Mar-a-Lago

Mar-a-Lago (/ˌmɑːr.ə.ˈlɑː.ɡoʊ/) is an estate 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, 110,000-square-foot (10,000 m2) house contains the Mar-a-Lago Club, a members-only club with guest rooms, a spa, and other hotel-style amenities.

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. However, due to the costs of maintaining the property exceeding the funds provided by Post, and the difficulty in securing the facility 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 businessman Donald Trump and his then-wife Ivana Trump was put in charge of running the property. The Trump family maintains private quarters in a separate, closed-off area of the house and grounds, and since becoming President, Trump has frequently stayed there, referring to it as his "Southern White House".

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Mar-a-Lago is located in Florida

Etymology

The company identifies the name Mar-a-Lago as Spanish for "Sea-to-Lake."

History

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Living room of Mar-a-Lago, 1967
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Entrance to Mar-a-Lago owner's suite, April 1967
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Entrance gate in 2014

Marjorie Merriweather Post, heir to the Post Cereals business, built the house with her husband Edward F. Hutton. She hired Marion Sims Wyeth to design it, and Joseph Urban to create interior design and exterior decorations. Upon her death in 1973, Post 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, annual taxes roughly between $1 million and $3 million, and the difficulty of maintaining security for diplomats. The government returned it to the Post Foundation in 1981, which listed it for sale for $20 million. Dina Merrill and Post's two other daughters did not maintain the property, expecting to sell it, but there was so little interest that the city approved its demolition to build smaller homes. Mar-a-Lago was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1980.

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Donald Trump at a fundraiser for the Cleveland Clinic hosted at Mar-a-Lago in 2012

Donald Trump learned about the estate after unsuccessfully trying to purchase and combine two apartments in Palm Beach for his family. According to Trump, he offered the Post family $25 million for it, an offer that they rejected. Trump then put in a bid of $2 million to purchase the land between Mar-a-Lago and the ocean, 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. Trump ended up getting the property for $7 million in 1985. Trump renovated the estate, adding a 20,000-square-foot (1,900 m2) ballroom to the 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms, a 29-foot-long (8.8 m) pietra dura marble top dining table, 12 fireplaces, and three bomb shelters. The club also has five clay tennis courts and a waterfront pool.

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 as members Jews, blacks, and, as one Everglades member said, "people who try to call attention to themselves". The new club hosted concerts by Céline Dion and Billy Joel, had beauty-pageant contestants as guests, and violated local noise ordinances. Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley spent their honeymoon at Mar-a-Lago.

On April 18, 2012, the American Institute of Architects' Florida Chapter ranked Mar-a-Lago fifth on its list of Florida Architecture: 100 Years. 100 Places.

Mar-a-Lago has frequently hosted the International Red Cross Ball, an annual "white tie, tails, and tiara" ball. Founded by Post, it has a history of attracting wealthy socialites and ambassadors from across the world in support of the mission of the American Red Cross.

Trump presidency

President Trump has referred to Mar-a-Lago as his "Winter White House" and alternately the "Southern White House". It has a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) for communications with the White House Situation Room and Pentagon.

Notable presidential visits

The first visit of President Trump at the Winter White House 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 (West Palm Beach). The estimated cost (over US$3 million) of the weekend garnered some scrutiny as Trump, before being elected, regularly criticized President Obama for expensive taxpayer-funded vacations.

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Trump and Shinzō Abe at Mar-a-Lago

On the weekend of February 10–12, 2017, President Trump and his wife hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe and his wife. This was the first use of his resort to entertain an international leader, and the occasion for 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 President Trump's fourth weekend visit on March 3–5, 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.

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

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The Trumps hosting Xi Jinping and his wife at Mar-a-Lago

During his next visit April 6–9, President 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 Web site 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, Democrats 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, it is expected that Trump spends more weekends at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Security zone

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. 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. 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. Members 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.

The club holds an annual New Year’s Eve party, described in Daily Mail by journalist and author Ronald Kessler, who has known Donald Trump for two decades: "The New Year's Eve party was held in that ballroom [described in Kessler's book The Season: Inside Palm Beach and America's Richest Society], with almost 700 guests who paid $1,000 per couple. First came hors d'oeuvres and champagne on the terrace overlooking the pool, always heated to 78 degrees, like the second pool right on the ocean. Cocktail shrimp, stone crab claws, cold lobster, oysters on the half shell, sushi, and caviar dished onto blini were among the offerings. After that, the guests swanned over to the ballroom for dinner and dancing. Dinner included truffle and ricotta ravioli and filet mignon and scallops. The bubbly: from Trump's own Charlottesville, Virginia vineyard." A second article by Kessler in Daily Mail in February 2016 predicted that Trump would operate as president the way he runs Mar-a-Lago.

In “A Roadmap to Trump’s Washington,” Kessler described the carrot-and-stick approach Trump used to get his Mar-a-Lago estate approved as a club by Palm Beach Town Council members and predicted he would operate in the same manner as president to win over support for his agenda. In “The Anatomy of a Trump Decision,” Kessler depicted how Trump makes decisions by focusing on his decision to turn his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach into a private club.

As of February 2017, President Trump is considering at least three club members for ambassadorships.

Lawsuits

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 that 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, as well as resulted in a change to town ordinances allowing out-of-town enrollees in club membership.

Discrimination

In December 1997, Trump filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. In his suit Trump accused the town of 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."

Aviation litigation

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.

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 will 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.

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