Before Sunnylands, There Was Sunny-Lands

Sunnylands, Rancho Mirage, CA

Walter and Leonore Annenberg’s Rancho Mirage estate Sunnylands, favorite repose of the Reagans, Queen Elizabeth II, Richard Nixon (who fled here in disgrace directly from Washington), and Truman Capote (!), will open on March 1 as a “west coast Camp David,” the Times Adam Nagourney reported yesterday.

The 25,000 square foot jewel of mid-century modern architecture sits on a 200 acre estate with hundreds of olive trees and 11 man-made lakes.

Just a few years gone (Walter died in 2002, Leonore in 2009), it’s almost possible to forget that Walter’s father Moses (Moe or M.L.), the Hearst-trained publisher of the Daily Racing Form, seeded a media empire here by purchasing the Inquirer in 1936. M.L. turned the moribund paper around by eschewing (at least temporarily) the paper’s long-standing conservatism in favor of hard-hitting journalism and the New Deal. “A newspaper isn’t living up to its real power in a community unless it does something,” he told his editors. “A paper that isn’t willing to stand up and fight for rights and happiness and health, the general welfare, of the community which supports it, isn’t worth printing, and it certainly isn’t worth owning. I want the Inquirer to the be the eyes and the voice, and if need be, the good hard fists of the citizens of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.”

As he rebuilt the paper, M.L.–who would soon enough go to prison for tax evasion–often had his editors over to his suite at the Warwick, on 17th Street, where he kept his mistress Gertrude Boze (and gave her a quite ample salary of $150 week). Those editors were also treated to weekends at the original Sunnylands, on 5,000 acres near Milford, Pa., in the Poconos. Part of the estate was Big Log Tavern Lake, site of the drowning of Thomas Mitten, chairman of the Philadelphia rapid transit company and the estate’s previous owner.


View Larger Map

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine. Popkin's literary criticism appears in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Kenyon Review, and The Millions. He is writer-in-residence of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.



Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
A Royal Loss On South Street

A Royal Loss On South Street

February 24, 2017  |  Last Light

In the midst of demolition, Michael Bixler takes a walk inside the brittle bones of the Royal Theater with this photo essay > more

Urban Decay As American As Beer And Apple Pie

Urban Decay As American As Beer And Apple Pie

February 21, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

The Shadow taps into Philly beer history and frozen pie trivia at the old Adam Scheidt Brewing Company plant on North 9th Street > more

Unlisted Philadelphia: Atlantic Snuff Company

Unlisted Philadelphia: Atlantic Snuff Company

February 17, 2017  |  Unlisted Philadelphia

Architectural illustrator Ben Leech spotlights unique and significant buildings not protected on the local register with his series, Unlisted Philadelphia. In this installment, a High Victorian in Chinatown that's still up to snuff > more

Inside The Empty, Gilded Halls Of Elkins Estate

Inside The Empty, Gilded Halls Of Elkins Estate

February 16, 2017  |  Last Light

Photographer Kris Catherine gives an exclusive look inside the opulent mansions of Elkins Estate > more

Dial Up For The Latest Election News

Dial Up For The Latest Election News

February 14, 2017  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Harry K. dials up the Evening Telegraph Information Bureau, a pilot communications service in 1905 that provided Keystone Telephone customers with news and information at a moment's notice > more

La Salle University Threatens Germantown Landmarks

La Salle University Threatens Germantown Landmarks

February 9, 2017  |  Soapbox

On Friday, the Historical Commission will consider legal protections for two historic Germantown homes. Owners La Salle University will oppose the nominations to retain their right to demolition. Arielle Harris makes a case for saving these two Wister family properties and reveals La Salle's long tradition of razing neighborhood landmarks > more