This morning in a drizzle, I rode my bike through Palm Beach to get a picture of Mar-a-Lago, President Trump’s official new Florida residence and a private club. The gates were open.
The President often refers to Mar-a-Lago, which he purchased for $7 million in 1985, as the “Southern White House” or “Winter White House.”
The opulent 126-room, 62,500-square-foot mansion was built almost 100 years ago in the roaring ’20s by cereal-company heiress and socialite Marjorie Merriweather Post.
When she died, it was held in her family foundation, which struggled to figure out what to do with it. One plan in the 1970s was to gift the National Landmark to the federal government. That scenario was formalized by the US Congress, but the upkeep was too much and it was turned back over to the Post Foundation. At the time, big sprawling mansions were not in vogue so the market for selling it was not very good.
With an eye on the prize, Trump bought the land across from Mar-a- Lago for $2 million in the early 1980s and threatened to build condos, hurting the view and reducing the value of an already depressed Mar-a-Lago. Soon after, he allegedly only put up a few thousands dollars and financed the rest of the $7 million purchase price.
Its estimated value today is $500 million. It could represent the President’s largest single financial asset.
Because he is now a Florida resident, he does not pay state income taxes. And if his political or business fate turns ugly, the asset is partially protected from creditors and other claims under Florida’s unique Homestead Act.
When Trump faced financial difficulties in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Mar-a-Lago was up for grabs, as creditors closed in.
In a classic Trump move, he figured out with a savvy local lawyer how to make hay out of the vast estate. He turned the resort into a private club with an entrance fee of $200,000.
He easily attracted members because he opened up membership to Jewish residents and African Americans, unlike the other ultra-exclusive Palm Beach clubs.
Trump later used that fact when fighting with the Village of Palm Beach over issues like the size of the gigantic American flag hanging tall over the estate.
When the town tried to get him to remove the flag, he argued that the village was doing so because of his membership policies, and therefore, town officials were allegedly being racist and anti-semitic.
The day that President Clinton was impeached in 1998, it was Christmas time. After a brief press conference, he hosted a White House Christmas Party.
When the House of Representatives was ready to impeach Richard Nixon in 1974, he resigned the Presidency on August 9 and flew with his wife Pat that very day to live in the “Western White House,” a beachfront home in San Clemente, California, bordering Camp Pendleton.
There is no sign that President Trump is planning a visit to Mar-a-Lago today. Because when he does, the planes are diverted for security reasons from the Palm Beach airport to the northern part of the island so they do not fly over Mar-a-Lago. Not today.
For almost 20 years, Trump tried to get the airport to change the flight pattern so planes would not fly over Mar-a-Lago. He only got what he wanted when he became president.
The future of Palm Beach flight patterns are unclear, now dependent on when the president leaves office.
Footnote: The White House just announced that the president will be “home” for Christmas, and yes that would be Mar-a-Lago.