Mar a Lago
With his Midas touch, Donald J. Trump transformed the Palm Beach estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post and turned it into a luxurious, private club
TEXT Laura Litinsky
PHOTOGRAPHY Jerry Rabinowitz,
Delray Beach, FL

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The archetypal businessman, Donald J. Trump is the epitome of the American success story. Amassing a fortune through real estate and entertainment ventures, Trump continually raises the bar of excellence with each new undertaking. He is a best-selling author and now a TV star with a hit show, “The Apprentice.” Trump, it seems, turns everything to gold with his Midas touch, including a neglected Palm Beach estate that he transformed into the most luxurious private club in the world.

Spinning his wheel of fortune in 1985, Trump bought Mar-a-Lago, the historic Palm Beach estate of cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and her financier husband, E.F. Hutton. “When I purchased it, I undertook the painstaking process of restoring the 110,000-square-foot mansion to its original grandeur without eroding its historic significance,” Trump says. “I obtained numerous photographs of the original interiors as well as the original architectural plans.”

Built in the 1920s, Mar-a-Lago took four years to construct at a cost of $8 million — an astonishing sum in those days. But like Trump, Post never settled for anything less than “the best.”

According to legend, Post and her real estate agent crawled through the swampy jungle of pre-developed Palm Beach to find a suitable location for her winter home. She chose a 20-acre coral reef between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Worth, and named the land “Mar-a-Lago,” which is Latin for “Sea to Lake.” Post commissioned architect Marion Wyeth to design the estate and famed artist Joseph Urban to create the opulent interiors.

In 1927, Post officially opened Mar-a-Lago and soon became the island’s most renowned hostess. Visitors to the estate included international moguls, politicians, and the rich and famous. For decades, Mar-a-Lago was an icon of Palm Beach society, and earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

After Post’s death in 1973, the estate was turned over to the U.S. government for possible use as a diplomatic retreat or “Winter White House.” But any such plans were abandoned due to prohibitive maintenance costs.

The property was considered a white elephant when Trump came to the rescue and purchased it for $8 million. In addition to refurbishing the mansion, Trump enhanced Mar-a-Lago’s amenities by adding a pool, a world-class spa, a tennis center and croquet courts. He brought back to life the pitch-and-putt golf course, and modernized the original Gold and White Ballroom. For restoring this property, Trump received the prestigious Knott Award from the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Trump keeps fine-tuning his exclusive club. In 2004, he completed an oceanfront Beach Club across from Mar-a-Lago, and in January 2005, the Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom opened to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the Mar-a-Lago Club. The 20,000-square-foot ballroom’s inaugural event was Trump’s marriage to Melania Knauss.

Designed to accommodate 700 people, the ballroom blends seamlessly with the rest of Mar-a-Lago. “I modeled the interior after Versailles, and there is nothing like it in the United States,” Trump says. “It’s booked solid for several seasons, and will host numerous charity events and private parties.”

Not surprisingly, the American Academy of Hospitality Services named Mar-a-Lago the “Best Club Anywhere in the World.” Like Post’s guest list, Trump’s reads like a veritable “Who’s Who” of international luminaries.

“Prince Charles, Hillary and Bill Clinton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tony Bennett, Barbara Walters, Paul Anka, Regis Philbin, and Joan Rivers are just a few of the many celebrities who have enjoyed staying at the club,” Trump says.

The only thing missing from his Palm Beach holdings was a world-class championship golf course. So, he built Trump International Golf Club, a $40+ million masterpiece designed by Jim Fazio.

““The course has magnificent tropical landscaping, water features and elevations of 100 feet,” Trump says. “Over 3 million cubic yards of dirt and 5,000 trees were used to shape the 7,350 yards of spectacular golf.”
Although the course is located just seven minutes from Mar-a-Lago, Trump International Golf Club maintains a separate membership fee. And in true Trump style, the course is one of the “best in the world,” with Florida Golf Magazine naming it “Florida’s Best Golf Course” in 2005.

Trump’s restoration of Mar-a-Lago and development of the Beach Club and Trump International Golf Club have certainly kept the Post tradition alive by being the talk of the town. u

Architect Marion Wyeth designed Mar-a-Lago in a crescent shape, with upper and lower cloisters. Columns set off the walkway in the veranda below, just outside the Great Room.
Architect Marion Wyeth designed Mar-a-Lago in a crescent shape, with upper and lower cloisters. Columns set off the walkway in the veranda below, just outside the Great Room.
Embellished with 24-karat gold leafing, the Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom, below, is the club’s newest addition.
The Chigi Palace in Rome inspired the look of the dining room, left, while a copy of the famous “Thousand-Wing Ceiling” in the Academia in Venice graces the Great Room.
Photography by Christie’s Photographic Studio
Members of The Mar-a-Lago Club and their guests have exclusive use of the Beach Club, where yellow-and-white striped cabanas surround the freeform pool.