‘The Winter White House:’ New book looks at history of Donald Trump’s Florida home

How it went from public property to political palace

Mar-a-lago is one of the most famous homes in Florida, if not the country, but the famous property former President Donald Trump referred to as his “Winter White House” wasn’t always what it is today. It used to belong to all Americans.

In her book “American Castle One Hundred Years of Mar-a-Lago,” Mary Shanklin talks about how the mansion and surrounding property used to be part of the National Park Service.

She said the original owner, Marjorie Merriweather Post, heir to the creator of Post Cereal, died thinking the home she built was in the hands of the federal government.

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But there were a lot of competing interests after Post died that changed the course of the property’s history.

“The heirs needed some cash which they could get by selling Mar-a-lago. The people of Palm Beach, they didn’t want any part of having tourists come on their island, so it was divested,” Shanklin told Matt Austin and Ginger Gadsden on Florida’s Fourth Estate

Shanklin said the heirs went through several prospective buyers, one of them being Donald and Ivana Trump.

“When Donald Trump went to purchase it, he was purchasing for $7 million. The Mar-a-Lago that exists from South Ocean Boulevard to Lake Worth, which is the intercoastal waterway, and the heirs — the Marjorie Merriweather Post Trust — they had sold off an oceanfront parcel. So he had to buy that because Mar-a-lago is not going to be sea to the lake if you don’t own the oceanfront parcel. I think the oceanfront parcel may have went for $ 2 million,” Shanklin said.

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Many call that $9 million price tag in 1985 a steal considering Shanklin said it cost Post $7 million to build Mar-a-Lago in the 1920′s.

Shanklin said to establish yourself in Palm Beach in the 1920s your house had to be regal and you had to host all of the big parties and dinners.

“That’s where they wintered, that’s where everybody of power and means went. That’s where you build your relationships and gain trust with people. That’s where it all happens in Palm Beach,” Shanklin said.

Shanklin said the regalness of the home is still intact. She was given a tour of the property during Trump’s presidency and said the ceiling looks like something straight out of Venice.

“Everything gets politicized today. You hear Republicans say, ‘Mar-a-Lago is such an amazing beautiful place.’ You hear Democrats say, ‘It’s gross, it’s crawling with roaches.’ What was the feeling in there?” Austin asked.

“The people who are paying a quarter of a million dollars to become members there are probably getting a bang for their buck,” Shanklin said. “I felt like it looked immaculate. I felt like the furnishings, if not from the original era, which probably they weren’t, they were tastefully done. A lot of the original artwork was still on the walls. I don’t know what was going on in the kitchen or anything. You could see the signature public places and spaces. I feel like it’s really been preserved and maintained and kept well.”

Regardless of what the house looks like, Shanklin said having a membership to Mar-a-Lago is about access and says it still remains unclear if, as the political season gets underway, being the former President will encourage just as many people to maintain their memberships at Mar-a-Lago as when he was President.

Learn more about the history of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s use of the home and the case surrounding possibly classified documents being kept on the property by checking out Florida’s Fourth Estate. You can download the podcast from wherever you listen to podcasts or watch it anytime on News 6+.

You can listen to every episode of Florida’s Fourth Estate in the media player below:

About the Authors:

Tiffany produces the News 6+ Takeover at 3:30 p.m., Florida's Fourth Estate and Talk to Tom.

Emmy Award-winning anchor Matt Austin joined the News 6 team in June 2011 and has been the evening news co-anchor since December 2013.