While most presidents have a “Winter White House” they can escape to when they need a break from Washington, most presidential getaways don’t have membership fees or a golf course. When President Donald Trump leaves Washington, he heads to Mar-a-Lago, his estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
The home was originally built by Marjorie Merriweather Post, whose father was C.W. Post, the founder Post Cereal and General Foods. She envisioned Mar-A-Lago as a home for presidents, but it took four decades for one to actually use it.
By the way, the name “Mar-a-Lago” is Spanish for “Sea-To-Lake.”
Here’s a look at Mar-a-Lago.
1. The Membership Fee Doubled to $200,000 After Trump Was Elected
Trump’s decision to keep Mar-a-Lago fully operational as was before he became president has been controversial, as critics see it as an ethics violation. They argue that, since Trump still uses the home so much, that people can feel they can buy access to the president.
Shortly after Trump was inaugurated, CNBC reported that Mar-a-Lago membership skyrocketed from $100,000 to $200,000. The Trump Organization did not comment.
CNBC notes that Mar-a-Lago’s initiation fee was $200,000 until 2012, when it was cut in half. Sources told the network that the fee dropped because many of Bernie Madoff’s victims were wealthy Palm Beach residents who could no longer afford to pay their dues. In addition to the initiation fee, members also have to pay $14,000 a year in dues, plus tax.
The New York Times reported on February 18 that Mar-a-Lago membership has skyrocketed since Trump became president. There are almost 500 members and many are real estate developers, Wall street financiers and other executives whose businesses could boom thanks to Trump’s policies.
2. Trump’s Almost Weekly Trips to Mar-A-Lago Cost Taxpayers Over $3 Million
Since taking office on January 20, Trump has spent four weekends at Mar-a-Lago. On March 6, The Palm Beach Post reported that Trump has spent over 241 hours at Mar-a-Lago, or 22.8 percent of all his time in office.
These trips are not cheap and, now that he’s president, they cost the taxpayers. Politico reported in February that each trip costs at least $3 million or more. That number is based on a U.S. Government Accountability Office report that estimated the costs of a specific trip President Barack Obama took in February 2013 over four days, in which he visited Chicago to give a speech, then go to Palm Beach. The GAO estimated that this trip cost $3.6 million.
The Washington Post reports reports that the cost of keeping the president protected has also been on the shoulders of Palm Beach County. Officials there plan on asking Washington to be reimbursed because of the security and traffic nightmares caused by Trump’s frequent visits.
3. Post Wanted Presidents to Use Mar-a-Lago as a Winter White House, but They Refused
Mar-a-Lago was built by Marjorie Merriweather Post from 1924 to 1927. Construction started in 1923, with a design that capitalized on the then-current trend of building homes inspired by Spanish architecture, the Historic American Buildings Survey notes. Marion Sims Wyeth designed it and Joseph Urban handled the interior design.
Post dreamed of presidents using Mar-a-Lago as a Winter White House and a place for them to meet foreign dignitaries. When she died in 1973, she willed it to the government, but President Richard Nixon declined to use it. President Jimmy Carter also never went there. Since it was costing the government $1 million to maintain, it decided to give it back to the Post Foundation in 1981.
But, as Vanity Fair noted, the Post family didn’t want it either, so they tried to sell it for $20 million.
The Post family had trouble selling it until a Mr. Donald Trump decided that he wanted to move to Palm Beach. He heard about Mar-a-Lago and initially offered $15 million for it. They balked, as Vanity Fair points out, he threatened to build on a beachfront lot that would block Mar-a-Lago’s view. Trump didn’t even own that lot until after he finally closed the Mar-a-Lago deal.
4. Trump Paid Less Than $8 Million for Mar-a-Lago
Trump closed the Mar-a-Lago deal in December 1985. He paid less than $8 million for it. The Washington Post reported in 2015 that Trump said his real first offer was $28 million and that was rejected.
In March 1988, The Associated Press reported that Trump went to court over property taxes. He was ordered to pay $208,000, which he called “excessive and unlawful.” The number was based on Palm Beach County Property Appraiser Rebecca Walker’s appraisal, which estimated that the property was worth $11.5 million at the time.
“Market value, by law, is the test to determine the assessment,” Trump’s attorney at the time, Robb Maass, told the AP. “Our client paid $7 million just five days before the assessment, which was $4.5 million more. The assessment is unlawful.” Trump insisted that he only owed $121,743 in 1986 taxes.
In The Art of the Deal, Trump wrote that Mar-a-Lago was “a great deal,” adding, “It just goes to show that it pays to move quickly and decisively when the time is right.”
Trump almost split Mar-a-Lago into separate properties, which concerned Palm Beach residents and officials, during the 1990s when he was experiencing financial difficulties. In 1993, he decided to turn Mar-a-Lago into a beach club and health spa instead, The New York Times reported at the time.
At the time, he told the New York Times that the fight with Palm Beach officials was “maybe even tougher” than his fight to get his Riverside South project approved in Manhattan.
5. Trump Has 3 Bomb Shelters at Mar-a-Lago
After Trump bought it, he gave Mar-a-Lago a much-needed restoration to the 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms and 20,000-square foot ballroom. The estate also reportedly has three bomb shelters, CBS News reports. The bomb shelters were built before Trump bought it.
In the past, Trump often clashed with Palm Beach officials. In addition to his threat to break up the property, he once complained that officials were difficult with him because he allowed African Americans and Jews to join his club.
As The Washington Post notes, Trump had his lawyer send city council members copies of the movies Gentleman’s Agreement, which is about anti-Semitism, and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, the film about a white daughter planning to marry a black man. The move angered the council, but Trump won in the court of public opinion and eventually had restrictions lifted.
“Whether they love me or not, everyone agrees the greatest and most important place in Palm Beach is Mar-a-Lago,” Trump said in an interview, the Post noted. “I took this ultimate place and made it incredible and opened it, essentially, to the people of Palm Beach. The fact that I owned it made it a lot easier to get along with the Palm Beach establishment.”
Another strange fight Trump had with Palm Beach officials centered on an 80-foot-tall flag pole he installed with the American flag in 2006. That was in violation of a rule that no flag poles be taller than 42 feet. Trump turned that into a public fight, going on Nancy Grace’s CNN show to say, “No American should have to get a permit to fly the flag.” He also sued the city for $25 million, but eventually agreed to install a 70-foot-tall pole and paid $100,000 to charity.