Today, Mar-a-Lago is strongly associated with former President Donald Trump, but the club boasts an intriguing history as both an estate and a national historic landmark.
The Palm Beach, Fla., property wasn’t always a members-only club or used for official matters. It was first a large mansion built by Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to what was previously known as Post Cereals (now named General Foods Corp.) to live in as a home.
After Post’s death in 1973, she willed the property to the National Park Service in the hopes it be used for state visits or as an official residence for presidents of the U.S. However, the cost of upkeep was more than what Post had initially provided, causing it to eventually be returned to the Post Foundation in 1981.
In 1985, Donald Trump purchased the 17-acre Florida property for around $8 million, though some sources put the combined total cost to reportedly be around $10 million.
When he was president from 2017 to 2021, Trump used the estate as his “Winter White House,” and it was used as a vacation home during the winter months.
Here, WWD breaks down all you need to know about the Mar-a-Lago Club. Scroll on for more.
When was Mar-a-Lago built?
The Mar-a-Lago property, which means “sea to lake” in Spanish, was purchased in 1924 for Post and her husband Edward F. Hutton to live in. She hired Marion Sims Wyeth and Joseph Urban to design and create the house, which was finished in 1927.
According to the Smithsonian, Post reportedly spent approximately $7 million to build and furnish the house, which is located on the Palm Beach barrier — an amount that is roughly around $110 million today.
Why was Mar-a-Lago built?
Post built the house for herself and her husband Hutton. The grandiose estate boasts 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms (complete with gold-plated fixtures) and a 1,800-square-foot living room with ceilings up to 42 feet high. The property, which apparently spans 110,000 square feet, is covered in gold leaf, Italian marble, Spanish tiles and Venetian silks.
When Post died in 1973, she had hoped the house could be used for presidents and meetings between dignitaries by giving it to the U.S. government. However, Richard Nixon already preferred his Winter White House in Key Biscayne, Fla., and Jimmy Carter did not use the house at all.
This, on top of the heavy cost of upkeep and security for potential important meetings, caused the government to return the property back to the Post Foundation in 1981. The cost of maintenance was reportedly around $1 million per year.
Later that year, Mar-a-Lago went on the market at a listing price of $20 million.
When, why and how much did Donald Trump purchase Mar-a-Lago?
Donald Trump, then a famed business and real estate mogul, wanted the home, so he reportedly offered an initial price of $28 million, he claimed, per the Washington Post. However, it was turned down.
He first learned of the property when he was unable to purchase two apartments in Palm Beach to combine for his family.
Trump claimed to have purchased the beachfront property directly in front of Mar-a-Lago and threatened to build a large home to block its view to the ocean, which caused interest in the estate to decline dramatically.
In 1985, he purchased the home at $5 million, with an additional $3 million for it to come with its furnishings.
What did Donald Trump use Mar-a-Lago for?
For the next eight years, he used Mar-a-Lago as a residence before transforming it into a club. He and his family still maintain a private quarters in a closed off and separate part of the estate and grounds.
During his ownership, he added a Louis XIV-inspired ballroom that included a 40-foot ceiling and gold leaf plastered on the walls, which he reportedly paid $7 million for, according to the Washington Post. He also added five clay tennis courts and a waterfront pool. At the time, his then-wife Ivana Trump, who died last month at the age of 73, ran the property.
In the ‘90s, Trump faced financial struggle and as a result told his bankers that he would split the property up into smaller homes, which alarmed Palm Beach residents who were concerned that the plan would turn a quiet street into a noisy one.
Then, Trump turned the house into a private club in 1994.
Over the years, the club saw A-list guests such as Celine Dion, Michael Bolton, Elton John, Billy Joel and Diana Ross, among others, who performed at charity balls and events. Disgraced financier and convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein, as well as his close friend and associate, Ghislaine Maxwell, also attended events and parties there.
Initially, a membership at Mar-a-Lago required a $200,000 initiation fee. In 2012, due to the Bernie Madoff scandal, which affected many local residents at the time, the fee went down to $100,000.
In January 2017, after Trump was elected president, the initiation fee increased back to $200,000, with $14,000 in annual dues.
While he was president, Trump visited the club often, using it as his Winter White House.
During his tenure, he held important meetings with other world leaders there, such as President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, President Xi Jinping of China and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan.
In 2019, Mar-a-Lago became Trump and his wife Melania Trump’s primary residence. Their previous primary residence was in New York City.
Why is Mar-a-Lago relevant now?
This week, the FBI searched the club to look for evidence that Trump had mishandled classified documents that may have been brought there.