Some people are surprised to hear my wife Nancy and I talk about personally witnessing a wonderfully gracious and thoughtful private side of Donald J. Trump which is quite different from his public persona depicted most particularly in mainstream media portrayals.
To explain why, I'll begin this story at a time in the 1920s before Trump was even born. The setting is a sprawling upscale seaside Palm Beach, Florida Mar-a-Lago estate ("Sea to Lake" in Spanish) created by Post Cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post.
Located on a 17-acre site flanked by Lake Worth and the Atlantic, the main mansion was grandiose even by extravagant standards of Palm Beach gentry. It had 58 guest bedrooms, 33 bathrooms with gold-plated fixtures (easier to clean, Post believed), an 1,800 square-foot living room with 42-foot ceilings, and 110,000 square feet of luxurious interiors adorned with gold leaf, Spanish tiles, Italian marble and Venetian silks.
When finally completed in 1927, Mar-a-Lago had cost Marjorie Merriweather Post $7 million – more than $90 million in today's dollars.
Marjorie Post died in 1973, and in 1985 — after three potential sales collapsed — an enterprising New York real estate developer named Donald J. Trump purchased the property, along with all of its furnishings, for about $8 million.
By then, Palm Beach times and tastes had changed. The grand houses built in the 1920s became seen as "white elephants" and were razed in the '50s and '60s.
Still, Mar-a-Lago had survived.
Post had willed the property along with two others she owned to state government entities. Her Camp Topridge retreat in the Adirondacks was donated to the state of New York which added some acreage to a forest preserve but sold most of its 68 buildings to a private owner.
Marjorie's Washington, D.C. Hillwood estate was to be bequeathed to the Smithsonian Institution. Citing high maintenance costs, the Smithsonian returned it to the Post Foundation, which continues to operate it as a museum.
An original red leather-bound proposal to donate Mar-a-Lago to the State of Florida as a center for advanced scholars also fell through due to maintenance costs. Another "Plan B" offer to donate the property as a U.S. winter presidential White House property had been declined for the same reason.
Trump experienced a series of fierce encounters with the intransigent elite political Palm Beach establishment that began with a 1993 proposal to divide and sell part of the Mar-a-Lago property into eight residential lots. The town council rejected that plan.
Palm Beach attorney Paul Rampell then approached Trump with another idea — to convert Mar-a-Lago into a private club. However, that plan, like the first, would also require overcoming stiff town council opposition.
Unlike other prestigious clubs in the area that catered to the old order of wealthy "upper crust" Palm Beach society that had long barred Jews and African Americans, Mar-a-Lago was to be open to those of all races, religions and national origins.
A major culture clash reached a climax in December 1994 when Trump filed a $100 million lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Palm Beach alleging that the town discriminated against the Mar-a-Lago club plan, in part, because it was open to Jews and African Americans.
His attorney, Paul Rampell, also sent town council members a copy of the 1967 film "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" dealing upper-class racism. The movie starred Hollywood legends Sidney Poitier, Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.
As Abe Foxman, longtime head of the Anti-Defamation League observed: "Mr. Trump has reverted to the courts to secure his foothold here, and many residents wince at the attention his legal battles with the town have drawn — to the town in general, and to the admission practices at some of Palm Beach's older clubs in particular."
This is where Nancy's mother enters the story.
Gertrude Maxwell, a prominent Palm Beach social figure, national Save-a-Pet co-founder, and well-known animal rescue philanthropist, defended Trump's new plan before the town council.
The club opened in 1995, and he never forgot her support.
Trump's Mar-a-Lago precedent shattered long-held racially and ethnically-based membership barriers of other prestigious private organizations. Previously exclusionary clubs such as the Bath and Tennis Club and Sailfish Club began to admit Jewish patrons. The Palm Beach Civic Association that had quietly engaged in discriminatory behavior for many years even named a Jewish resident as its chief officer.
My family and I have since enjoyed various occasions to meet, witness and admire Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago: to enjoy cordial hospitality and convivial conversations with him and his stunningly-poised young daughter, Ivanka, at our Thanksgiving table; and to watch the big guy attentively dance and engage with my diminutive then-90-some-year-old Jewish mother-in-law at evening events.
That was several years ago, long before Trump likely thought much about trading in a lavishly free Palm Beach lifestyle for a politically-volatile low-paying government job.
Although Nancy and I plan to attend a Save-a-Pet charity event at Mar-a-Lago next month, we're sadly not counting on seeing The Donald there.
Have heard that he's been keeping very busy with other matters.
Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. He is the author of several books, including "Cyberwarfare: Targeting America, Our Infrastructure, and Our Future" (2020), "The Weaponization of AI and the Internet: How Global Networks of Infotech Overlords are Expanding Their Control Over Our Lives" (2019), "Reinventing Ourselves: How Technology is Rapidly and Radically Transforming Humanity" (2019), "Thinking Whole: Rejecting Half-Witted Left & Right Brain Limitations" (2018), "Reflections on Oceans and Puddles: One Hundred Reasons to be Enthusiastic, Grateful and Hopeful" (2017), "Cosmic Musings: Contemplating Life Beyond Self" (2016), "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015) and "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax" (2011). He is currently working on a new book with Buzz Aldrin, "Beyond Footprints and Flagpoles." To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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