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Mar-a-Lago hosts foreign leaders in Jazz Age opulence

AFP
Wednesday, 5 April 2017 16:18:28 PM

Florida

WASHINGTON DC (April 5): Mar-a-Lago, the sumptuous setting of Donald Trump's summit with China's Xi Jingping this week, isn't the first presidential hideaway to host foreign leaders. But it may be the most opulent.

Built during the roaring 1920s by cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, the palm-fringed Mediterranean style compound sits on 17 acres facing the Atlantic in super-rich Palm Beach, Florida.

Even by the standards of the Jazz Age, it is over the top, which may be what attracted Trump when he bought it for a song in 1985.

The US's entire stock of gold leaf was used to gild the cavernous living room.

The main house covered 55,700 sq ft when the estate first opened in 1927.

Its 118 rooms, including 58 bedrooms and 33 bathrooms, were modelled on European palaces.

When Post died in 1973, she left the estate to the government for use as a presidential retreat.

But the government balked at the annual US$1 million (RM4.43 million) maintenance cost and location under the flight paths of planes landing at Palm Beach International Airport.

The complex was mothballed for a decade before its return to the Post Foundation, which put it up for sale.

Although Trump was interested, his first offer of US$28 million was turned down. But the real estate market soon tanked and he ultimately snapped up Mar-a-Lago and its furnishings for a mere US$10 million.

Restoring the structure, Trump eventually turned it into a private club. He also added a new beach club, tennis courts and a ballroom on which he spent a reported US$7 million for even more gold leaf before it opened in 1995.

November's election elevated Mar-a-Lago to a more prominent role than even Post probably could have envisioned.

Trump has spent many weekends at the estate during the first two months of his highly unorthodox presidency, courting controversy for conducting important affairs of state there.

When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Mar-a-Lago in February, his stay was marred by news that North Korea had test-fired a missile that landed in the Sea of Japan.

Abe and Trump got word of it while in a public dining room, turning the space into an "outdoor" situation room as paying guests looked on.

Photos posted on social media by one of the diners, showing Trump and Abe huddling with aides and taking calls, ignited a storm of criticism.

Xi will surely be hoping for a quieter reception during his two days of talks with Trump on Thursday and Friday.