Palm Springs in the 1960s was the place to be -- not just for Frank Sinatra and martini-drinking movie stars, but also for Queen Elizabeth II and many Commanders-in-Chief.
The diplomats and dignitaries didn't visit just any fancy hotel or sprawling golf course. Instead, they spent their time at Sunnylands, the Rancho Mirage home of Ambassador and Mrs. Annenberg. Guests of the home have included seven U.S. Presidents, the British Royal family, Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, and yes, even Frank Sinatra.
Now, fifty years after the modernist A. Quincy Jones estate was built, The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands has been gifted to the public as a museum, comprising a visitor center and expansive gardens. It will also continue to serve as a retreat for high-level national and world leaders.
On view in the visitor center will be the Annenberg family's silver-gilt collection, six major pieces of sculpture, a 3D film on the construction of the house, and a twenty-minute film titled "A Place Called Sunnylands" on the history of the property. For an additional fee, guests can take a 90-minute tour of the historic estate, which includes the private residence, the Room of Memories, the guest wing and guest cottages, the golf course, and the pink mausoleum where Ambassador and Mrs. Annenberg are interred.
The Huffington Post spoke with Geoffrey Cowan, President of The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, to find out more about this unique, public territory.
Huffington Post: What were your first thoughts upon hearing of the Trustees' choice to elect you as President of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands?
Geoff Cowan: I thought it was a terrific opportunity to really do something quite wonderful with a spectacular estate, a great tradition and a great mission.
HP: As President of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, how do you plan on continuing the Annenberg's intentions and dreams of the estate?
GC: It's a wonderful place to come experience a really spectacular garden and a beautiful center that talks a lot about history, midcentury modernism and the sustainability of an estate like this.
It is a museum and a garden which is wonderful for visitors. I think we'll use that for all sorts of terrific purposes. And then there is the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands, which is the major function for which this was left. That will obviously evolve over time. There are other great retreat centers in the world and we hope that this will become one of them and have its own unique role.
HP: Sunnylands is being heralded as the West Coast's Camp David -- what has the response been from national and foreign dignitaries and diplomats?
So far it's been terrific. Obviously since we're just opening, we're at the very beginning of it. The people that we've talked to from the State Department and the White House were very excited about it. We're talking to people in the Speaker's office and also the Supreme Court, but the kinds of meetings that will take place there will often be ones that occur at the last minute.
HP: Do you think it's difficult to reconcile the private nature of the diplomatic meetings and the public nature of the visitors center and gardens?
First of all, we've tried to learn from other retreat centers that have that kind of a mix. To give you one example: The White House. People usually don't think of it as a museum, but it is and tours are going through there all the time. And you have the nation's business going on in there.
HP: What are your hopes for Sunnylands, and how do you see it evolving over the next decade and beyond?
Well, somewhat in a joking fashion, I sometimes say that I know we'll have succeeded when we have had a conference that declares world peace.
I think that we'll know it's a success when we have the kind of high-level meetings that took place there in the past and that the Annenbergs dreamed would take place in the future. When we provide for the people that go to those kinds of meetings the kind of hospitality that was the tradition of the Annenbergs. And when the people that come to this estate -- this spectacular estate -- are learning not just about the history of the past, but to see the exciting things from this current era of events.
This interview has been edited for length.
Tickets to visit The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands are sold out for the month of March, but can be purchased starting March 15, 2012 for April visitation.