Mar-a-Lago dreamin’ : is the Trump administration finding its feet at last?

Apr 8th, 2017 | By | Category: USA Today

Donald Trump and Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, April 2017.

APRIL 8, 2017. GANATSEKWYAGON, ONTARIO, CANADA. Is it true that : “Missile attack on Syria a ‘win-win’ for Trump … Strike will allow US president to deflect attention from domestic crises and regain moral high ground”?

And does the departure of Steve Banon from the US National Security Council similarly mean that adults are taking over the White House at last?

Does “Nunes steps down from Russia probe, cites ‘entirely false’ ethics accusations” just underline the point?

And finally what is Xi Jinping, president of what still calls itself the People’s Republic of China, taking away from his “about 24 hours together” with the president of the USA “at Mr. Trump’s beachside Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida”?

I of course do not know the answers to any of these questions. Beyond just pretending to be wise and saying “time will tell.”

Post Cereals’ heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and her daughter, the future actress Dina Merrill, in 1929 portrait by Giulio de Blaas.

What this latest Washington, DC action has done is wake me up to smell the coffee of the new “Southern White House” (aka “Winter White House”) at Mar-a-Lago  – Marjorie Merriweather Post’s 1920s fantasy in Palm Beach Florida, that Donald Trump turned into a money-making “members-only club with guest rooms, a spa, and other hotel-style amenities” back in the 1990s.

From the start my managing editor has been enthusiastic about “something short” on the Mar-a-Lago story. But when I first looked into the issue I told her : “Forget it – there’s already an excellent Wikipedia article on the subject. The best I can do is tell the world to read it.”

Saying she had more faith in me than that, the managing editor has urged me to carry on anyway – though again “briefly” of course (well … no more than 800 words, say : and not too much longer than that at any rate, even in the very end).

Spanish for ‘Sea-to-Lake’

Mar-a-Lago under construction in the 1920s.

As Wikipedia reports, Mar-a-Lago is “Spanish for ‘Sea-to-Lake’.” More exactly, this means 17 acres of Florida beach-land stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to something called Lake Worth.

The crucial real estate development is a 126-room (some sources say 128), 110,000 square-foot house “built from 1924 to 1927 by heiress and socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post” (as in Post Bran Flakes, etc). She “envisioned the house as a future winter retreat for American presidents and foreign dignitaries, and following her death in 1973, it was bequeathed to the nation.”

At this point I discovered another excellent extended source on the Mar-a-Lago story – Mark Seal’s “How Donald Trump Beat Palm Beach Society and Won the Fight for Mar-a-Lago,” in the February 2017 Vanity Fair.  And Mr. Seal can tell the story of what happened after Mar-a-Lago was bequeathed to the nation in the 1970s much better than I can.

Actress, heiress, and daughter of Marjorie Merriweather Post Dina Merrill, part of group that sold Mar-a-Lago to Donald Trump in 1985. With a current estimated net worth of $5 billion, she is probably richer than Donald Trump.

I quote :  President Richard “Nixon preferred his friend Bebe Rebozo’s place [in Florida], farther south, in Key Biscayne, and Jimmy Carter in the extravagant confines of Mar-a-Lago would have been like Donald Trump in, well, the peanut fields of Plains, Georgia. So Carter’s administration, faced with the estate’s $1 million annual taxes and maintenance costs, kicked it back to the Post Foundation in 1981 …The foundation put it on the market for $20 million.”

Trump, who had by now fallen in love with Mar-a-Lago, claims to have made an initial offer for the place in the $20 million ball park that was rejected. (Wikipedia puts the offer as low as $15 million! Seal quotes Trump’s Mar-a-Lago butler who claims as much as $25 million.)

Mark Seal carries on : Trump then “offered $2 million for a beachfront lot in front of Mar-a-Lago–which Post’s foundation had sold earlier for $346,000. While Trump didn’t buy the property until he closed on Mar-a-Lago, The Washington Post reported, ‘he decided to play hardball. He said he bought the beachfront property directly in front of it through a third party and threatened to put up a hideous home to block Mar-a-Lago’s ocean view.’”

Aerial view of Mar-a-Lago today. Photo: New York Daily News Archive, NY Daily News Via Getty Images.

As a result, “the price kept going down and down” And the Post Foundation (guided by Marjorie Merriweather’s three very wealthy daughters – Adelaide Breevort Close, Eleanor Post Close, and the actress Dina Merrill aka Nedinia Hutton) “decided to take Mr. Trump’s last offer, and sold him the house and the 17 acres and all the furnishings for less than $8 million.”

Donald Trump was the proud new owner of Mar-a-Lago by the end of 1985. It may be best to let Wikipedia tell the crucial next chapter : “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; the city council rejected his plan to do so. Trump instead turned the estate into a private club that–unlike other Palm Beach old money resorts like the Bath and Tennis Club and Everglades Club–accepted Jews, blacks, and (as one Everglades member said) ‘people who try to call attention to themselves’ like Trump himself–as members.”

Three absolutely final points about the more recent past

President Donald Trump dines with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago on Friday, February 10, 2017. (AL DRAGO / NYT.)

(1) THE CLUB. From the Wikipedia article : “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. Sources close to the resort indicated the cut was in response to reduced demand following the Bernie Madoff scandal which affected many affluent Palm Beach residents. The fee was returned to $200,000 in January 2017 following the election of Donald Trump as president with $14,000 annual dues. Overnight guests pay up to $2,000 a night. According to financial disclosure forms filed by Donald Trump, the Mar-a-Lago Club realized $29.7 million in gross revenues in the period June 2015 to May 2016 … The club has nearly 500 paying members and admits twenty to forty new members a year.”

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump attend the 60th International Red Cross Ball at Mar-a-lago on February 4, 2017.

(2) DONALD TRUMP’S VIEW OF EQUALITY. A little more than a year ago Dianne de Guzman had a piece on the SFGate website called (with some quite deliberate irony) “Mar-a-Lago: proof that Trump is about equality.” As she explained : “The grand property, known as the Mar-a-Lago Club, is in Palm Beach, Fla … Calling the club an example of what he’s done for equality, Trump told ‘Good Morning America’ that the estate was ‘totally open to everybody’ …  ‘There’s nobody that’s done so much for equality as I have,’ Trump was quoted as saying … ‘I built the Mar-a-Lago Club totally open to everybody …A club that frankly set a new standard in clubs and a new standard in Palm Beach, and I’ve gotten great credit for it.’” He was presumably alluding to the true enough fact that Mar-a-Lago “unlike other Palm Beach old money resorts” accepts “Jews, blacks, and … ‘people who try to call attention to themselves’ … as members.”  The equally true enough fact that the club is not open to anyone who does not have the $200,000 initiation fee and $14,000 annual dues, etc. does not apparently have anything to do with “equality” or even the lesser concept of  “totally open to everybody” in Mr. Trump’s mind. (And perhaps in the minds of others who are used to having quite a lot of money – old or new – from birth.)

On offer at the 20th Anniversary Discovery Celebration benefitting Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund at Mar-a-Lago on February 19, 2011.

(3) GALLUP POLLS ON TRUMP AND FAKE NEWS MEDIA.  If a change towards a more adult Donald Trump White House actually is in the air, various recent polling numbers may have played at least some role.  So far this year, eg, the Gallup organization has twice asked the question “In its coverage of Donald Trump and his administration so far, do you think the news media has been too tough, about right or not tough enough?” Over the period Jan 30-31 36% of Gallup’s randomly sampled Americans said too tough, 31% about right, and 28% not tough enough. Over the period Mar 9-29 only 32% said too tough, 24% about right, and 37% not tough enough (up nine points since late January).

Further Mar-a-Lago Reading for Those Who Absolutely Need It

Mar-a-Lago –  From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Lyndsay Duncombe, “Want to see Mar-a-Lago? Forget the press pass, bring money … A Canadian financier pitches investors at ‘probably the most exclusive club in the world’,” CBC News, Apr 06, 2017.

Trump travelling back to Mar-a-Lago AGAIN this weekend,” 03-03-2017.

Mar-a-Lago Members: A Running List,” February 22, 2017.

Marjorie Merriweather Post, r, reaches out to Rose Kennedy, in green, at January 1965 Red Cross Ball in Palm Beach, held at Mar-a-Lago. Mrs. Kennedy’s son had been assassinated in Texas not too much more than a year before. State of Florida Archives, Bert Morgan Photographic Collection.

Leanna Commins, “20 Things You Should Know About Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s ‘Winter White House’, Cosmopolitan, Feb 14, 2017.

Augustus Mayhew, “Mrs. Post’s Mar-a-Lago,” New York Social Diary, February 7, 2017.

Mark Landler, “At Cosseted ‘Winter White House,’ Outside World Intrudes on Trump,” New York Times, Feb 5, 2017.

Building Mar-a-Lago: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Palm Beach showplace,” Palm Beach Life, February 05, 2017.

Mark Seal, “How Donald Trump Beat Palm Beach Society and Won the Fight for Mar-a-Lago,” Vanity Fair, February 2017.

New Years Eve Mar-A-Lago PEOTUS Trump Style,” January 5, 2017.

Erik Sherman, “A Look Inside Donald Trump’s Lavish, $200 Million ‘Palace’,” Fortune, Mar 16, 2016

Onli photo shoot at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, Sack Lunch Marketing.

Dianne de Guzman, “Mar-a-Lago: proof that Trump is about equality,” SFGate, March 1, 2016.

Vada Mossavat, “Donald Trump Has A Very Palm Beach Christmas – Mar-a-Lago to Host Presidential Candidate Through New Year’s Day,” Gossip Extra, December 26, 2015.

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