A Purely Modernist Estate
In the mid-1960s, Walter and Leonore Annenberg hired Los Angeles-based architect A. Quincy Jones (1913-1979) to create a midcentury modern residence in Rancho Mirage. Jones, who for many years was dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Southern California, was known both for designs that integrated houses into the landscape and for "statement roofs." His signature style is evident at Sunnylands, where he used overhangs to shield the interiors from the direct sun, plus walls of glass to allow the climate's brightness to fill the rooms. Leonore Annenberg's deep love of flowers and nature is reflected in the cactus and rose gardens that abut the house and terrace. Interior rooms flow into each other with the same open expansiveness as the surrounding landscape.
As with most midcentury modern buildings, the house's architectural structure is exposed rather than hidden. Trellises, steel beams, and coffered ceilings are all evident. Mexican lava stone walls that were hung with the Annenberg Collection of art create a bold style. And that statement roof? An iconic pink pyramid. The color was chosen in accordance with Leonore Annenberg's wish to match the sunset glow on nearby foothills.
See or download a brochure about the historic house here.
"Traditionally, great estates have been built in historic styles," explains Los Angeles architect Frederick Fisher. "So it was a bold move on the part of the Annenbergs to bring in a modernist architect to design Sunnylands, one of the great and arguably the only purely modernist estate in the United States."
A Casual Family Home
When welcoming Queen Elizabeth to his house during her 1983 visit, Walter Annenberg announced she would "see how ordinary Americans live." From 1966 to 2009, Sunnylands was where the Annenbergs lived at least five months every year.
The interiors were designed by William Haines and Ted Graber, known for decorating the Reagan White House and for popularizing the Hollywood Regency style. Leonore Annenberg's love of yellow and pink is seen in the choice of hues for the home's marble floors and guest wing suites. The main living area was arranged with casual groupings of tables, chairs, and low sofas, encouraging intimate conversation. Lunch often was enjoyed in the game room adjacent to the pool, while dinners were served in the formal dining room. The Annenbergs and their friends watched movies on a large screen, teed off on the estate's private nine-hole golf course, or simply played one of Walter and Leonore's favorite games: backgammon.
Many key figures of the 20th century enjoyed relaxing as guests at Sunnylands. The list includes seven U.S. presidents, the British royal family, and Hollywood icons like Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Stewart, Ginger Rogers, and many others.
The Annenberg tradition of being gracious hosts and extraordinary philanthropists extended to their final gift of Sunnylands to the public.