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Sunnylands historic house.jpg
Sunnylands, 2014.
General information
Status Complete
Location 37977 Bob Hope Drive
Rancho Mirage, California
United States
Coordinates 33°46′38″N 116°24′39″W / 33.7771°N 116.4107°W / 33.7771; -116.4107Coordinates: 33°46′38″N 116°24′39″W / 33.7771°N 116.4107°W / 33.7771; -116.4107
Construction started 1963
Completed 1966
Renovated 2012
Owner Annenberg Foundation
Design and construction
Architect A. Quincy Jones
Renovating team
Architect Frederick B. Fisher
Renovating firm Frederick Fisher and Partners Architects
Other designers Office of James Burnett

Sunnylands, the former Annenberg Estate, located in Rancho Mirage, California, is a 200-acre (0.81 km2) estate currently run by The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, a not-for-profit organization and Annenberg family trust.[1][2] The property was owned by Walter and Leonore Annenberg until 2009 and had been used as a winter retreat by the couple from 1966, when the house was completed. The property is "rich with historical significance," according to the city of Rancho Mirage, which declared Sunnylands an historic site in 1990.[3] Located at Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope Drives,[2] the property has been the vacation site of numerous celebrities and public officials. Sunnylands is to some extent regarded as the "Camp David of the West."


Construction on the Sunnylands estate began in 1963.[3] Renowned interior designer William Haines and assistant Ted Graber were the interior designers on the project. University of Southern California professor A. Quincy Jones.[3] designed the 25,000-square-foot[4] midcentury modern house known for its pink roof.[5] At one time, the house was the largest in Riverside County.[2] The property includes the main house, guest quarters, three guest cottages, a private 9-hole golf course, and 11 man-made lakes.[3] When the Annenbergs were in residence, the main house hosted a significant art collection acquired by the couple, with about 50[6] works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Andrew Wyeth, and Monet. Many of their paintings were donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art following Walter Annenberg's death in 2002.[1][4] The house is hidden from public view; a pink-brick wall surrounds the estate, as do hundreds of eucalyptus and olive trees and a thick belt of Tamarisk trees.

Famous guests[edit]

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip visit Walter and Leonore Annenberg at Sunnylands, February 1983.

Walter and Leonore Annenberg frequently hosted both political leaders and famous entertainers at Sunnylands. During the Annenbergs' lifetime, seven U.S. presidents, including Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush visited the estate. Following the Islamic Revolution in Iran in the late 1970s, the family of the Shah of Iran was invited to seek refuge at Sunnylands. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip visited for lunch, and Prince Charles made occasional weekend visits.[5] U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was also a visitor.[7]

Other notable people who have visited the property include Frank Sinatra (who was married there),[5] Bob Hope, Fred Astaire, Gregory Peck, Ginger Rogers, Bing Crosby, Truman Capote, Mary Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr.[5]

Sunnylands Center & Gardens[edit]

Sunnylands Visitor Center, 2012.

Prior to her death in 2009, Mrs. Annenberg identified 15 acres (0.061 km2) adjacent to Sunnylands as the location for a visitor center. Frederick Fisher & Partners designed the 17,000-square-foot (1,600 m2) building and The Office of James Burnett designed the surrounding gardens. The building, open to the public on a regular basis, offers educational and historic information about the Annenbergs, Sunnylands, and the various Sunnylands collections. After Ambassador Walter Annenberg's death in 2002 and Mrs. Annenberg's death in March 2009, ownership was transferred to The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands. Both Ambassador and Mrs. Annenberg are interred on the property.[1]

Nine acres of desert gardens surround Sunnylands Center. Designed by landscape architect James Burnett, the Gardens were inspired by the Annenbergs' Impressionist paintings, particularly Vincent Van Gogh's 1889 painting Olive Trees.[8] The Gardens include more than 53,000 individual plants and fifty different species of arid climate plants.[8]

The Annenbergs' collection of Impressionist paintings was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York upon Mr. Annenberg’s death. Digital reproductions created by the Metropolitan Museum now hang in the historic house.[4] Much of the Annenbergs' collection of modern sculpture, including works by Rodin, Giacometti, Arp and Agam remained on the estate as part of the Sunnylands Collection. The Collection also includes works by Pablo Picasso, Andrew Wyeth, and Romare Bearden, as well important works of Chinese porcelain, Meissen vases, Chinese cloisonné objects and furniture, Tang Dynasty funerary sculpture, Flora Danica china, Steuben glass, and English silver-gilt objects.[9]

Several sculptures, including a white marble copy of Auguste Rodin's Eternal Spring and Giacometti's Bust of Diego on Stele III, are on permanent display at Sunnylands Center. The Center also features a rotating exhibition related to the art or history of the property. The current exhibition, The Pleasure of Your Company: Entertaining at Sunnylands[10] focuses on memorable events at Sunnylands, including the wedding of Frank and Barbara Sinatra in 1976, Queen Elizabeth II's visit in 1983, and the recent "shirtsleeves summit" meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping of China in June 2013. The exhibition includes rare photos, objects, and documents from the Sunnylands archives.[11]

Limited, guided public tours of the house and estate grounds began on March 1, 2012.

"Camp David of the West"[edit]

The Annenbergs envisioned Sunnylands becoming the "Camp David of the West,"[12] a place for national and foreign dignitaries and diplomats to gather for summit meetings and retreats in a relaxed setting, available to leaders from all political parties.,[4] President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, joined the Annenbergs to golf and fish. President Richard Nixon wrote his 1974 State of the Union Address at the house and, after leaving office, was a guest at Sunnylands when President Gerald Ford pardoned him for any wrongdoing in the Watergate scandal. Ford and his wife Betty were frequent guests as well. President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan were close friends of the Annenbergs and visited every New Year's for 18 years.[4] Reagan also delivered one of his final radio addresses to the nation,and signed the intent to pursue NAFTA from Sunnylands in January 1989.[13] President George H. W. Bush hosted a state dinner at the house for Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu in 1990.

President Barack Obama used the site to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013,[14] a meeting now hailed as the "shirtsleeves summit," and King Abdullah II of Jordan in 2014.[15] President Obama announced during a press conference at Sunnylands that the United States would offer Jordan a $1 billion loan guarantee and aid to help Jordan accommodate the more than 500,000 Syrian refugees living in the country.[16]


  1. ^ a b c Fessier, Bruce (13 March 2009). "Sunnylands Estate will open for public tours" (fee required). The Desert Sun. Retrieved 4 November 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c Moore, Steve (April 26, 2008). "Estate to feature Annenberg Education Center at Sunnylands". The Press Enterprise. Retrieved 2009-04-13. 
  3. ^ a b c d "About Sunnylands". The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands. Retrieved 2009-04-13. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Nagourney, Adam (January 23, 2012). "A Retreat for the Rich and Powerful Is Opening Its Doors to the World". New York Times. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Leonore Annenberg: philanthropist". The Times. March 16, 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-13. 
  6. ^ Nelson, Valerie J. (March 13, 2009). "Leonore Annenberg dies at 91; philanthropist, widow of publishing magnate". Los Angeles Times. 
  7. ^ Calmes, jackie (June 7, 2013). "Expansive Setting for Obama's Meeting With Xi". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-04-04. 
  8. ^ a b "Sunnylands". Sunnylands. Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  9. ^ "Sunnylands". Sunnylands. Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  10. ^ "Sunnylands". Sunnylands. Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  11. ^ "Sunnylands". Sunnylands. Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  12. ^ Nagourney, Adam (January 23, 2012). "A Retreat for the Rich and Powerful Is Opening Its Doors to the World". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-04-04. 
  13. ^ "Sunnylands". Sunnylands. 1993-12-17. Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  14. ^ Sanger, David E. (June 9, 2013). "Obama and Xi Try to Avoid a Cold War Mentality". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-06-09. 
  15. ^ Parsons, Christi (February 13, 2014). "Obama is turning Sunnylands estate into Camp David West". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-02-14. 
  16. ^ "Obama Promises New Aid to Jordan in Refugee Crisis". The New York Times. February 14, 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-04. 

External links[edit]