How wonderful to be able to build a 25,000-square-foot home that can be used as a presidential retreat, host the royal family or just entertain luminaries of the day. That is just what Walter (1908-2002) and Leonore (1918-2009) Annenberg did in Rancho Mirage, Calif., building what is arguably the most significant contemporary home in the 1960s.
Ambassador Annenberg was a well-known publisher, diplomat and philanthropist. He founded TV Guide, Seventeen magazine and other publications, which he then sold to Rupert Murdoch for a reported $3 billion. The sale of his publishing empire, combined with his already amassed wealth, certainly allowed him to make charitable contributions that would leave this world a lot better than he found it. His credo was Education holds civilization together.
His second marriage was to Leonore ‘Lee’ Cohn, the niece of motion picture magnate Harry Cohn. Together, the couple used their resources and social acumen to bring together the greatest minds and talent into their world.
The couple hired A. Quincy Jones in 1963 to be the architect of their California retreat that they would use for the last five months of every year as their until their deaths. Jones, a Kansas City, Mo., native who was reared in Southern California and was dean of architecture at the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture, was known for his urban planning and greenbelt design techniques.
The structure, known for its pink roof (Mrs. Annenberg wanted it to blend with the sunsets), is the anchor for the property’s guest quarters, three guest cottages, 11 manmade lakes and a nine-hole golf course. The house also is where a large portion of the Annenberg art collection resided. Picasso, Van Gogh, Wyeth, Monet and other important artists all lived in harmony in this light-filled haven. (Now the collection has gone onto the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but fine copies of the originals hang in their place.) This compound all hides behind a large pink wall, along with flora and fauna that offer security from the street.
The original interiors of the home were designed by famed movie star/interior designer Charles William ‘Billy’ Haines and Ted Garber. Their sleek, contemporary approach to furniture design was a great complement to the traditional art works that were on display, as well as the dessert views beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows.
The Annenbergs hosted seven U.S. presidents in their home, as well as royalty and diplomats from many nations and of all political backgrounds. They truly wanted this to be a place for summit meetings and retreats.
In 2009, Mrs. Annenberg secured 15 adjoining acres to build a 17,000-square-foot visitors center. Now open to the public, it is the starting place for visitors before they go on tours of the compound. For more information, visit sunnylands.org.