Cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post was Mrs. Edward F. Hutton when she commissioned Marion Sims Wyeth to build her a 58-bedroom Spanish Revival palace on 17 acres of jungle between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Worth. The home is anchored to a coral reef with concrete and steel to withstand hurricanes.
Post wanted a place where she could host guests but not have everyone on top of each other in one huge house. So Mar-a-Lago is designed with a main house plus isolated apartments to which family and guests could retire — a perfect setup for Donald Trump to turn into a private club.
In 1985, he paid $10 million for the estate including furnishings, which contained 33 bathrooms, three bomb shelters and a nine-hole golf course. Ten years later, he opened a private club with a spa, tennis and croquet courts, a new ballroom and beach club — which came about after he promised to save the mansion’s critical features by donating control of them to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Here are just a few of the features he can’t change:
Main entrance gate — Double wood spindled gate that opens inward; the outside covered with Spanish tiles
Main entrance drive — 14 feet wide, opens at South Ocean Boulevard about 100 feet from the north property line, circles a guest cottage through a porte-cochere (covered entrance large enough for vehicles) to the main entrance to the mansion.
Cloisters, patio and parrot pool — The west side patio has two staircases on either side, leading to the parrot pool, named after the carved parrots that ornament it.
Topical land flow — High point of about 15 feet at main house to low point of 4 feet along Lake Worth.
Vegetation, tree lines and golf course — Quantity and quality of vegetation preserved; nine-hole, par-3 golf course
Walls, floors, ceilings and physically attached structures:
Entrance hall — Centuries-old Spanish tile line the walls. The dominant feature is a hooded fireplace with 16th century Roman busts. High on the walls are 10 coats of arms for the Post and Merriweather families.
Living room — The room is 30-by-60 feet with a 42-foot ceiling. Its centerpiece is a hooded Italian Gothic fireplace. On the gold leaf ceiling is a copy of the famous “Thousand-Wing Ceiling” in the Accademia in Venice with sunbursts instead of angels; on the east side is a loggia that leads to a great arched window, 12 feet across, whose single sheet of glass is so large that the train that brought it from Pittsburgh had to avoid tunnels and low bridges. The glass broke during the first installation so it had to be done all over again.
Post often hid herself on the second floor in one of the small balconies, liked to see the effects the “stupendous room” had on her visitors, according to William Wright, author of “Heiress: The Rich Life of Marjorie Merriweather Post.”
Dining room — Post copied the dining room in Rome’s Chigi Palace that Benito Mussolini was using as an office at the time Mar-a-Lago was built.
Library — English walnut paneling with portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, an 18th century painter.
Monkey loggia — Small room off the library so named because of the stone carved creatures that perched near the ceiling. The one close to the library wears glasses and reads a book.
Master bedroom, bathroom, dressing room — One each for Hutton and Post, side-by-side with private baths and sitting rooms. In addition to the tub, Post’s bathroom held a desk and a phone where she did her morning correspondence, exercised and made calls.
Deenie’s house, bedroom, bathroom — Ground-floor apartment near the master suite for Post’s and Hutton’s only child together, Nedenia (actress Dina Merrill). Interior decorator Joseph Urban chose a whimsical style of fairy tales. The bedroom’s focal point is a beehive fireplace adorned with pink roses on twisting vines. The bedroom windows featured iron bars, also in the fairy tale motif, in the wake of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. An armed guard was stationed at all times at the gate that led into her suite.
Pavilion — The one major addition under Post’s watch was a dance pavilion to host entertainment, in particular square-dancing, which was a favorite of Post’s.
Adams room — In the architectural style of the English brothers Adams; looks like it belongs in Williamsburg.
Dutch room — Salute to Post’s mother who loved the Dutch Delft tiles from which the name came.
Spanish bedroom — Used by visiting congressmen and European royalty; tiled fireplace contains niches fitted with porcelain “ladies-in-waiting” figurines.
“Heiress: The Rich Life of Marjorie Merriweather Post,” William Wright
“Historica American Buildings Survey,” National Park Service
“American Empress: The Life and Times of Marjorie Merriweather Post,” Nancy Rubin
>> 5 things about Marjorie Merriweather Post and Mar-a-Lago
Russian connection — Post once hosted Josef Stalin while her third husband, Joseph Davies, was ambassador to the Soviet Union. Post entertained but did not like the food in Russia, so she imported vats of cream, for example, from America. She hosted those from the Imperial side as well. In 1929, Mar-a-Lago held a luncheon for Grand Duke Alexander Michaelovitch, father of Prince Nikita, presumptive heir to the Russian throne. While she was in Moscow, Post picked up a great deal of Imperial art, including Faberge eggs.
Her famous relations — Daughter Dina Merrill, an actress; son-in-law and actor Cliff Robertson; actress Glenn Close (great niece by first husband Edward Bennett Close), Merriweather Lewis, a Pacific Northwest explorer; stockbroker E.F. Hutton; and Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton (niece).
Richer than her stockbroker husband — Post inherited her father’s $20 million fortune, made from healthy cereal like Post Toasties and Grape Nuts, when he killed himself in 1914; she parlayed that into a $200 million General Foods company. Hutton was chairman and Post was president. She was one of the first women to sit on the board of a major corporation.
World War II soldier rehab — In 1944, Mar-a-Lago was converted into an occupational therapy center for convalescent World War II veterans who were housed at The Breakers. Thatch-roof huts were erected for workshops in leather tooling, sculpting, furniture repair, printing and carpentry. The compound’s staff and service buildings were converted into art studios, private counseling offices, radio repair shops, motor mechanic garages and rooms to show training films.
Square-dancing — Post loved her square-dance nights. Rose Kennedy was a regular. Post “danced every dance even though she was totally deaf,” Palm Beach society columnist Charles van Rensselaer said in 1973.
Mar-a-Lago by the numbers
1923-27 — Construction years; opened in January 1927
600 — Number of workers, many local, built the home because Post believed in boosting the local economy. Many artisans lived locally because of the building boom in Florida in the 1920s.
3 — boatloads of Doria (fossil-bearing limestone) imported from Genoa, Italy, for stucco walls and exterior sculptures
3 — bomb shelters installed by Post
17 — Number of acres
2,200 — black-and-white floor blocks from Cuban castle
$2.5 million – cost to build
$10 million — Trump paid ($5 million for the mansion, $3 million for the furnishings, $2 million for about 400 feet of beach property in front of the mansion)
$2,812 — Trump down payment, 99.97 percent financed by Chase Manhattan Bank
36,000 — antique Spanish tiles, some from 15th century, used in entrance room, cloister, patio and some of the rooms
56,000 — original square footage in mansion
1909 — Post began coming to Palm Beach after she married her first husband, Edward Bennett Close.