The Untold Truth Of The Mar-A-Lago Resort

Nestled on a postcard-perfect stretch of Palm Beach in Florida is a resort where the Great Gatsby would have probably lived if he'd been real instead of a flight of fancy. The very name, Mar-a-Lago, which in the Spanish tongue translates to "sea to lake," has an exotic flavor. It may sound like a lost city sought by foolhardy buccaneers or a seedy strip joint buried in some dimly-lit back alley, but it is neither. Built in the jazz age when flappers flapped and dandies casually sipped their cocktails, Mar-a-Lago has only changed ownership a handful of times. The last time was in the 1980s, when its architectural whimsy and old-world charm caught the wandering eye of a property developer named Donald Trump, per Fortune. The name Mar-a-Lago has since become synonymous with the former U.S. president. 

Trump has made the Mar-a-Lago resort his own personal club, fortress, and castle. It is a national historic landmark that has romance, appeal, and a certain je ne sais quai. It also has secrets. The walls may be guarded, the doors firmly shut, and the windows closed to prying eyes, but we can gain entry to Mar-a-Lago by other means. Let's dig together into the untold truth of the Mar-a-Lago resort and find out more!

Meet the woman who made the Mar-a-Lago resort a larger-than-life property

Whereas empires are built on the blood, sweat, and tears of millions, the Mar-a-Lago resort was built, metaphorically speaking, on cereal. Marjorie Merriweather Post may sound like a character from a Victorian-era murder mystery, but she was also a very shrewd businesswoman and the owner of General Foods. When she inherited Postum Cereal Company from her father, C.W. Post, in 1914 (via The Wall Street Journal), she could have become merely rich and idle; instead, she became a tenacious go-getter. Under Post's watchful eye, Postum Cereal Company became General Foods Corporation in 1929. With all that money in the bank, Post had a habit of acquiring remarkable residences, and Mar-a-Lago was one she had built from the ground up.

Additionally, Post was a smart negotiator who knew what she wanted and how to get it, as noted by Post Consumer Brands. According to Timeline, the 35-year-old Post already had a property in Palm Beach called "Hogarcito" (Little Home) when in 1922, she began a relentless search of undeveloped land to find the sweet spot where she could build her "Big Home." With the Atlantic Ocean on one side and Lake Worth on the other, Post found a perfect 20-acre parcel of land to give her maximum bragging rights amongst Palm Beach's 1,200 residents. Five years later and Post's palace was complete.

Mar-a-Lago became a reality just before the Great Depression

Work on the Mar-a-Lago resort commenced in 1923 and finished in 1927, as per Smithsonian, just as the Great Depression was waiting around the corner. Post spent the equivalent of $90 million to make the dream of her holiday home concrete. Its construction involved an army of 600 workers and was opulent even by the regal standards of Palm Beach. Debi Murray, chief curator of the Historical Society of Palm Beach County explained, "Construction began in 1923 and Florida entered the Depression earlier than the rest of the country." Yet, as was fitting for someone whose fortune came from edible products, Post ensured her workers were well fed.

By the time the last brick had been laid and gold leaf trimmed, 110,000 square feet of Mar-a-Lago boasted enough room to host plenty of tired, poor, and huddled American families yearning to breathe free. Inside the billionaire's retreat, 42-foot ceilings looked down upon a 1,800-square-foot living room, 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms, and a lot of gaudy ornamentation and flowing silk. To celebrate the grand erection, Post, alongside husband number two, Edward F. Hutton, dressed up in costumes from the reign of Louis XVI and invited a few of the local bigwigs around for a bite to eat. Viva la revolution!

The opulent grandeur of Mar-a-Lago is not everyone's cup of tea

The poet and visionary William Blake once wrote, "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." To that end, spending a night at Mar-a-Lago won't turn you into Socrates, but the road of excess definitely blazes a trail to its lavishly decorated front door. According to Timeline, the original Mar-a-Lago architect and designer of several Florida mansions, Marion Sims Wyeth, was so dismayed by the late involvement and creative input of Metropolitan Opera scenic designer Joseph Urban that he downplayed his own contribution to the endeavor. 

Wyeth wasn't alone in his horror at what Mar-a-Lago had become, either; the consensus amongst architectural critics was the masterpiece had become a monstrosity thanks to the influence of Urban. Even Post's husband, Edward F. Hutton, cried, "You know Marjorie said she was going to build a little cottage by the sea. Look what we got!"

It wasn't just the gold fixtures in the bathroom, the 75-foot tower, or that the dining room was built in imitation of Rome's Chigi Palace. It wasn't even the oak-paneled library filled with rare first-edition books that are seldom read. It was the simple fact that in trying so hard to impress and dazzle, what Post saw as a classical aesthetic and testament to a high cultural ideal was simply an eyesore to many. Tellingly, Post would often hide in an upper balcony as first-time guests arrived to gauge their reaction.

Mar-a-Lago almost became a Winter White House

For most of her life, Marjorie Merriweather Post spent just shy of two months each year at Mar-a-Lago (via Love Property). Then during her golden years, Post became intent on transforming the estate from an architectural magnum opus that was all facade and little function into a national point of interest for tourists. Post hoped such a change in use would prevent it from being destroyed in her absence. According to The Palm Beach Post, she proposed to the Florida authorities that it become a "place to house people of importance, a presidential retreat, or temporary quarters for visiting heads of state."

After years of wrangling, the federal government agreed in 1972 to accept the gift of Mar-a-Lago as a Winter White House on the condition that Post would bear the brunt of any maintenance costs. Yet, although money may have been no object to the wealthy heiress, it was a different story for government officials. Post upset the apple cart by dying in 1973, leaving little in the coffers to cover Mar-a-Lago's ongoing upkeep. President Richard Nixon had no use for Mar-a-Lago because he had already feathered his own nest in Key Biscayne. Additionally, President Gerald Ford was indifferent to the delights of Palm Beach, and the notoriously frugal President Jimmy Carter regarded it as a rich person's plaything. The presidential estate, which lacked a president, was handed back to the Post Foundation in 1980.

The trumpets sound and a new era dawns at Mar-a-Lago

Five years later, a brash and bold real estate developer from New York arrived on the scene. His name was Donald Trump, and according to The Palm Beach Post, the then 40-year-old purchased the entire resort for $10 million. Trump claims his initial offer was $28 million per The Washington Post, but as it was knocked back, he decided to take the gloves off and play mean. Through a third party, Trump purchased a stretch of beachfront between Mar-a-Lago and the ocean and threatened to build an eye-sore and obscure the inspiring view. Trump explained, "That was my first wall. That drove everybody nuts. They couldn't sell the big house because I owned the beach, so the price kept going down, down, and down." In the end, Trump had his way and purchased the entire resort for a song. Specifically, he spent $5 million on the house, $3 million on the fixtures and furnishings, and $2 million on the parcel of beachfront land. 

In 2018, Forbes valued Mar-a-Lago at $160 million; Trump has gained more than $100 million on his initial investment. (What did someone once say about the art of the deal?) Trump's fondness for Mar-a-Lago was evident for all to see; later on, when he became President Trump, Mar-a-Lago would become his preferred getaway. "Many of the world's great leaders request to come to Mar-a-Lago," he declared. "They like it; I like it." 

Donald Trump stumbled across the Mar-a-Lago by accident

There's no accounting for the innocence of chance, and according to Donald Trump, his discovery of Mar-a-Lago was a happy accident. Vanity Fair reports that in "Trump: The Art of the Comeback," Trump wrote how he was on his way to a dinner party in Palm Beach when he decided to showboat and flaunt his wealth a little; he asked his chauffeur if there was anywhere decent in town he could spend his money on. The bemused wheel-man replied, "Well, the best thing by far is Mar-a-Lago, but I guess you wouldn't be talking about that." Trump reportedly viewed the statement as a challenge and barked at the driver to take him there immediately.

The Queens-born 39-year-old was immediately taken with Palm Beach's quiet streets and the 12-foot hedges cultivated to provide security and secrecy to the occupants of the houses they guarded. As Mar-a-Lago finally rolled into view, Trump was seduced by its stately sprawl, not to mention its nine-hole golf course. He wrote later, "I immediately knew it had to be mine." 

One of Trump's initial plans for Mar-a-Lago was to subdivide the land and build individual mansions; he called the project the "Mansions at Mar-a-Lago." The Preservation Society of Palm Beach unanimously rejected Trump's proposal, which reportedly caused him to see red and snarl, "I'm no longer in the mood to compromise." Trump's subsequent $50 million lawsuit failed, but he had other plans for Mar-a-Lago.

The origin of the club at Mar-a-Lago

Clubs in Palm Beach have always been a thing. According to Vanity Fair, they are a playground and a platform you can use to bolster your social and economic standing within the community. They are also highly exclusive, which Donald Trump used to his advantage. The Washington Post reports that in 1995, after a fraught and drawn-out battle, Trump opened the doors for the first time on the Mar-a-Lago club. He'd fought tooth and nail against the town council, who weren't happy with someone they perceived as an "outsider" — and his plans to turn a historic property into a millionaire's club that would alter the ambiance of a peaceful area.

Trump won the day by pointing to all the clubs in the area that seemingly denied Jews and Black people membership, stressing he would be all-inclusive. The council ruled in Trump's favor. The Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce executive director reportedly snarled, "It's all about the Trumpster. I would venture to think that old Palm Beach doesn't consider him one of their own." Trump took a more philosophical viewpoint and stressed, "Whether they love me or not, everyone agrees the greatest and most important place in Palm Beach is Mar-a-Lago. I took the ultimate place and made it incredible and opened it, essentially to the people of Palm Beach." ABC News reports that Trump would later cite the estate as a fine example of his fierce commitment to equality.

Mar-a-Lago doesn't technically have a golf course

Although collective wisdom suggests that Donald Trump spends his time at Mar-a-Lago, contemplating grand comebacks while practicing his swing and hoping to land that elusive hole-in-one, his Florida pad doesn't technically have a golf course. According to the Mar-a-Lago Club website, the nearest green is five minutes away at the Trump International Golf Club. Rated as Florida's number one golf course by The American Academy of Hospitality Sciences, the International has 27 holes for golf connoisseurs to die for and was designed by Jim Fazio. According to the website, it also has "a clubhouse that has no rival in the state of Florida."

Membership of the Mar-a-Lago Club grants its guests "reciprocal privileges" at all 19 of Trump's worldwide golfing properties, including the nearby International. Golf Digest reports that Trump wanted the West Palm Beach course to outshine the Shadow Creek course his casino rival Steve Wynn had created in Las Vegas. Two million cubic yards of dirt were shifted, lakes and waterfalls were built, and 5,000 trees were planted to make it a golfing green to remember. Trump explained in a 1999 interview, "Steve Wynn is a friend of mine. I did get certain ideas from Shadow Creek because I think he did a very good job. I made them bigger and better."

How much does Mar-a-Lago membership cost?

There are clubs that any Tom, Dick, or Harry can join, and then there are clubs such as Mar-a-Lago that cater solely to people who like to name their dogs after Roman Emperors and who are incredibly wealthy. And by wealthy, we mean individuals willing to pay an initial fee of $200,000 plus $14,000 annually to join Donald Trump's special gang (via Town & Country). The original Mar-a-Lago joining fee was $100,000, but not long after Trump became president, he decided to double it, assuming the demand to be in the leader of the free world's club would be extremely high. According to the Mar-a-Lago website, "the club provides the highest privileges and an elite lifestyle reserved for a select few." To make the grade, you need to be sponsored by an existing member and pass a few background checks to ensure you're cut from the right cloth.

Once approved, members are required to drink lamb's blood from a goblet of pure ivory in the pale moonlight. We are, of course, joking! Mar-a-Lago members have full access to all the premier amenities and what the club refers to as the "World of Trump." This basically means members get to play golf for free at all of Trump's worldwide golf courses. Per Politico, members are a mixed bag of CEOs, investors, doctors, and lawyers. You'll also find author James Patterson and the descendant of Pocahontas, Debbie "White Dove" Porreco, in Trump's club.

If your name's not on the list you're not getting in

Groucho Marx once famously said, "I don't want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members." Here's the thing: The chances of us ever getting into the Mar-a-Lago are pretty slim, but Nimrod Kamer is a man who claims he knows at least six ways to get into what he describes as "Trump's hideous Florida compound" (via Air Mail). Post-January 2021, Mar-a-Lago's Secret Service team was replaced with Trump's people, and Kamer believes there's never been a better time to live large and appreciate the "gaudy 1927 architecture." He also advises uninvited guests to try pretending they need to pay up an unsettled tab and once you're inside, be the first to clap when Donald Trump walks into the room and you'll blend in like furniture.

Alternatively, you could try pretending you're the guest of someone obscure and drop a few exotic names to befuddle the staff who are not up-to-date with the membership list. If all fails, there's always the tunnel that runs beneath South Ocean Boulevard to the beach. The Palm Beach Post reports that in 2019, teenager Mark Lindblom fooled Secret Service agents into thinking he was a member and they let him through the tunnel whilst Trump was in residence. Lindblom wandered around for 20 minutes before he was arrested. The University of Wisconsin student confessed he did it on a lark.

There have been strange guests at the Mar-a-Lago Resort

Although it is the very embodiment of wealth and privilege, the Mar-a-Lago resort has been home to some strange guests and strange times from the get-go. For starters, in 1929, the clowns and ringmaster from the Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus were called in for a charity fundraiser and played to an audience of underprivileged children, per Smithsonian. Additionally, during World War II, the grounds of the house were turned over to veterans needing occupational therapy. CNBC reports that in "The Grifter's Club: Trump, Mar-a-Lago, and the Selling of the Presidency," the authors allege that Donald Trump banned Jeffrey Epstein from the resort in 2008 after he made unwelcome advances to the teenage daughter of one of the club's members.

Following the July 2019 arrest of Epstein for child sex trafficking, the Trump organization denied he was ever a member of the club, with Trump reportedly saying, "I'm not a fan of his." Yet, in 2002, New York Magazine reported that Trump enthused, "I've known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He's a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side." Writing in the Miami Herald, the co-author of "The Grifter's Club," Sarah Blaskey, argued that Trump kicked Epstein out of the club and ended their friendship because he was damaging the Trump brand.

Cupid is constantly on the prowl in Mar-a-Lago

Mar-a-Lago is in such an exotic location that poor Cupid's arms are probably aching with all the bow work he's being forced to do. For one, Mirror reports that Michael Jackson and Lisa-Marie Presley had their honeymoon at the resort in 1994. Apparently, Trump couldn't wait to spill the beans about the power couple's time at Mar-a-Lago. "I knew Michael Jackson very well," he proclaimed. "He lived in Trump Tower for a long period of time and would go down to Mar-a-Lago. He (Jackson) was up there one week with her (Presley), and he never came down, so I don't know what was going on but they got along."

Additionally, Trump himself got married to Melania Knauss in 2005 and had the reception at Mar-a-Lago that same year. Other guests in attendance were Simon Cowell, Shaquille O'Neal, Billy Joel, Don King, and Hilary Clinton (via The New Yorker). In March 2021, Trump reportedly gatecrashed another couple's wedding at the resort and launched into what was described as a "rambling, incoherent tirade about Joe Biden, Iran, and China," per Vanity Fair. Perhaps missing the roar of the crowd and the adrenaline rush of his rallies, Trump asked the crowd, "Do you miss me yet?" And then bizarrely pointed out it was criminal he didn't charge more for the couple's shellfish.

Donald Trump bills the Secret Service for Mar-a-Lago rooms his own security detail use

With Donald Trump's empire arguably taking a battering after his 2020 election loss, Mar-a-Lago still appears to be in rude health. Critics have speculated it could be something to do with Trump charging the Secret Service for the luxury of his security guards using rooms in his mansion, as noted by The Washington Post. From January 20, 2021, to April 30, 2021, official records indicate that Trump billed the Secret Service $396.15 each night for the room used by his security detail, at the cost of $40,000 to the American taxpayer. As Trump is allegedly a billionaire and already receives a $219,000 presidential pension paid by the American people, observers have asked: Does the former president really need the extra income generated from the rent?

Trump's habit of billing the Secret Service to house his own security team at Mar-a-Lago has come under direct fire from the Director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, Jeffrey A. Engel. "It's tacky," he declared. "Just because you can make a buck doesn't mean you should make a buck. And especially when you have a situation where you're an ex-president. You're not going to starve."

The state of Mar-a-Lago post-presidency

Since being beaten by Joe Biden in the 2020 election and leaving the White House, Donald Trump's return to Mar-a-Lago as a full-time resident arguably hasn't been a triumphant homecoming. With the White House beyond his reach and access to Twitter denied, Trump is reportedly less than happy. According to Laurence Leamer, author of "Mar-a-Lago: Inside the Gates of Power at Donald Trump's Presidential Palace," the resort has become a "dispirited" place since Trump's loss, and many members have departed from the club, according to MSNBC. "They don't want anything to do with Donald Trump," Leamer explained. "It's a sad place for Trump to be hanging out. It's not what it was."

The thought of Trump holed up in the luxurious environs of Mar-a-Lago while seething on past wrongs and imagined sleights and plotting his return is intriguing, but not necessarily true. According to Bloomberg, Karl Rove may have called Mar-a-Lago Trump's "Fortress of Solitude," but Trump is hardly alone. Reports indicate that Trump is still bathed in the sort of adulation more commonly associated with the court of a medieval king. Whenever he appears in the dining room, Trump is reportedly greeted with enthusiastic squeals and requests for selfies. Club members believe Trump is happy as the sovereign ruler of Mar-a-Lago, and his residency there has been compared to Napoleon's exile on the island of Elba — but with better food and the added advantage of a golf course.

People didn't want Trump to make Mar-a-Lago his permanent residence

Most residents would be delighted if a former U.S. President announced they were setting up home permanently in the neighborhood. The Insta opportunities for having a selfie with that very-special-guest at the annual community barbecue would be off the scale. Yet the residents of Palm Beach felt somewhat differently about the outgoing commander-in-chief becoming a permanent fixture in the neighborhood. The Washington Post reports that before Donald Trump departed from the White House, a group of residents sent a letter to the town of Palm Beach and the U.S. Secret Service claiming that Trump had no legal right to live at his famous Florida club. The residents cited an agreement Trump signed in 1993 that turned Mar-a-Lago into a private club instead of a private residence.

A lawyer representing the Palm Beach residents explained that to "avoid an embarrassing situation" where he might be publicly ordered to leave the club, he should consider setting up home elsewhere. Palm Beach homeowner Glenn Zeitz said, "There's absolutely no legal theory under which he can use that property as both a residence and a club." It reads like rejection with a capital "R." Yet if Trump is anything, he's thick-skinned, and what Trump wants, he often gets. In May 2021, Palm Beach officials announced they would not block Trump from living at Mar-a-Lago permanently. The Palm Beach Daily News reports that as an employee of Mar-a-Lago, Trump is entitled to have a private residence there. For every legality, there's a loophole!

Mar-a-Lago was raided by the FBI

In August 2022, a new historic chapter was written in the Mar-a-Lago Club's history when it was raided by the FBI. Vogue reports that based on 15 boxes of White House records that were found in the resort earlier that year, a judge signed a warrant for the FBI raid. Although it must be stressed that the warrant does not suggest Donald Trump is involved in any criminal activity, investigators would have needed to prove that a crime had in all likelihood been committed. Trump was not at home during the raid, but his son Eric Trump was residing at the property.

Coming out fighting, Trump declared in a statement, "These are dark times for our Nation, as my beautiful home, Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida is currently under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents. Such as assault could only take place in broken, Third-World countries. Sadly, America has now become one of those countries, corrupt at a level not seen before. They even broke into my safe!" Trump fans waved flags and played music outside Mar-a-Lago in a show of support. The Independent reports that a man from Pennsylvania, Adam Bies, was charged with threatening to kill a large number of FBI agents in retaliation for the raid. GOP Representative Liz Cheney told ABC News there was no evidence that the raid, which put Mar-a-Lago well and truly back on the map, was politically motivated.