PLACE IN THE SUN

A PUB­LISH­ING MAG­NATE’S WIN­TER RE­TREAT IN CAL­I­FOR­NIA SOON BE­CAME NOT JUST A PLAY­GROUND FOR THE ROYAL, RICH AND GLAM­OROUS, BUT THE UN­OF­FI­CIAL CAMP DAVID OF THE WEST, WHERE PRES­I­DENTS AND OTHER WORLD LEAD­ERS COULD PAUSE TO PON­DER THE MOST PRESS­ING QUES­TIONS

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY DAVID MEAGHER

There is re­ally noth­ing else like Sunnylands in all of the United States of Amer­ica. The pink-hued home built in 1966 in Ran­cho Mi­rage, Cal­i­for­nia, for the bil­lion­aire Philadel­phia pub­lish­ing mag­nate and phi­lan­thropist Wal­ter An­nen­berg and his wife Leonore, has hosted eight US pres­i­dents. The first was Dwight D. Eisen­hower; Barack Obama stayed eight times; Ron­ald and Nancy Rea­gan cel­e­brated New Year’s Eve here with leg­endary par­ties 18 times; it’s where Richard Nixon (who made An­nen­berg am­bas­sador to Bri­tain from 1969 to 1974) sought refuge when he re­signed in dis­grace in Au­gust 1974. Queen El­iz­a­beth II and Prince Philip have stayed here, as have var­i­ous other Euro­pean roy­als. Mar­garet Thatcher, Princess Grace of Monaco, Frank Si­na­tra, James Ste­wart, Bob Hope, Fred As­taire, Gin­ger Rogers and Gre­gory Peck all en­joyed the hospi­tal­ity that the An­nen­bergs were fa­mous for.

Sunnylands was the cou­ple’s much loved win­ter re­treat, but it wasn’t just the stream of high-pro­file vis­i­tors that made it so ex­tra­or­di­nary. De­signed by the prom­i­nent south­ern Cal­i­for­nian ar­chi­tect A. Quincy Jones, with in­te­ri­ors by movie star-turned-de­signer Wil­liam Haines, the house is the pin­na­cle of mid­cen­tury Mod­ernist style. It is one of the great mon­u­men­tal Amer­i­can fam­ily houses, along­side The Break­ers in New­port, Rhode Is­land, built by Cor­nelius Van­der­bilt II; Kykuit in Westch­ester, New York, by John D. Rock­e­feller; and the Hearst Cas­tle in San Simeon, Cal­i­for­nia, by Wil­liam Ran­dolph Hearst.

Sunnylands, how­ever, stands out from the rest and oc­cu­pies a unique place in the na­tion’s so­cial, po­lit­i­cal and ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory. As Bob Co­la­cello wrote in Van­ity Fair in 2012: “It’s hard to think of an­other Amer­i­can pri­vate house where so many im­por­tant peo­ple came to­gether to so­cialise, ex­change ideas, and in­flu­ence one an­other in a to­tally se­cluded and re­laxed at­mo­sphere. Or, for that mat­ter, of an­other Amer­i­can cou­ple who pos­sessed the wealth, con­nec­tions and will to make that hap­pen.”

Wal­ter An­nen­berg died in 2002 and Leonore in 2009, but the cou­ple had es­tab­lished a trust in 2001 that would safe­guard the next, and ar­guably most am­bi­tious, phase of life at Sunnylands.

The An­nen­berg Re­treat at Sunnylands, as it is now known, was en­dowed with $US300 mil­lion by the An­nen­bergs along with a mission state­ment de­tail­ing the types of pro­grams for which the re­treat may be used. Since 2012 the house, a 20-minute drive from Palm Springs, has been open to the public through guided tours (they run from Septem­ber to May and book out well in ad­vance). It was also en­vi­sioned that the es­tate be avail­able as a sanc­tu­ary for gen­er­a­tions of high-level na­tional and world lead­ers seek­ing the pri­vacy and “the pause” needed for solv­ing the most press­ing na­tional and in­ter­na­tional is­sues. The An­nen­bergs’ wish was that the house would be­come a sort of Camp David (the of­fi­cial coun­try re­treat of the US pres­i­dent in Mary­land, 100km north­west of Wash­ing­ton DC) of the West.

David Lane, a former high level diplo­mat and staffer in the Clin­ton and Obama ad­min­is­tra­tions, has been pres­i­dent of the An­nen­berg Foun­da­tion Trust since Septem­ber last year. The trust’s board is lim­ited to Wal­ter and Leonore’s de­scen­dants – each had two chil­dren each from pre­vi­ous mar­riages, but none to­gether – but it is the pres­i­dent of the trust who is charged with driv­ing Sunnylands’ am­bi­tious vi­sion.

“When the first pres­i­dent of Sunnlyands, Ge­of­frey Cowan, came to see me I was work­ing in the White House in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, and he said, ‘We want to make this es­tate the Camp David of the West’. I don’t think I ac­tu­ally said ‘fat chance’ but I did say that I couldn’t imag­ine the pres­i­dent of the United States us­ing this place in Cal­i­for­nia,” says Lane. It didn’t take long for him to be proved wrong. “I went off to Italy for al­most five years [as US am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions Agen­cies in Rome] and while I was gone Pres­i­dent Obama used Sunnylands mul­ti­ple times to host ma­jor sum­mits, and a few other times as well, so the place was kind of on the map as some­where pres­i­dents and sec­re­taries of state can con­vene around a for­eign pol­icy pur­pose. So I thought it had great po­ten­tial to bring peo­ple to­gether across ide­o­log­i­cal bound­aries, es­pe­cially at a time when our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem so des­per­ately needs a re­set.”

Obama was a prolific user of Sunnylands, per­haps

Two views of the An­nen­berg Re­treat at Sunnylands at Ran­cho Mi­rage in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia, by mid-cen­tury mod­ernist ar­chi­tect A. Quincy Jones

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