It’s daunting at first to name a star attraction at Sunnylands. I was hard-pressed to identify a room, object or design detail that stood out from all the others during a recent tour of the former Annenberg family estate (now retreat center) earlier this month.
Situated on 200 acres in Rancho Mirage, the 25,000-square-foot midcentury-modern marvel overflows with exquisite architectural details (A. Quincy Jones); fine furnishings and décor (mostly Hollywood regency style by former movie star-turned-designer William Haines and Ted Graber); replicas of great artworks by Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet and other gods (originals valued at $1 billion and bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art); and memorabilia of historical guests the likes of which may be surpassed only by the White House guestbook.
Even based solely sentimental value, my guess is Walter and Leonore Annenberg may have been challenged to choose a favorite item or feature. A former guest bedroom-turned-den showcases countless thank-you notes, greeting cards and photos featuring dignitaries, royals and celebs who visited their home. President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan, entertainer Frank Sinatra and Queen Elizabeth were guests there.
But about halfway through the tour (I was with a group of three couples, each celebrating a 49th wedding anniversary), the obvious dawned on me. The standout of all the special features of this sprawling estate — with its 11 manmade lakes, more than 6,000 trees, nine-hole golf course and gardens galore — was the feature that arguably didn’t cost a thing.
But it’s the thing the Annenbergs and their famous houseguests derived immense pleasure from and took great care to display and protect. It’s the thing so many Coachella Valley residents enjoy daily from their backyards. It’s – you guessed it – the view.
A. Quincy Jones’ floor-to-ceiling windows throughout the home and design elements merging indoors and outdoors; the pink stone wall that surrounds most of the estate, the line of trees at its farthest point – all frame multiple views of the mountains and contribute to a sense of being in one’s own world. Just you, at home, with Mount San Jacinto.
If you have an opportunity, go see it for yourself. You may agree with me, you may not.
The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands opened Sept. 1 for its second season of tours. Admission is $35 per person. Reservations must be made online at www.sunnylands.org on the first or 15th of each month.