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Sunnylands: A desert retreat for presidents, politicians and movie stars




A view to the estate house across one of the lakes on the golf course.
A view to the estate house across one of the lakes on the golf course.
Ned Redway
A view to the estate house across one of the lakes on the golf course.
A view into the atrium of the estate house. The sculpture in the center of the atrium is an original casting of Eve, by Auguste Rodin, 1881.
Graydon Wood
A view to the estate house across one of the lakes on the golf course.
The living room of the historic house, featuring original furniture by William Haines.
Graydon Wood
A view to the estate house across one of the lakes on the golf course.
The new Sunnylands Center, designed by Fred Fisher and Partners.
Mark Davidson
A view to the estate house across one of the lakes on the golf course.
Bust of Diego on Stele III, 1958, by Alberto Giacometti. This sculpture from the estate house has been re-installed in the Grand Hall of the new Center.
Mark Davidson
A view to the estate house across one of the lakes on the golf course.
View from the Gardens to the rear of the Center. Gardens designed by the Office of James Burnett.
Mark Davidson
A view to the estate house across one of the lakes on the golf course.
Frank Sinatra dancing with First Lady Nancy Reagan. December 31, 1981.
The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands
A view to the estate house across one of the lakes on the golf course.
L to R: Prince Phillip, Lee Annenberg, Queen Elizabeth, and Walter Annenberg standing in front of the entrance to the estate house during the Queen’s visit in February 1983.
The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands.
A view to the estate house across one of the lakes on the golf course.
President Bill Clinton poses with Walter and Lee Annenberg at the entrance to the estate house during Clinton’s visit on Valentine’s Day 1995. Official White House Photo.
The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands
A view to the estate house across one of the lakes on the golf course.
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor dancing with Ronald Reagan.
The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands.
A view to the estate house across one of the lakes on the golf course.
The Reagans dancing with members of a mariachi band at Sunnylands. January 1, 1983. Official White House Photo.
The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands.
A view to the estate house across one of the lakes on the golf course.
Former U.S. Congresswoman Jane Harman and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at Sunnylands during the U.S-Mexico retreat. March 2012.
Mark Davidson


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Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in California on Friday, and over the weekend Jinping will hold a summit with President Obama. What the two world leaders make of their meetings is crucial, and a 20,000-square-foot residence in Rancho Mirage will play a role in hosting the discussions.

The Sunnylands estate is a mid-century modern architecture masterpiece, now doubling as a diplomatic host site. It was commissioned by Walter and Leonore Annenberg in 1963, and former president Dwight Eisenhower was among its first guests when it was completed in 1966.

To architectural and culture writer Edward Lifson, the '60s period during the building’s conception represented the best of American culture. “(It was) the height of American power, American optimism, and America’s message of democracy to the world,” he said. “I hope some of this rubs off on the summit."

Lifson says more important than the time period is the building’s unique structure. The estate’s architect, A. Quincy Jones, was what Lifson called “the quintessential Southern California mid-century modernist," and the building’s structure is marked by clean lines and extensive amounts of glass.

The building’s roof, known as a statement roof, is also special in that it makes a pyramid shape, a form derived from Mayan design. The building is also well in tune with the nature which envelops it. The area is surrounded by the San Jacinto Mountains, and according to Lifson, nearly every room in the house is connected to a garden, pond, or offers a scenic view of the mountainous backdrop.

Besides the eloquent views, the facility has precedent for playing host to America’s current and former leaders. Lifson said every president since Richard Nixon has visited the home, recollecting how George H.W. Bush enjoyed fishing on the grounds and that Ronald Reagan celebrated every New Year’s Eve of his presidency on site.

It makes poetic sense too for Obama to host the Chinese leader there as well, and Lifson hopes the open structure sends the correct message to its temporary residents.

“It fits in and it brings the outside in,” he said when talking Sunnylands hosting this weekend’s summit. “I hope that they understand here the value of transparency, and I hope some of that rubs off on the state leaders.”