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Sunnylands: The making of a mansion's mystique

February 17, 2012 |  4:45 pm

Sunnylands 1979
A Sunnylands timeline: key points in the history of a Rancho Mirage landmark and the couple who built it:

Walter and Leonore Annenberg1950 Walter H. Annenberg, then editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Leonore Cohn Rosenstiel meet in Florida.

1951 Walter and Leonore marry and live at Inwood, an estate near Philadelphia; he has a son, Roger, and a daughter, Wallis, from a previous marriage; she has two daughters, Diane and Elizabeth, from two previous marriages. (At right: 1985 photo of Walter and Leonore. Credit: Los Angeles Times)

1953 Walter's company launches TV Guide as a national magazine.

1958 Walter founds the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. 

William Haines  1963 A Quincy Jones  The Annenbergs buy 197 acres of undeveloped desert in the Coachella Valley (and subsequently bought and sold more land). They enlist former actor and later design legend William Haines to help decorate a new winter residence; he brings in A. Quincy Jones as architect and Haines associate Ted Graber to help with interiors. (Photo, left: William Haines with co-star Marion Davies in "Show People." Credit: Turner Broadcasting System. Photo, right: A. Quincy Jones. Photo from Cory Buckner.)

1966 Sunnylands house completed.

Nixon 19681968 Maya-style bronze column designed by José and Tomás Chávez Morado is installed in front of the house; it depicts Mexican history. Indoor pool installed. President-elect Richard Nixon completes formation of his Cabinet while staying at Sunnylands. (Nixon photo credit: Associated Press)

1969 Walter is appointed ambassador to Britain by Nixon; Leonore oversees renovation of Winfield House, the U.S. ambassador's residence in London.

1971 Walter founds the Annenberg School for Communication at USC.

1974 Nixon writes his State of the Union address at Sunnylands. Polo-playing Prince Charles makes do without a horse and invents the game of golf cart polo on the Annenbergs' private course.

Reagans1975 Nancy and Ronald Reagan spend the first of 18 New Year's Eves with the Annenbergs at the Rancho Mirage estate. Years later, when a reporter asks why the president spends so much time inside Sunnylands, an aide replies, “Because you're not there, and you can't get there.” (Reagan photo credit: Los Angeles Times)

1976 Barbara and Frank Sinatra hold their wedding at Sunnylands.

1977 Three guest cottages are added to the property.

1981 Leonore is named chief of protocol of the United States by President Reagan, a position she holds for a year before resigning to spend more time with her husband.

1983 Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visit Sunnylands.

Prince Charles1986 Patt Morrison notes in a Los Angeles Times article that Prince Charles, left, is still an occasional guest, this time sunning himself by the Annenbergs' pool. (Credit: AP)

1988 Walter sells TV Guide, Seventeen and other publications to media mogul Rupert Murdoch for $3.2 billion and says he will devote himself to education and philanthropy.

1989 Annenberg Foundation established.

Margaret Thatcher1991 A year after ending her run as British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, right, comes to Sunnylands, the first of three visits. (Credit: Los Angeles Times)

1995 Walter is elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

2001 The Annenbergs establish the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands to oversee a retreat to “address serious issues facing the nation and the world community” and to educate the public on the historical significance of Sunnylands.

2002 Walter dies. Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art is donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

2004 Supreme Court Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Anthony M. Kennedy and Sandra Day O'Connor visit to participate in a retreat about civic education in America.

2006 Leonore meets with Frederick Fisher & Partners about designing the visitors center.

2007 Leonore moves to Sunnylands full time. The indoor pool is replaced by Inwood Room with furnishings from her Pennsylvania house.

2009 Leonore dies. The estate passes to the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands.

2012 Sunnylands' visitor center, house and gardens are open to the public. The 9-acre gardens have been designed by the Office of James Burnett with reflecting pools, a labyrinth and 50 species of arid-landscape plants.

— Scarlet Cheng

Sunnylands visitor center
Above: The new Sunnylands visitor center. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times


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Photo, top: Sunnylands in 1979. Credit: Los Angeles Times