A history of the famed resort town and a residence that has “assumed a stature in the collective consciousness far larger than its physical bounds.”
Standiford (Center of Dreams: Building a World-Class Performing Arts Complex in Miami, 2018, etc.) returns to the Floridian territory of the rich and famous that he chronicled in his biography of Henry Flagler (Last Train to Paradise, 2002), but this time the author will likely attract even more readers with the newly relevant Mar-a-Lago. Donald Trump and his purchase of the mansion in 1985 does not take center stage until more than 200 pages have elapsed, but after that, he and his over-the-top resort occupy the majority of the rest of the book. Before focusing on Trump, though, Standiford recounts the epic struggle of the ultrawealthy to transform what are now known as Palm Beach, Boca Raton, and Key West into a previously unimaginable enclave for conspicuous consumption. Flagler dominates the narrative for a stretch of pages, as does architect Addison Mizner, who was famous for his Mediterranean revival and Spanish colonial revival styles. The other main character is heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, who was most responsible for the design, construction, and legend of Mar-a-Lago. Post collected lovers and husbands, but arguably the most significant was her husband E.F. Hutton, the wealthy financier. Mar-a-Lago served as a Post-Hutton showplace, boasting 62,500 square feet and 128 rooms. For the most part, it gained renown because of its style and setting rather than its size; after all, it wasn’t nearly the largest mansion in the area. Standiford likes to compare and contrast the sizes and styles of the mansions as he offers background about their owners. For readers who never tire of reading about extreme wealth, the book will hold endless fascination. Others, however, may lose interest partway through. Unsurprisingly, Standiford offers a negative portrayal of Trump, chronicling his controversial purchase and the many ugly battles that ensued.
During this era of extreme income inequality, much of the narrative is antiquated and irrelevant except for the Trump connection.