Sunnylands Center and Gardens is a retreat center for leaders of both international and national standing and is also open to the public as a historic site. Located in Rancho Mirage, California, the 200-acre estate was originally owned by Walter and Leonore Annenberg, who were themselves ambassadors and used this estate as a winter retreat.
The estate dates back to 1963 and has been run by the not-for-profit Annenberg Foundation since 2009. After its completion in 1963, the estate consisted of a 9-hole golf course, 13 lakes, the main house, three guest cottages, and the guest quarters within the main house. Modern additions are the visitor center and gardens. Many political leaders and Hollywood celebrities have visited Sunnylands in the past, including eight past presidents of the United States, members of the British royal family including Queen Elizabeth II, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and Bing Crosby.
Attractions and exhibits
The construction of the main house dates back to 1963, when the mid-century 25,000-square-foot space was designed by architect A. Quincy Jones. The house was completed 3 years later. A pink wall made of brick surrounds the estate, and the grounds are famed for the vast collection of olive, eucalyptus, and tamarisk trees. Within the main house there was an extensive impressionist art collection with a large number of works by renowned artists such as Picasso. After Walter Annenberg’s death in 2002, many of these pieces were gifted to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, though they still retain digital reproductions at the visitor center. In 2012 the house was renovated by architect Frederick B. Fisher and the Office of James Burnett, whereby upkeep of the estate was done and the visitor center and gardens were built.
Rooms in the main house rooms have retained their original mid-century design and architecture and almost all are open to the public. There is a large array of rooms inside, with the games room, kitchen, living area, old indoor pool room, Room of Memories, master suite, and Leonore's personal dressing area open to view. Filled with memorabilia from politicians, celebrities, and foreign dignitaries as well as a selection of sculptures, the house can be self-toured or toured with a docent and group.
Before Leonore’s death in 2009, she designated 15 acres near Sunnylands as the location of the visitor center. It was designed by Frederick Fisher and Partners and spans 17,000 square feet. The visitor center is open to the public and offers educational and historic information on the Annenberg's and the Sunnylands collections. Inside the center is a rotating gallery about the history of the estate, digital recreations of the impressionist art once held in the house, and several sculptures. Additionally, there is a video room broadcasting a 20-minute video on the history of the Annenbergs, a 3D tour of the house, renovations over the years, and the visits of the presidents so far. The gardens stretch across 9 acres around the center and were based on inspiration from the impressionist paintings that the Annenbergs had in their possession. Over 53,000 individual desert plants have been planted in rows within the landscape, including cacti and a selection of tropical plants.
In terms of food and drink, the on-site café offers sandwiches, salads, and a range of other light meals as well as French press coffee. Set within a view of the garden and mountains, visitors can either sit inside in the glass walled dining area or outside on the patio. Sunnylands also has an on-site gift shop with a variety of products on display. Visitors can browse the Sunnylands Press books, postcards, and art as well as other merchandise.
Sunnylands offers a range of group tours hosted by trained docents. Examples include the Guided Estate Bird Tours, where local bird enthusiasts can tour the grounds and spot birds, and the Historic House Tours, where visitors get a tour of the visitor center and house with exclusive information from the guide about the interiors and architecture, the Sunnylands Collections, and the history of the Annenbergs. Also offered are Open Air Experiences Tours, which involve visitors taking a shuttle tour of the Sunnylands golf course and grounds, viewing sculptures and architecture.
Sunnylands also hosts a speaker series, yoga classes, programs for families, and free guided walks within their events calendar. Political events are still held at Sunnylands, involving meetings, summits, and negotiations both political and scientific. Sunnylands also works with the LEAD commission and hosts events for leaders from the philanthropy, technology, and education sectors to discuss current topics of reform.
37977 Bob Hope Dr, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270, Phone: 760-202-2222
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