If your idea of the perfect vacation treat is to visit the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, don’t miss Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, CA. But plan ahead. I didn’t but got lucky. The maximum number of people allowed to tour this home each time the front door opens for ordinary visitors is 7. When tours are available, tickets are released in monthly blocks. Astonishingly, one became available on the only day I could tour this house, and Ruth insisted I use it while she strolled the Sunnylands Center & Gardens, which is always possible. Because retreats sometimes close the house for tours, to get into it can take months.
Walter and Leonore Annenberg not only lived like royalty, they knew royalty. Walter, who entertained Kings, Queens, and Presidents, was the Ambassador to the Court of St. James and made a fortune in print media when it really mattered. He was making up to a million dollars profit each week from just one publication, TV Guide.
Walter and Leonore, who were both previously married with children, had no kids together. They were noted philanthropists who gave half a billion dollars to public education. They amassed probably the greatest private art collection in history and donated much of it to The MET in New York City. I learned this after I was in their home and looking at the best art I have ever seen in a private residence used only 5 months a year–Van Goghs in a row, not just one.
Photography inside the house was strictly forbidden, so I had to content myself with pics of the dramatic Mexican Column near the front door, Walter’s 9-hole golf course, and abundant pink flowers. Leonore doted on pink anything. Walter loved birds. In the center of their living room, the largest one I’ve ever been in, was a Rodin sculpture under an enormous atrium and near a fountain surrounded by what seemed like acres of pink flowers. The entire house, 25,000 square feet, looks decidedly 1960s but truly does showcase the architect’s desire to create soaring indoor spaces while bring the outdoors inside. Speaking of pink flowers, the pink Barbara Bush roses in the garden took on special significance this week.
The 2nd room we were in used to be a guest bedroom, but it’s now called The Room of Memories. It contained lots of Christmas cards from the Queen Mother, Walter’s portrait by Andrew Wyeth, a letter from Queen Elizabeth to him about the death of Lord Mountbatten, etc.
The Annenberg Foundation Trust now opens this estate to invitees who attend retreats and meetings. Walter and Leonore, who are both deceased, had this idea. The Declaration they approved has 7 parts. Number one reads, “For the President of the United States and Secretary of State to bring together world leaders to promote world peace and facilitate international agreement.” Recent visitors included Barack Obama, Xi Jinping, and John Legend.
Rancho Mirage’s Sunnylands is between Palm Springs and Indio.