From St. Augustine down to Palm Beach, the historic summer getaway tour makes a quick rest stop at a one-of-a-kind lavish estate fit for a queen. The 20-acre property was originally the winter home of Majorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post cereal empire and prosperous businesswoman. These days, Mar-a-Lago is an exclusive private club at the heart of Palm Beach County, between Lake Worth and the Atlantic Ocean.
Mar-a-Lago, Spanish for “Sea to Lake,” would embody all of Post’s impeccable tastes: international decor, ornate finishes, imported materials, fine arts, and antiques. American architect Marion Sims Wyeth designed the exterior while Austrians Joseph Urban and Franz Barwig worked on the elaborate interior detail work and sculpture, respectively. All three men, though, worked closely with Post to ensure that her “Floridian Fantasy” would withstand the age of time. Ground broke in 1923 and Mar-a-Lago officially became Post’s home in January 1927. Fashioned after the popular Florida Spanish Mediterranean-style, the finished result was a $2.5 million Hispano-Moresque, 114 room mansion built of concrete, steel, and coral reef. Dorian stone from Genoa, Italy was used to construct most of the exterior walls and arches while the roof was decorated with thousands of old Spanish and Cuban tiles. Thus, the overall effect is both dreamlike and mystical with its crescent-shaped foundation. Other noted features of Mar-a-Lago are its 75-foot tower, cloister arches, covered walkways to various facilities, and courtyards all set against pristine landscaped lawns.
While Post hosted some of the most distinguished guests during Mar-a-Lago’s heyday, she also invited “The Greatest Show on Earth” to perform for friends and local children. In March 1929, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus treated the young and the old with death-defying acrobats, parades of clowns, sideshows, and copious amounts of peanuts, hot dogs, and lemonade.
After Post’s death in 1973, the estate was transferred to the Federal Government at the bequest in her will. In 1980, Mar-a-Lago became a National Historic Landmark. Ten years later the estate was given back to the Post Foundation due to maintenance and security concerns. In 1985, business tycoon Donald Trump purchased the property for $10 million as a private residence until converting it to a luxury club in 1995. Since then, Trump has added more rooms (for a total of 126), a swimming pool, beauty salon, spa, tennis courts, croquet court, international dining menu, and two retail outlets.
Refer to Nancy Rubin Stuart’s biography American Empress: The Life and Times of Marjorie Merriweather Post (2004) for an in-depth and intimate look at Post’s extraordinary life.