And now another hurricane, named Matthew, is headed toward The Mar-a-Lago Club, expected to skirt the Atlantic coast late today as, perhaps, a brutal Category 4 storm.
"We lost a lot of the vegetation that gave Mar-a-Lago its character," Trump told the Palm Beach Post following Hurricane Frances. "I wasn't there for the storm, but I've been told by my people there that it re-landscaped the place. There was a little flooding in some of the basements, too."
The landscape was replanted, and today, the grounds look as lush as ever.
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Trump bought Mar-a-Lago, the mansion built by cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, in 1985 at age 39 from her foundation for a price recorded at $5 million, reportedly paying several million more for the furnishings. A decade later, after pouring millions of dollars into its restoration, he opened The Mar-A-Lago Club, retaining residential quarters to use for himself and family members.
The real estate expert couldn’t have asked for a house better prepared to endure a hurricane. Mar-a-Lago is about a rock-solid as it gets, when it comes to being storm-ready.
Married to financier E.F. Hutton when she built it, Post understood the importance of making sure her house — the second she owned in Palm Beach — would have a solid foundation for its 128 rooms.
Concrete and steel anchors the structure to the coral reef below it. Many of the walls are 3-feet thick.
"This place will not move," Trump's former butler, Tony Senecal, told the Palm Beach Post in 2005. 'That's why, during a hurricane, you'll always see me here. If it goes, I'll go with it."
The house’s architecture is an elaborate mix of Spanish, Moorish, Portuguese and Venetian influences, thanks to the work of architect Marion Sims Wyeth and Broadway set designer Joseph Urban. It is said to have taken 600 workers and artisans to complete the two-year project, which broke ground in 1925.
The paint had barely had time to dry when the 1928 hurricane arrived, making landfall in September near West Palm Beach. With winds estimated at 145 mph, the storm destroyed more than 1,700 homes and generated a storm surge that caused Lake Okeechobee to burst some 45 miles away, drowning as many as 2,500 people.
In Palm Beach, the storm washed out the coastal road that hugged the beachfront between Wells Road and the Palm Beach Country Club. Today’s North Ocean Boulevard was built a bit farther to the west in that area, creating beachfront estates that line the road. Farther south, the storm also swept away much of the beach, pushing the shoreline inland by more than 200 feet near Mar-a-Lago and in front of the then-new Bath & Tennis Club.
The hurricane’s damage to Post’s home mostly was confirmed to uprooted trees, although she reported damage to an expansive Roman-style window.
Some of her neighbors on the island weren't so lucky. At La Querida on the North End, Philadelphia department store heir Rodman Wanamaker's home, damage was so extensive that the house required renovation; it later was bought by Joseph P. Kennedy and, much later, became known worldwide as the Winter White House used by his son, President John F. Kennedy. Purchased last year by billionaire Jane Goldman, the house is being extensively renovated.
Preparing for a storm
Today, the staff at Mar-a-Lago prepares for hurricanes in much the same way that other Palm Beach property owners do, including removing or securing outdoor furnishings and other items — such as sculptures — that could become windborne missiles during a storm. Property owners also might lower the water levels in the swimming pool and place sandbags in front of outside doors, especially important in low-lying areas. Full-house generators were rarites in Palm before the sorms of 2004 and 2005 but are now commonplace; owners often give theirs a test-run in anticipation of electricity outages following a storm.
One critical item on the to-do list at Mar-a-Lago is installing hurricane shutters on windows and doors. That’s not the case with newer houses and commercial buildings — and many renovated older ones — where strict building codes have required the installation of impact-resistant glass in windows and doors. Those codes were substantially strengthened after Hurricane Andrew decimated entire neighborhoods when it tore through Miami-Dade County in 1992.
During Trump's restoration project in the 1990s, Mar-a-Lago's original windows were carefully preserved and restored, including a number of elaborately gilded ones in the main room, according to architect Tamara Peacock of The Tamara Peacock Co., based in Fort Lauderdale. With a specialty in historic preservation, Peacock oversaw the award-winning — and massive — project that turned the private home into a private club, while keeping its vintage charms intact.
“We reconditioned and kept the original windows,” Peacock said Wednesday in a phone interview from North Carolina, where her company has an office in Hendersonville. “The quality of the existing windows is part of the architectural heritage.”
In the decade after the club opened, Trump added other facilities — including a grand new ballroom and the Beach Club on Mar-a-Lago’s ocean parcel. Windows in those buildings meet the new codes for impact resistance.
Peacock, who was member No. 88 to join Trump’s club, said she still marvels at Mar-a-Lago’s original construction. “I’ve seen quite a number of historic houses during my career,” she said. “It’s the most well-built.”