A warm welcome at Sunnylands as the favourite retreat of American presidents gets a new visitor centre

The continuing restoration of the home makes it fit for a queen (Queen Elizabeth II to be precise)


When they were alive, Walter and Leonore Annenberg welcomed six US presidents to their winter home, Sunnylands, at Rancho Mirage, near Palm Springs. After Nixon left the White House in disgrace in 1974, he headed straight to Sunnylands and his friends.

The finishing touches are now being made to a new $60m visitor centre, which is due to open in November. The public will be shown how the Annenbergs’ distinguished guests, who included Queen Elizabeth II, enjoyed the media mogul, diplomat and collector’s 200 acre estate with a golf course, swimming pool, tennis courts, and a collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings that now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The visitor centre has been designed to echo the Annenbergs’ relaxed lifestyle and taste, said Janice Lyle, the director of the Annenberg Foundation Trust. It has also been designed to double up as a conference centre for high-level policy makers, “a Camp David of the West”, said Lyle. Should the Obamas visit, they might recognise the interior design by Michael Smith, who recently worked at the White House.

The Annenbergs’ Giacometti Bust of Diego (Stele III), 1958, as well as sculptures by Auguste Rodin and Jean Arp, greet visitors, and the first exhibition will feature their English silverware. The first conference, which will focus on issues facing the countries of the Pacific Rim, is due to take place next spring. The restoration of the Annenbergs’ 1960s home is ongoing. The mid-century modern building, designed by A. Quincy Jones with Mayan touches, is due to be finished next year.