Palm Springs Day Part 2: Sunnylands

Our second and final event with Modernism Week was a historic walk at Sunnylands Center & Gardens.

Sunnylands emerged onto the world stage when the historic estate was completed in 1966. It has since welcomed eight U.S. presidents and world leaders, public intellectuals, celebrities, and friends and family. On many occasions, guests have engaged in dialogue that led to efforts to enhance international understanding and civil discourse.
In the mid-1960s, Walter and Leonore Annenberg began their quest to create a midcentury modern residence in Rancho Mirage.
The Annenbergs were extraordinary philanthropists, designating more than $3 billion in grants and gifts to major research universities, hospitals, medical centers, public schools, and cultural and civic organizations. And for more than 40 years, these ambassadors entertained at their 200-acre winter estate. In 2001, the couple established The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands to preserve this as a place where world leaders could meet to discuss issues of national and international importance (free of cost).
For our Historic Walk, we met Shandra, our knowledgeable guide who took us, and another couple, on a leisurely walk onto the estate. This 60-minute stroll focused on the history of Sunnylands, the Annenbergs and their guests, midcentury modern architecture, and design.

The Annebergs kept everything, including all their guest books. What a who's who of awesome visitors! Business leaders and philanthropists like David Rockefeller, Warren Buffett, Edmond and Lily Safra, and Bill and Melinda Gates came in the 1990s. Literary and media figures were always part of the crowd. Truman Capote came in 1968 followed by Newton Minow, Ann Landers, and Sidney Sheldon. Television anchors, including Barbara Walters, Peter Jennings, Andrea Mitchell, and Diane Sawyer, were guests in later years.
A little about the 25,000 sq. ft. home. The pinnacle of midcentury style, an English country estate reimagined for the American desert, there is no other house like Sunnylands. A stately home, designed by A. Quincy Jones, one of California’s most significant architects, it contains the only completely preserved interior by Hollywood’s legendary decorator-to-the-stars, William Haines, that is open to the public.

“There is no other midcentury modern house on this scale or of this integrity
that reflects such a golden moment in California history."
Architect Jones, a dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Southern California, wanted to help the Annenbergs create an estate that didn't emulate classical European styles but instead looked forward. This peaked portico would shelter visiting VIPs as they arrived from the searing desert sun.
Here's the United Kingdom's Prince Phillip (R.I.P.) and Queen Elizabeth II standing under that portico with the hosts in early 1983. Walter told her she was about to "see how ordinary Americans live."
While the interior is off limits due to Covid, we were able to peek in the windows.
This room is so me! I love the sunflowers. Leonore had d├ęcor for the various seasons. I was happy to see spring exemplified.


Birds, alive and in statuary, are showcased here. There are even birding tours offered several days a week.





It wasn't all politics, however. Entertainment icons came to sing and play. Neighbor Frank Sinatra was married to Barbara Marx at Sunnylands in July 1976. Bob and Dolores Hope came a total of 50 times between 1975 and 2005. Actors Kirk Douglas and Gregory Peck, singers Beverly Sills and Michael Feinstein, comedian George Burns, conductor Zubin Mehta, designer Oscar de la Renta, and artist Helen Frankenthaler all visited the estate and probably danced poolside.
Ronald and Nancy Reagan came to Sunnylands annually for nearly two decades to celebrate New Year's Eve with their old friends. The annual parties, New York socialite Brooke Astor proclaimed, “were the greatest invitation one could ever have.”
The estate still employs a fair number of horticulturists to maintain the gardens that Leonore favored, including the rose garden, which still grows varieties cultivated by the Annenbergs and named for their powerful female friends.


The most famous golfers in the world played the private course, including every president from Eisenhower to Obama.

To think of all who played on this hole before me... WOW!
Tourists were told not to miss the replica of the bench that President Barack Obama gave President Xi Jinping of China when the two met at Sunnylands in 2013 for what has been termed a “shirtsleeve summit.”

While I have nothing good to say about President Xi (currently), Steve and I found our own reason not to miss the bench!
After touring Sunnylands and doing some research, I am so happy to have met the Annebergs. I found this quote to be just another amazing attribute of this amazing couple. “We know about their philanthropy, but what has amazed me was the deep friendships they developed with people and how generous they were with their friends — generous and thoughtful,” Rowe says, referring to the abundance of letters and cards the Annenbergs sent.

We are thoroughly LOVING all the uniqueness Palm Springs, and life in general, has to offer. 

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Palm Springs: 1 Day in 3 Parts...

With the promise of a gorgeous day in the desert, Steve and I headed back to Palm Springs for Modernism Week (we secured our tickets in January). Being COVID cautious, we chose two outdoor events. What a groovy day.

FYI- The mission of Modernism Week is to celebrate and foster appreciation of midcentury architecture and design, as well as contemporary thinking in these fields, by encouraging education, preservation and sustainable modern living as represented in the greater Palm Springs area.
Part one of our day was the experience called Fins and Tails – Classic Private Car Collection.
The tour gave us the opportunity to view a large collection of restored classic American and European collectable cars that are now in private ownership. The oldest was this LaSalle (1937). LaSalle was an American brand of luxury automobiles manufactured and marketed, as a separate brand, by General Motors' Cadillac division from 1927 through 1940.
Steve thinks this was once his dad's car.

In the 50s and 60s, modern design was everywhere, expressing the exuberance of the new post war prosperity. Modern Architecture was no longer for the wealthy and expanded with the growing middle class driving their new cars out to their new suburban modern homes. The automobile industry was equally forward thinking, designing the cars of the future for today with big fins, exotic modern styling and big engines to help rocket you off into the coming space age!
Today, as so many people come to Palm Springs to restore mid-century modern homes, they realize that one of their most important and fun home accessories is a beautiful vintage car parked in the classic modern carport (hence so many cool cars here).
Some cars were garaged and most had informative, entertaining flyers held on by the windshield wipers. This 1964 Mercury Park Lane had features we would not have known about without the flyer.

I thought this guy's license plate printed shirt was just perfect for this occasion.

We both agreed that this 1956 Dodge Sierra station wagon was our favorite.
This style-leading 1956 Dodge Sierra seats 8. "Powered by a 314ci V8 with push-button automatic transmission, the Sierra was the top of the class in terms of wagons from Dodge. This is an extremely rare finned station wagon designed by Virgil Exner."
I want it!

Our last stop was in a garage full of cars from the 1970s. It even had music from that decade playing.
Most cars had interesting interiors, unique features and all seemed to have an 8 track player. Can you dig it?
For some reason, this Dodge Dart Swinger just seemed the perfect way to end Part 1 of our very swinging day.

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