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Mar-a-Lago's legacy began long before Trump

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

We've been hearing quite a bit lately about Mar-a-Lago, but its rich history began long before Donald Trump ever moved in. Heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post built the Palm Beach property back in the 1920s.

MICHAEL LUONGO: Mar-a-Lago is a classic Spanish Revival, Spanish Renaissance, Mediterranean Revival mansion of the 1920s - very, very much of its time, very opulent.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

That's Michael Luongo. He dug into Mar-a-Lago's history for Smithsonian Magazine. Marjorie Merriweather Post spent about $7 million building it. Adjusted for today's inflation, that is more than $100 million.

CHANG: According to her obituary, she built the estate because her first Florida home, quote, "became too small for her parties." With 58 bedrooms and 33 bathrooms, Mar-a-Lago was just the right size to host royalty, diplomats, charity events and costume balls. Post even opened up Mar-a-Lago to World War II veterans that needed occupational therapy in 1944.

LUONGO: She was a wealthy society woman who was very hands-on and knew how to use Mar-a-Lago for very good purposes for the United States and for the local community.

SHAPIRO: When Post died in 1973, she wanted that to continue. She left Mar-a-Lago to the U.S. government, hoping it would be a retreat for presidents and diplomats - a, quote, "winter White House." But the federal government decided it was too expensive to maintain.

CHANG: So then, in 1985, real estate mogul Donald Trump bought the property for $5 million, plus millions more for the house's antiques, saving Mar-a-Lago from meeting the same fate that so many of Palm Beach's extravagant properties of that era met - demolition.

LUONGO: Without Donald Trump, would that house have been preserved or not? So that's another thing to think about.

SHAPIRO: In 2017, Mar-a-Lago did become then-President Trump's winter White House, where he hosted press conferences and a number of world leaders, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

CHANG: So in a way, decades after her death, Marjorie Merriweather Post got her wish. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.