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The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands

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The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands

By: Greg Root
Photos: Allen Carrasco & courtesy of Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands

 A Gift To The Nation

In 1963, the late Walter Annenberg and his wife Leonore, purchased 200 acres of desert real estate at the corner of Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra Boulevards in Rancho Mirage, California and named it Sunnylands after Walter’s parents’ 5,000-acre summer retreat in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.

From then on, Sunnylands served as a refuge for American Presidents, a meeting place for royalty and a favorite retreat for global power brokers and Hollywood’s best and brightest, becoming The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands in 2012.

The main house is a 25,000 square foot, Midcentury Modern building with two guest wings, 11 lakes, three guest cottages, tennis courts and a Dick Wilson designed golf course. Designed by Southern California modernism master A. Quincy Jones, the residence sits on 200 acres and includes a 50-acre cemetery and mausoleum where Ambassador and Mrs. Annenberg are buried.

Sunnylands Center & Gardens graces an adjacent 15 acre property offering magnificent views of the San Jacinto Mountains, 1.25 miles of walking paths, over 53,000 individual plants and 50 arid-landscape species.

We were greeted by Mary E. B. Perry, the Center’s Media and Community Relations Manager, who graciously provided a tour of the Center & Gardens.

Mary shared how the Gardens are created as if by brush strokes, with each element a different splash of color and texture… like a living Van Gogh painting.

Inspired by the Annenberg’s collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, the Center is a magnificent contemporary building inspired by Midcentury Modern Architecture which includes a Great Room with floor to ceiling glass that seamlessly connect the interior to views of The San Jacinto Mountains, the Garden’s reflecting pools, natural landscape, and surrounding desert scenery.

The interior design is by Michael Smith, interior designer for the Obama White House family quarters. Guests are encouraged to sit in the Great Room and enjoy the timeless sculptures by Rodin, Giacometti, and others as well as world renowned semi-permanent exhibition pieces. Currently, visitors will find showcases of English silver-gilt collection belonging to King George and Queen Charlotte.

These remarkable pieces are selections from the collection the Annenberg’s amassed from 1959 through 1988.

Additionally, you will find a 47 seat theater, sound panels that explain the architecture of the main house as well as images and text to educate visitors regarding the Midcentury Architecture  movement that is so prevalent in Palm Springs and surrounding desert communities. The Center & Gardens includes a solar farm, geothermal system and state of the art irrigation designed to enhance and maintain sustainability.

Margaret Thatcher with Walter and Leonore Annenberg

Margaret Thatcher with Walter and Leonore Annenberg

A Little History…

As Hollywood and High Society discovered the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs, Sunnylands became a favorite place to congregate and discuss the issues of the day.

Early on, a typical guest list included the Rockefellers and Bloomingdales, Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, Dinah Shore, among others.



Ronald and Nancy Reagan with the Annenbergs

Then-Governor Ronald and Nancy Reagan with the
Annenbergs and Prince Charles, during Prince Charles’ first visit to Sunnylands on March 17, 1974.

U.S. Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, Nixon and Ford all were frequent guests who escaped Washington D.C. to golf on the estate’s nine-hole course, fish in the well-stocked man-made lakes and relax on the opulent grounds under the warm California sun.

Other notable guests include George H. W. Bush, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Princes Charles, Andrew, and Edward, Princess Grace of Monaco, and Margaret Thatcher.

Sunnylands recently began to function as a high-level retreat center by establishing The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands with a $300 million endowment.

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