The recently opened Sunnylands Retreat in Palm Springs was without a doubt, the highlight of my week.
I had been reading a lot about Walter and Leonore Annenberg's west coast retreat in the early months of this year. There has been no shortage of press surrounding this incredible icon of mid-century design, its expansive grounds and art collection, or its historical significance. As soon as we decided to visit Palm Springs for spring break, I thought of Sunnylands (well actually no, I thought about Trina Turk's flagship store and then I thought about Sunnylands) and so I began making plans to book a tour. At 9am on March 15th, I sat at my laptop and continually pressed the refresh button on my browser until the April block of tickets opened up. I grabbed a midday slot ("Crap! That's high sun!), threw it in my basket, and in doing so, felt about 2 inches taller.
The weather was the best we had all week, and we were on a date. The only way it could have been any better is if our mothers could have been there with us. Those girls would have eaten this place up!
Now you have to realize that I was SO giddy by the time we arrived LATE, and the fact that we almost MISSED_OUR_TOUR (hi honey!!!) made the thrill of being there, that much more. Which is why I started snapping shots of anything in my path - starting with the totally adorable shuttle carts. Would you get a load of the fringe on top - too cute!
Now, if you look closely at the image above you will notice that we were the youngest people on our intimate tour, by about forty years. This was consistently the theme all day, all through the museum, in the cafe, all throughout the grounds, it was nothing but grandparents. And I don't totally understand that because it was such a neat place on so many levels.
Leaving the visitor's center, our incredibly well informed tour guide (more on her later), took us out onto the golf course and drove us out to the house's main entrance, and up the driveway, the way all the world leaders have entered Sunnylands over the past fifty years. Along the way, we learned that the Annenberg's had 680 olive trees planted - Walter's favorite - and that they were all stunted to be non-fruit bearing.
And then we stopped at first sight of the house.
Yes - it has a pink roof, and the roof matches an endlessly long pink cinder block fence around the property that some might say rivals the Great Wall of China. It is said that Leonore loved the color pink and that it reminded her of the color of Palm Spring's mountains at sunset. Just in case you were wondering. (I certainly was...)
From here, we could not take any interior shots of the house, but to see some great professional ones, go here. The only interior room we could not see was the kitchen. Apparently it's very plain and was never actually used by the Annenberg's anyway. (Harumph.)
OK - we're back outside again where I snapped a shot of Harry Bertoia's kinetic sculpture. (You will most certainly recognize some of Harry's other works of art.)
Like I said, our guide, a young girl still in college, was a wealth of information. There was not a single question asked of her over the course of an hour that she could not answer. She knew which guest room each of the former presidents preferred (for Regan it was the yellow room), she knew all of the names of every professional that had contributed to the retreat over fifty years and had endless little bits of trivia about the Annenbergs and their second home. When she took us into the game room, she told us how Leonore, the consummate host, always loved for there to be bowls of snacks out for her guests and how she always had to have a giant bowl of potato chips, which she had her butler comb for broken pieces and crumbs before serving. That's right - only intact chips for the guests of Sunnylands.
Leonore's rose garden, with all the First Ladies' designated flowers. I asked if she ever spent time in her rose garden. (She did not). The garden needed a lot of attention when we strolled it, but we still got to enjoy the incredible fragrance of these flowers. Who knew Barbara Bush smelled so sweet!
A rare shot of the two of us at the back yard, towards the end of our tour. (John Cougar Mellencamp's "Little Pink Houses" kept looping in my head. ;)
For me personally, the architecture and grounds at the newly built visitors center was what was most exciting, even more so than the original Annenberg's house. There were also two very distinct phases of landscape. There was the original landscape and golf course surrounding the house, which was nothing we haven't seen before, and then there was the new landscape and grounds surrounding the visitors center which to me, was pretty mind blowing.
We spent about an hour just strolling the grounds, and taking it all in. I love, LOVE the story behind the new installation. Landscape architect James Burnett drew design inspiration from van Gogh's Olive Grove painting, the first piece of art that the Annenbergs acquired together as a couple (remember how much Walter loved olive trees?). How cool is that?! You can see a digital reproduction of the painting right as you enter the residence. Most of their incredible collection was donated to the Met, who in turn, gifted them back with digital reproductions to rehang at Sunnylands.
I was admiring the signature shade of Sunnylands yellow, seen on this signage, when I realized that everything in the garden was blooming yellow as well! I asked if the garden blooms nothing but yellow all year around and learned that it does not, but that about every two weeks, the garden goes through an incredible transformation and a whole new set of colors comes into bloom.
Visit Sunnyland's incredible website to learn more about visiting the center. If you plan well and have a bit of luck on your side, you might even be able to book yourself a tour of the home itself. Good luck!