Presidential Homes of South Florida

February 17th, 2017

In honor of President’s Day, Learning from Miami showcases the luxurious South Florida homes of some of America’s presidents.

Harry Truman’s Key West Retreat

President Harry Truman’s Little White House was built in 1890. The edifice functioned as the Key West naval station’s command headquarters during the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. The home was originally waterfront property and was used as the first officers’ quarters on the submarine base. In 1911, the home was converted into a single-family dwelling to house the base commandant. Additional land was filled in at the front of the house and the waterfront view was eventually blocked by a new building at the station.

In November 1946, President Harry S. Truman had completed 19 months in office, and was physically exhausted. His doctor, Wallace Graham, ordered a warm vacation. Truman arrived in November 1946 and made the building his second home, naming it the Winter White House. The historic building also became a site for the Cold War response by later presidents. Today, the Truman Little White House is a public, living Key West museum, as well as a retreat and place of government business for government officials.

John F. Kennedy’s Palm Beach Palace

The property at 1095 North Ocean Boulevard served as the Winter White House during President John F. Kennedy’s administration.  The original home was designed by renowned Palm Beach architect Addison Mizner in 1923, with additions designed by another famous Palm Beach architect, Maurice Fatio.

The home was originally built for Rodman Wanamaker, a member of the Philadelphia family that owned department stores. In 1933 the six bedroom house was sold to Joseph Kennedy as a family vacation home for $120,000.  John F. Kennedy took frequent trips to the estate during his presidency. He spent his last weekend there before his assassination in 1963.

The Kennedy compound received a renovation overhaul in the 1990s, and the home is now worth much more than Joseph Kennedy paid. Today, President Kennedy’s former home still serves as a residence. In 2015 the home was sold for $31 million to an undisclosed buyer.

Richard Nixon’s Key Biscayne Hideaway

The ranch-style home at 500 Bay Lane in the Miami island suburb of Key Biscayne was where plans for the Watergate break-in at Democratic headquarters were discussed and where Richard Nixon retreated as the scandal unfolded. Nixon bought the home from his former Senate colleague George Smathers and visited at least 50 times while in office from 1969 to 1974. The house was part of a compound that included three other properties, a private beach, and a floating helipad.

Former President Nixon’s private sanctuary deteriorated significantly over the years and the home was eventually razed to make way for a new residence.

Trump’s Hideaway, Mar a Lago

Historic Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach was built from 1924 to 1927 by heiress and socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post. Post envisioned the house as a future winter retreat for American presidents and foreign dignitaries, and following her death in 1973, it was bestowed to the nation.

However, successive presidents declined to use the mansion, which was returned to Post’s estate in 1980 and, in 1985, was purchased by Donald Trump, now the 45th President of the United States. In addition to being President Trump’s Winter White House, Mar-a-Lago is also an exclusive, members-only club that operates as a resort and hotel for dues-paying members. It is available to rent for private events.

-Ursa Gil

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