Mar-a-Lago, originally built in the 1920s as a residential estate, is in the news quite a bit these days. That’s because its current owner, Donald Trump – make that United States President Donald Trump – is making frequent visits to the property. As president, Trump uses Mar-a-Lago as a getaway, as a site for meetings with foreign leaders and dignataries, as – as he’s called it – his “Southern White House” or “Winter White House.”
The Mar-a-Lago Club is on Palm Beach Island in Palm Beach, Fla., one of he wealthiest enclaves in America. The palatial house is built on 20 acres, between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Worth. The mansion includes nearly 60 bedrooms, more than 30 bathrooms, a ballroom, a theater – 114 rooms total and 110.000 square feet of opulence in all.
In the early 2000s, the LPGA’s Rolex Awards ceremony was held at Mar-a-Lago several times, when nearby Trump International Golf Club was the site of an LPGA Tour tournament. And Trump, even as President, always manages to play golf on visits to Mar-a-Lago.
What else do we know about the Mar-a-Lago Club? What else is not commonly known? Let’s do some exploring around the Mar-a-Lago estate, its history and its present.
Mar-a-Lago Is Not a Golf Club
An exterior view of the Mar-a-Lago mansion. Davidoff Studios/Getty Images
There are almost no golf facilities at the Mar-a-Lago Club. We say “almost” because there is a single practice putting green on the grounds. But that’s it: no golf course, no other golf facilities.
But wait, you say: Then how is President Trump playing golf every time he goes to Mar-a-Lago?
Mar-a-Lago Has Reciprocal Agreement with Trump International Golf Club
Donald Trump rides in a limo returning to Mar-a-Lago Club after playing golf at Trump International Golf Club. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Trump International is a golf club, and it’s located less than five miles away from Mar-a-Lago. Donald Trump owns both, which means he can do whatever he wants – including play golf at Trump International during his weekend visits to Mar-a-Lago.
But the two clubs also have what is called a “reciprocal agreement” or “reciprocal arrangement” (golfers often shorten it to “reciprocals”). That means if you become a member of one club, you can request access to the other’s amenities.
Mar-a-Lago Club members are not members at Trump International Golf Club, nor vice-versa. But, through pre-arrangement with their club pro, captain or secretary, they can visit the other club and use its services.
The Mar-a-Lago Club has reciprocals with most other Trump Golf properties, too.
If Mar-a-Lago Isn’t a Golf Club, What Is It?
Looking across the putting green to the back of the Mar-a-Lago Club. Davidoff Studios/Getty Images
It’s a social club. It’s a club the wealthy join in order to hobnob with other rich people – to, among other things, simply let other rich people know they are members.
While many members of ultra-expensive golf clubs and social clubs do use the facilities at the clubs they join, here’s a not-all-so-secret secret:
Many people who join such clubs rarely – sometimes never – visit them. For those kinds of members, joining a club like Mar-a-Lago (or Trump International Golf Club, for that matter) is a means of collecting status symbols.
The Mar-a-Lago Club is part of the Mar-a-Lago estate, whose grounds include the 110,000-square-foot, 114-room mansion in which club members socialize, dine and lodge.
The Trump family uses a separate, closed-off part of the club as a residence. Other club members can pay thousands of dollars a night for lodging, or may dine at the club or visit the spa.
The club’s huge ballrooms can be rented for parties; its facilities and grounds for galas, weddings and other functions.
The club has tennis courts and croquet lawns, a swimming pool and two acres of private beach access.
Mar-a-Lago Was Built By a Famous Heiress
The first owner of Mar-a-Lago, heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images
The Mar-a-Lago estate dates to the mid-1920s; the three-year construction of the house was completed in 1927.
Who was the original owner, the one who commissioned the building of the mansion? Marjorie Merriweather Post.
Readers today may not recognize that name, but she was once among the most famous Americans. Post was the daughter of and heiress to C.W. Post, the food magnate who name still appears on cereal boxes.
Marjorie Merriweather Post was born in 1887 and died in 1973. She was an art collector and a socialite. Married four times, her second husband was E.F. Hutton, the namesake of the financial services company (remember the TV commercials: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen” – one from the 1970s starred golf legend Tom Watson).
And at various times in her long life, Post was the richest woman in the United States with a fortune estimated at $250 million. Post had three daughters, one of whom was actress Dina Merrill.
And the Meaning of ‘Mar-a-Lago’ Is …
Why did Post choose Mar-a-Lago as the name of estate? It’s Spanish for “sea-to-lake” – the estate’s grounds stretch from ocean on one side of Palm Beach Island to lake on the other.
Mar-a-Lago Was Willed to the US Government as a Presidential Retreat
Mar-a-Lago photographed in 1928, one year after its completion. Bettmann/Getty Images
In her later years, Marjorie Merriweather Post came to view her Mar-a-Lago estate as a place whose fame could live beyond her own: She wanted it to become a Presidential retreat, along the lines of Camp David in Maryland.
When Post died, she willed Mar-a-Lago to the National Park Service. The United States government acquired Mar-a-Lago during the Nixon Administration, owned it during the Ford and Carter administrations, and for a couple months into the Reagan Administration.
Post’s will included money to take care of Mar-a-Lago, but not enough, according to the government. And none of the presidents ever visited the estate.
So in April of 1981, the United States Congress voted to give Mar-a-Lago back, and ownership was turned over to the Post Foundation, a charitable organization endowed by Post.
Mar-a-Lago Club Is Designated a National Historic Landmark
Davidoff Studios/Getty Images
National Historic Landmarks are, according to their keepers, the National Park Service, “nationally significant historic places designated by the Secretary of the Interior because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.”
More than 2,500 places in the United States are designated as National Historic Landmarks, and Mar-a-Lago is one of them. It was declared so in 1980, with architecture and social history given as the property’s “area of significance.”
The main architect was Marion Wyeth, and Joseph Urban added touches to the interior and exterior, too.
The Mar-a-Lago website describes the architecture of the house:
“The main house is an adaptation of the Hispano-Moresque style, long popular among the villas of the Mediterranean. It is crescent-shaped with an upper and lower cloister along the concave side of the building that faces Lake Worth. A seventy-five foot tower tops the structure, affording a magnificent view in all directions for miles. Three boatloads of Dorian stone were brought from Genoa, Italy for the construction of the exterior walls, arches and some of the interior. … One of the attractions of Mar-a-Lago is the predominant use of Old Spanish tiles throughout. … It was Post’s plan to bring together many Old World features of the Spanish, Venetian and Portuguese styles.”
How Did Donald Trump Wind Up Owning Mar-a-Lago Club?
Aerial view of the Mar-a-Lago estate in 1991, six years after Donald Trump bought it. Steve Starr/Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images
He bought it from the Post Foundation for between $7 million and $8 million in 1985. It’s the only time the Mar-a-Lago estate has been sold.
Why did the Post Foundation sell? Mar-a-Lago was racking up annual tax and maintenance bills of around $1 million.
When Trump bought Mar-a-Lago, he put his then-wife Ivana in charge of running the estate, including remodeling it. Years later, in 2005, Mar-a-Lago was the site of the wedding reception when Trump married his current wife, Melania. At that reception, the entertainment included Billy Joel, Paul Anka and Tony Bennett, and Trump’s son Eric reportedly said during his toast, “I hope this is the last time I have to do this.”
Trump turned the estate into the private Mar-a-Lago Club in 1995, carving out a part of it as private quarters for Trump and family members.
Mar-a-Lago Club Membership Fees Went Up Following Presidential Election
Davidoff Studios/Getty Images
How much does it cost to join the Mar-a-Lago Club? A lot. And it became more expensive following Donald Trump’s election as President.
Prior to 2017, the initiation fee to join Mar-a-Lago Club was $100,000. In January 2017, after Donald Trump became President Trump, the initiation fee was doubled to $200,000. On top of that are monthly dues of $14,000.