Preserving Mar-a-Lago: A look at historical features Trump can’t touch

Dec 21, 2017
Mar-a-Lago’s entrance hall. Palm Beach Daily News

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. 

Marjorie Merriweather Post was photographed in 1929, two years after she completed construction of her elaborate Palm Beach estate, Mar-a-Lago, the name of which roughly translates from the Portuguese as “Sea to Lake.” Photo courtesy of Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens Archives

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.

>> EXCLUSIVE: Trump’s Mar-a-Lago tax deal veiled from IRS review

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:

Entrance way at Mar-a-Lago. (Patrick Egan/The Palm Beach Daily News)

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.

Sculptures adorning the parrot pool. (Patrick Egan/The Palm Beach Daily News)

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.

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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.” 

Mar-a-Lago’s gilded living room, as it appeared in 1993 after Donald and Ivana Trump restored the mansion to its original glory. Marjorie Merriweather Post’s original furniture, tapestries and art objects are organized the way Post displayed them while she was still alive. The 42-foot ceiling is a copy of the “Thousand-Wing ceiling” in Venice’s Accademia. Photo / C.J. Walker Photo: Special to Palm Beach Life

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.

Library. July 1994. (Patrick Egan/The Palm Beach Daily News)

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.

Rare pink and gold marble adds femininity to Marjorie's dressing room, which served as her office and exercise room.
Bars on the windows of Deenie’s nursery. Damon Higgins/The Palm Beach Post

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.

Adams room. July 1994. (Patrick Egan/The Palm Beach Daily News)

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.

The Spanish Room, as it appeared in 1996, is one of Mar-a-Lago's most famous guest rooms. Porcelain ladies-in-waiting stand in tiny arches decorating the tiled "beehive" fireplace. Post Staff

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SOURCES:

“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