The Annenberg Estate Transforms Into A West Coast Camp David
Followup to posting, “Sunnylands Estate By A. Quincy Jones: Art, Architecture, and Power”
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In the mid-1960s, Walter and Leonore Annenberg (both of whom died in the first decade of the 21st century) hired Los Angeles-based architect A. Quincy Jones (1913-1979) to create a midcentury modern residence in Rancho Mirage – Palm Springs, California, where the Annenbergs lived at least five months every year over four decades.
Jones was known both for designs that integrated houses into the landscape and for “statement roofs.” And that statement roof? An iconic pink pyramid. The color was chosen in accordance with Leonore Annenberg’s wish to match the sunset glow on nearby foothills.
A. Quincy Jones’ signature style is evident at Sunnylands, where he used overhangs to shield the interiors from the direct sun, plus walls of glass to allow the climate’s brightness to fill the rooms. Leonore Annenberg’s deep love of flowers and nature is reflected in the cactus and rose gardens that abut the house and terrace. Vast interior rooms flow into each other with the same open expansiveness as the surrounding landscape.
“Traditionally, great estates have been built in historic styles,” explains Los Angeles architect Frederick Fisher. “So it was a bold move on the part of the Annenbergs to bring in a modernist architect to design Sunnylands, one of the great and arguably the only purely modernist estate in the United States.”
The house itself covers a staggering 25,000 square feet on one level and, during its heyday, kept a staff of 20 busy. Outside, 30 full-time gardeners maintained the golf course, tennis courts, 11 artificial lakes (all stocked for fishing) and vast arrays of flora, most of which required constant tending in the extreme desert heat.
Sunnylands was designed for the comfort of its guests as much as its owners: Walter, a media mogul (he founded TV Guide) and an American ambassador to the UK, and his wife, Leonore, who was head of protocol in the first Reagan administration. Fittingly, the house sits at the corner of Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra drives; both entertainers were frequent visitors, signing the guest book alongside foreign ministers and Supreme Court justices. (Sinatra married his fourth wife, Barbara Marx, in a lavish Sunnylands wedding in 1976.)
Now this storied estate is preparing for a whole new generation of visitors as Sunnylands opened to the public in March 2012 for the first time.
Walter Annenberg died in 2002 and Leonore in 2009, and both are buried on the Sunnylands grounds. In their wills, they stipulated that the house would live on as a place for the influential to gather. Having opened this spring, Sunnylands is an invitation-only retreat center, with 22 rooms in the main house and adjoining cottages — a “Camp David West,” hosting “high-level retreats bringing together United States and world leaders in efforts to advance international peace and increase global understanding.”
When not in use as a conclave of the world’s power-brokers, the house will be open to the public for tours (November through July). And for most of the year (from September to July), a new visitor center, featuring exhibits about the house and well-chosen examples of its furniture and art, will serve as Sunnylands’ public face.