Recently cracked into by the FBI and at the centre of dozens of high-profile political visits, the history of Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago is one of American real-estate’s most fascinating, high-value, and ruthless acquisition stories
This Monday, former US President Donald Trump issued a statement on one of his most opulent mansions — claiming that it was wrongfully searched by FBI agents. Named Mar-A-Lago, the beachfront club-cum-heritage property was ‘under siege, raided, and occupied by FBI agents, according to the 300-word long message.
Mar-A-Lago itself is one of the most interesting properties in the real-estate mogul’s portfolio, which includes heavyweights such as New York City’s Trump Place, which is worth over $2.1 billion. Here’s a closer look at the property itself, its long and interesting ownership history, and what its exclusive guestlist looks like.
What Is Mar-A-Lago?
Constructed between 1924 and 1927 during Florida’s land boom, Mar-A-Lago (Sea-to-lake) was built as a winter estate for cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, who purchased the property after inheriting a whopping $526 million (adjusted for inflation) from her father. This made her the richest woman in the United States, and owner of one of its most exclusive mansions.
Mar-A-Lago is located on the famous Palm Beach, Florida, and boasts a massive 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms, 12 fireplaces, and even a bomb shelter. It’s also lavishly decorated, with Post spending over $109 million in today’s currency to construct and furnish it.
According to Forbes, Post shipped in three boat loads of stone from Genoa, Italy for the exterior walls, installed a gold-leaf ceiling modeled after the ‘Thousand-Wing Ceiling’ in Venice’s Accademia Gallery, and imported 16th-century Roman busts for the entrance hall. In all, she put up a 58-bedroom home on 17 manicured acres of putting greens, citrus groves, and greenhouses.
It even contains a few statement pieces, such as a monolithic 29-foot-long hand-crafted dining table — which has hosted everyone from local celebrities to foreign state dignitaries.
How Much Is Mar-A-Lago Worth?
Trump’s acquisition story regarding the property is an interesting exercise in real estate business — and how the ex-President liked to play his hand.
Initially costing $109 to build, Post used the house throughout her life and hoped that it would continue to be useful after her death, which took place in 1973. It was initially willed to the US government as a winter home for Presidents and for hosting diplomatic visitors, however, presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, who held office from 1969-1977, didn’t seem too interested. Citing difficulties with maintenance and security for diplomats, the Government backed out and returned the property to the Post Foundation in 1981, and put it up for sale at a price of $20 million.
Actor-socialite Dina Merrill and Post’s two other daughters did not maintain the property in the meantime, anticipating a sale, which never quite came along, forcing them to consider rebuilding Mar-A-Lago’s sprawling 62,500-square-foot area.
Trump, who at the time was busy conquering New York with plans for the Trump Tower, decided to play his hand. Initially offering the Post Foundation $15 million for it, he decided to purchase the beachfront instead, which he acquired from KFC owner Jack C. Massey. This $2 million investment, combined with Trump’s claims that he would build a home on the beachfront that blocked Mar-A-Lago’s view, tanked the property’s value. Biding his time, Trump eventually purchased the mansion for just $7 million — I guess there’s a reason why he’s on Shark Tank, after all.
That’s just the start of the story, however. Left to the care of Trump’s recently-deceased ex-wife Ivana, Trump pumped in plenty of resources to upgrade and renovate Mar-A-Lago — including a 20,000-square-foot ballroom, five tennis courts, and a beachfront pool. By 1994, plans were underway to turn Mar-A-Lago into a private club, which attracted the likes of Celine Dion and Billy Joel as performers for its opening concert events.
Forbes latest estimate of its value today is a whopping 160 million — an incredible 16x rise in value that outstrips equivalent investments in the S&P 500.
What Happens at Mar-A-Lago?
Following Trump’s presidency, the property has skyrocketed both in terms of value and its profitability — as a high-profile venue, it has earned as much as $29 million in revenue for Trump.
Much of this comes in through the property’s newfound political exclusivity and high membership fees. Becoming a member costs an estimated $100,000, while Trump’s long list of invitees, such as Chinese president Xi Jinping and late Japanese president Shinzo Abe consistently kept Mar-A-Lago famous and well-publicized.
Membership includes ‘the use of the formal and casual dining areas, the Mar-a-Lago Spa, the pool, the Beach Club, breathtaking guest rooms and exclusive suites, a state-of the-art-fitness center, award-winning tennis courts, beautiful croquet lawns, and an entertainment series, which hosts internationally world-renowned talent,’ according to the property’s website.
Those eager to rub shoulders with Trump during his presidency signed up in droves, and while several events have pulled out of the property in recent years, it continues to remain a crown jewel in Trump’s long list of acquisitions.
This week’s spotlight on Mar-A-Lago follows a lengthy investigation into Trump regarding the January 6th Capitol Attack from 2021. Trump alleged that such an assault could only take place in ‘broken, third-world countries’, and forcefully condemned the action taken against him.
“It is political targeting at the highest level. I will continue to fight for the Great American People,” said Trump.
Lead Image: The Trump Organization