PALM BEACH, Fla. — Forget Camp David, where previous White House occupants went to relax, entertain friends or meet with foreign leaders. President Trump has proven he prefers Mar-a-Lago.
It was from this 100,000-square-foot palatial estate that he ordered the Tomahawk missile strike at the Shayrat Airbase in Syrian while meeting with the president of China. He has also entertained the Japanese leader at Mar-a-Lago.
Here on this tony barrier island on Florida's Atlantic Coast is where the action is, luring sightseers, protesters, pro-Trump supporters and leading government figures.
But unless you're a member of his Mar-a-Lago Club, or a guest at one of its lavish charity balls, chances are you won't get near the place when the president is in town. Land and sea approaches to the 17.5-acre compound are routinely cordoned off by Secret Service and local police.
Trump purchased the more than 120-room residence and its furnishings in 1985 for nearly $10 million. Ten years later he turned it into a private club that his company operates as a business, and promoted it as an opulent, historic property with 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms, 12 fireplaces and three bomb shelters.
One section is sealed off for the private use of his family.
After taking office, the price for joining the club was raised to $200,000, double what it was before the election. The Trump Organization justified the increase, contending $200,000 had been the original price but was reduced to $100,000 during the recession. Its annual dues/dining fee total, $16,000, was not changed, however.
The club has nearly 500 members. As Palm Beach residents, my wife and I attended a couple lectures at Mar-a-Lago (Spanish for "Sea to Lake").
Rooms have the feeling and museum-like trappings of a Loire Valley French chateau. There are marble floors, rare Oriental carpets, old paintings and 16th-century Flemish tapestries.
Large portraits of Trump wearing a white sweater and Marjorie Merriweather Post, the cereal heiress who built Mar-a-Lago, face each other on opposite walls in a large, sumptuous room copied from a Venetian palace.
There are black-and-white marble floors; ceilings, walls and furnishings with gold leaf; and rooms and hallways with colorful Spanish tiles dating to the 15th century.
Mar-a-Lago has turned into President Trump's 'Winter White House'
The mansion was built in the 1920s by Post, who died in 1973. She willed it to the U.S. government and clairvoyantly stipulated it be used by American presidents and foreign dignitaries.
Claiming it had become too costly to maintain as a National Historic Landmark, the government gave the property back to Post heirs who, in turn, sold it to Trump.
For tax purposes, the property was recently assessed at $32 million, putting Trump's Palm Beach real estate tax bill at $600,426.
Since acquiring the property, he's added tennis courts, a spa, a croquet court, updated the beach house and, at a cost of $9 million, built an adjoining Louis XIV ballroom with 40-foot ceilings and glittering chandeliers.
The ballroom can comfortably accommodate 800 guests, and nearly that many, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, were there for the 2005 Donald Trump-Melania Knauss wedding reception.
Eleven months later, Donald Trump Jr.'s wedding reception also took place there.
An added perk for club members and area visitors is a 62-acre, 27-hole golf course and clubhouse Trump built in nearby West Palm Beach. He still plays during his visits.
A heliport has been built on Mar-a-Lago property, allowing use of a helicopter to get to his estate from Palm Beach International Airport, about 3 miles away.
About 30 other billionaires maintain homes nearby, most assessed at higher values, but none enjoy the panache and celebrity status of Mar-a-Lago.
It's where some of the posh resort's most lavish winter season charity fundraisers and other events take place.
The ornate, rambling main building can be seen from South Ocean Boulevard immediately north of Southern Boulevard, and from the banks of the Intracoastal Waterway and ocean.
The front overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and the rear faces the Lake Worth section of the Intracoastal Waterway. There are swimming pools on the beachside and lakeside.
Coast Guard and Secret Service vessels guard both water approaches to the estate during the president's presence.
The main building was designed by the New York architect Marion Sims Wyeth, who also created other Palm Beach mansions, including the Florida governor’s in Tallahassee and Doris Duke’s landmark Shangri La estate in Honolulu. He collaborated with Joseph Urban, an Austrian-American interior designer and illustrator who created parrot, monkey, ram and eagle sculptures on the structure's exterior walls.
Trump would be the first to tell you Mar-a-Lago is one of his most prized possessions and has made him a part-time resident of Palm Beach. The club lies about 5 miles south of the 15-room oceanfront Palm Beach mansion that once was President John F. Kennedy’s winter White House.
The old Kennedy estate has since changed hands twice, been updated and remodeled and is now owned by a New York asset manager.
As a brash real estate mogul through the years, the president has been in litigious battles with the nearby airport and Palm Beach County, trying to prevent noisy planes from flying over Mar-a-Lago.
Not only do they annoy club members, he has argued, but they're damaging his National Historic Landmark property.
Shortly after the election, though, he withdrew his latest suit, which sought $100 million in damages, after learning the Secret Service won't allow flights over Mar-a-Lago when he's there.
Si Liberman, a retired editor of the Asbury Park (N.J.) Sunday Press, lives in Palm Beach, Fla.