While Donald Trump and Mar-a-Lago may forever be connected in the public consciousness, the complete Mar-a-Lago history can be traced back to well before Trump stepped into the White House. Trump isn't even the first person to try and turn the Palm Beach property into a winter White House. That distinction goes to Marjorie Merriweather Post, the millionaire socialite who bankrolled the mansion's construction from 1924 to 1927.
The Mar-a-Lago property hosted circuses and World War II soldiers during Post’s life, and her estate tried to hand it over to government use after her death, as she had requested. After a lengthy game of real estate hot potato, though, Mar-a-Lago landed in the possession of Donald Trump, who turned it into an exclusive club and resort. Then, after winning the 2016 presidential election, he christened it his own winter (and sometimes weekend) White House, finally fulfilling Post’s wishes in a roundabout way she likely never could have predicted.
Covering 62,500 square-feet, an opulent property like Mar-a-Lago had to be built by someone of truly massive wealth. That someone was Marjorie Merriweather Post, who had inherited Post Cereal and turned it into General Foods in the 1920s, becoming the richest woman in America in the process. In the early 1920s, Post decided that she needed to upgrade from her then-current Palm Beach mansion, dubbed Hogarcito. She found 17 acres that were a perfect fit for her entertaining needs.
Construction began in 1924 and was completed in 1927 at a cost of $7 million, or $90 million in 2018 dollars. Mar-a-Lago was so large that it stood out even in the affluent Palm Beach neighborhood. The property's name translates to "sea-to-lake," a nod to its location on the Palm Beach barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and Intracoastal Waterway.
With 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms, and a 75-foot tall tower, early neighbors found Mar-a-Lago to be a bit much. Even in the midst of the Roaring '20s and in a community as glitzy as Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago stood out for its excess and was criticized by some as garish. One feature that detractors looked down on was the mansion’s perceived over-reliance on gold, including golden gates, gold bathroom fixtures, and a literal gold ceiling in the living room.
Marjorie Merriweather Post didn't care and even relished the criticism. She sometimes waited on a hidden balcony in her living room so she could see visitors' reactions (good or bad) when they took in her home for the first time.
Marjorie Merriweather Post and her family lived at Mar-a-Lago off-and-on, but when they were there, Post put the property to good use by hosting extravagant parties for the rich and famous. She built the mansion for entertaining guests, and she brought in some of the most exciting acts imaginable at the time. The Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey put on a show in the ballroom featuring clowns and trapeze artists, and Post once arranged for an entire Broadway cast to perform for her guests. That’s not to say that she was solely interested in decadence. Post also used these parties to raise funds for charity and invited underprivileged kids to attend when she hosted the circus.
Mar-a-Lago houses all manner of security features, and it has been that way since 1932. That year, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping shocked the entire nation, but the tragedy shook up Marjorie Merriweather Post in particular. She responded by installing some serious security measures in her children’s rooms, including nursery-rhyme-inspired iron bars on the kids' windows. She also hired detectives from the famed Pinkerton Agency to protect her family while at Mar-a-Lago, a precursor to the Secret Service presence that would come in the future.