, layout, and materials edit

Architecturally, the resort follows the style of Spanish Revival. The house is a sprawling Mediterranean-style villa that is an adaptation of the Hispano-Moresque style which was popular in Palm Beach at the time. It has a two-story central block with family quarters and service areas in lower subsidiary wings and buildings. This arrangement was chosen by Mrs. Post to keep the main house from appearing too massive and to separate the family and service areas from those used for entertaining. The house is topped by a seventy-five foot, tile-roofed tower containing bedrooms and baths and an observation deck commanding a view of Palm Beach for miles around.[12]

Among the imported materials were the three boatloads of Doria stone from Genoa used for the exterior wall facing, some of the interiors, the arches, and the Barwig sculptures. This fossil-bearing limestone was chosen for its quality of rapid aging and its suitability for intricate carving. The roofing tiles, approximately 20,000 of them, and the 2,200 black and white marble floor blocks used came from a Cuban castle. Of particular interest is the vast number of antique Spanish tiles which are used lavishly in the entrance hall, patio, cloisters, and in some of the rooms. Mrs. Post acquired a collection of nearly 36,000 tiles that had been assembled in the 1880's by Mrs. Horace Havermeyer. These tiles date back to the 15th century. The collection of Spanish tiles at Mar-a-Lago is probably one of the largest in the world.[12]

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.

On April 18, 2012, members of the American Institute of Architects' Florida chapter ranked Mar-a-Lago fifth on the Florida Architecture: 100 Years. 100 Places list.[42]

Trump presidency edit

President Trump referred to Mar-a-Lago as his "Winter White House",[43] and on occasion his "Southern White House".[44]

During Trump's presidency a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) was operational at Mar-a-Lago; it was removed after he left office.[45] The SCIF was used for communications with the White House Situation Room and Pentagon.[46] The Mar-a-Lago Crowd, an informal group organized by President Trump which oversaw many of the activities of the Department of Veterans Affairs during the Trump administration, frequently met at the club.[47]

Notable presidential visits edit

Clockwise from top-left:
 
Trump signing the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 at Mar-a-Lago on December 27, 2020

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,[48] 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, President 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.[49] On this occasion one of President Trump's first international security crises happened, that of a North Korean missile launch. Trump and Abe conferred in full view of the other diners.[50]

During the third weekend visit to Mar-a-Lago on February 17–20, President Trump conducted a campaign rally at the Melbourne Orlando International Airport.[51] He also conducted interviews for a replacement National Security Advisor and named General H. R. McMaster as Flynn's successor on February 20, 2017.[52]

After President 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.[53] 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.[54] After a lawsuit was filed, a judge ordered, in July 2017, that these logs be released in September.[55]

President Trump's fifth presidential visit took place on March 17–18. Guests included Melania's parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs.[citation needed]

During his next visit April 6–9, President Trump hosted the Chinese president Xi Jinping for the first two days.[56][57][58] At Mar-a-Lago, the decision to strike a Syrian airfield was made.[58] The following Easter weekend was also spent with family members at Mar-a-Lago.[59][unreliable source?]

On April 4, 2017, prior to 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.[60] 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.[61][62] 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.[63][64][65][66] 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."[60]

In November 2017, President Trump returned to Mar-a-Lago for a Thanksgiving celebration,[67] and one month later he returned for his tenth presidential visit during his Christmas vacation.[68]

In 2018, President 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.[69]

In November 2018, President Trump returned to Mar-a-Lago for Thanksgiving. One month later, President 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 Thanksgiving, and a month later returned for Christmas.

On March 7, 2020, President 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.[70] Also at the dinner was Bolsonaro's press secretary, Fábio Wajngarten [pt], 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.[71] Others attending the dinner included Vice President Mike Pence, Ivanka Trump, and Jared Kushner.[72]

Security zone edit

When President Trump was in residence as president, the Palm Beach region became a zone of temporary flight restrictions[73] affecting flights and air operations severely within a 30 nautical mile (55.56 km) radius.[74] Coast Guard and Secret Service secured the two waterway approaches, ocean and lake, and Secret Service cordoned off streets to Mar-a-Lago during the president's visits. The Coast Guard also attached an elite Maritime Safety and Security Team with unique capabilities that specialized in maritime security.[75] 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.[76]

The Mar-a-Lago Club edit

 
Mar-a-Lago in 2009

The primary business occupying the estate is the Mar-a-Lago Club, which opened in 1994 and operates as resort and hotel for dues-paying members, and rents out estate venues for private events. Operating the mansion as a club in this way, while continuing to live on the premises, allows Trump to significantly reduce his tax bill, by identifying a range of items used to maintain the mansion and his lifestyle as being legitimate business expenses.[77]

Membership at the Mar-a-Lago Club required a $200,000 initiation fee. In 2012, reportedly in response to reduced demand following the Bernie Madoff scandal which affected many affluent Palm Beach residents, the fee was lowered to $100,000.[78] The fee returned to $200,000 in January 2017 after Trump was elected president,[78] with $14,000 annual dues.[79] Overnight guests paid up to $2,000 a night.[22]

The membership list of Mar-a-Lago has long been shrouded in secrecy. The 2020 book The Grifter's Club had access to old membership records from the club, which confirmed that Jeffrey Epstein had been a member until 2007, and reveals that he was expelled "after Epstein harassed the daughter of a member", according to another Mar-a-Lago member. The book alleges that the girl was a teenager at the time, and confirms that Epstein is listed in club membership records as "Account closed 10/07", in contrast to cases of members' resignations, where "Resigned" is normally noted.[80]

As of January 2017, the club was nearly at its maximum capacity of 500 paying members and was admitting twenty to forty new members a year.[81][82] 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.[82]

In February 2017 it was reported that Trump was considering at least three club members for ambassadorships.[82]

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.[83]

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.[84] Since 2013, it has faced 51 health code violations.[85]

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.[86]

In August 2022, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that a Ukrainian-born Russian speaker who used a fake name and claimed to be a Rothschild family heiress had frequented the residence over a year's time, even posing there for photos with Trump and Senator Lindsey Graham.[87][88]

Legal issues edit

Hurricane insurance claim edit

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]."[89]

American flag litigation edit

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).[90] 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. He eventually dropped his lawsuit over the flag, and in exchange the town waived its fines.[91] 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.[92]

Discrimination lawsuit edit

In 1993, Trump and the city of Palm Beach signed an agreement that allowed Trump to turn the residence into a private club.[93] In November 1996, Trump asked the Palm Beach council to lift the restrictions contained in the agreement that limited media photography, filmmaking, land sales, membership, and traffic at the club, and prevented him from applying for tax exemptions on the property for three years. The council denied the request. According to Vanity Fair, before the meeting "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."[21] In December 1997, Trump filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida alleging that the town discriminated against him and his club because the club accepted Jewish and African-American members[94] and because town officials had financial stakes in competing clubs.[95]

Aviation litigation edit

Trump has repeatedly filed lawsuits against Palm Beach County over aircraft going to and from Palm Beach International Airport (PBI) allegedly affecting Mar-a-Lago.[96]

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.[96] As part of the settlement, Trump leased 215 acres from the county, on which he built the 18-hole Trump International Golf Club.[21] In July 2010, Trump filed another lawsuit aiming to stop the airport from constructing a second commercial runway.[97] That suit was dismissed.[96]

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".[96] Trump claims that officials pressured the FAA to direct air traffic to PBI over Mar-a-Lago in a "deliberate and malicious" act.[98]

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.[96] Trump dropped the lawsuit after winning the presidency, as the estate would likely have a no-fly zone imposed by the FAA.[99][21] In January 2017, Palm Beach exempted Mar-a-Lago from a ban on landing helicopters on residential properties while Trump was president, including his own fleet and Marine One.[100]

Use as a Trump residence edit

 
Trump's estate on Palm Beach Island in 2019

In September 2019, Mar-a-Lago became the primary residence for Donald and Melania Trump, who previously held primary residence in New York City.[101][102] 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.[103][104]

Chinese nationals were arrested for trespassing at Mar-a-Lago in March and December 2019.[105]

In December 2020, neighbors of Mar-a-Lago delivered a demand letter to the town of Palm Beach, stating that the town should notify Trump that he cannot use the estate as his residence.[103][106] Trump argues that he can live at Mar-a-Lago permanently as a bona fide employee.[107]

Storage of classified records edit

 
Classified documents stored in a bathroom at Mar-a-Lago

Upon departing the White House in January 2021, Trump transported a large volume of presidential records to Mar-a-Lago, despite storage of such materials being subject to the Presidential Records Act.[108] Seeking to preserve presidential communications and correspondence with world leaders, the National Archives and Records Administration arranged to retrieve 15 boxes of material from Mar-a-Lago in January 2022.[109] These included documents clearly marked as classified, prompting the Department of Justice to restrict any details regarding the contents of the 15 boxes.[110]

On May 11, 2022, the Justice Department sent Trump a grand jury subpoena, requesting any additional documents marked classified.[111] A later subpoena requested surveillance footage from the club. On August 8, 2022, FBI agents presented a search warrant and searched Trump's residence at Mar-a-Lago, part of the continuing investigation into the potential mishandling of classified documents. The Secret Service "facilitated access" for the FBI, and one of Trump's lawyers was present for the search.[112]

Appraisal discrepancy edit

Mar-a-Lago is "deed restricted" such that it cannot be used for any purpose other than as a private club. Consequently, appraisers value the property on the basis of its annual net operating income, rather than the resale or reconstruction value as a home, as would be the case for an unrestricted property.[113] As part of the New York civil investigation of the Trump Organization a New York court has found that from 2011 to 2021 Mar-a-Lago has been assessed by Palm Beach County as having a value from $18 million to $27.6 million, while at the same time Trump's financial statements has valued it from $427 million to $627 million as part of an alleged scheme to both lower insurance premiums and to get favorable loan terms.[114] In contrast, one area real estate broker hired by Trump gave an opinion that the property could be worth as much as $1 billion.[115]

See also edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ Mar-a-Lago is located under the flight path of Palm Beach Airport.[citation needed]

References edit

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  3. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  4. ^ a b "Mar-A-Lago". National Historic Landmarks Program. National Park Service. Archived from the original on April 2, 2009.
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  9. ^ a b Michael Luongo (November 2017). "The Ironic History of Mar-a-Lago". SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved October 12, 2020.
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  15. ^ Mayhew, Augustus. "Building Mar-a-Lago: Marjorie Merriweather Post's Palm Beach showplace". The Palm Beach Post. Retrieved September 17, 2023.
  16. ^ Mayhew, Augustus. "Building Mar-a-Lago: Marjorie Merriweather Post's Palm Beach showplace". The Palm Beach Post. Retrieved September 17, 2023.
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  29. ^ "Go inside the other Trump home, Mar-a-Lago". App. USA Today Network. March 7, 2018.
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Further reading edit

External links edit

Singhvi, Anjali; Gröndahl, Mika; Haberman, Maggie; Cai, Weiyi; Migliozzi, Blacki (December 15, 2022). "Inside Mar-a-Lago, Where Thousands Partied Near Secret Files". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 16, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)