Sunnylands, 1966, Home of the Rich and Famous

01
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The Annenberg Residence, Rancho Mirage

Mid-century modern house in southern California is reflected in a pond on the property.
Sunnylands Estate by architect A. Quincy Jones, 1966, winter home of Walter and Leonore Annenberg. Sunnylands Press Photo Ned Redway © January 2012 The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands

Walter and Leonore Annenberg wanted to escape the Pennsylvania winters, but they refused to be isolated. Their southern California winter retreat has seen international royalty as well as U.S. presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush. High-ranking government officials, Supreme Court justices, and many Hollywood celebrities have stayed in the guest rooms throughout the historic estate. Bill Gates, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and Arnold Palmer all may have crossed paths at the Annenberg's invitation. Walter and Lee loved to entertain, and they had a great winter residence to accommodate their gatherings.

Architect A. Quincy Jones was commissioned in 1963 to design the estate located in Rancho Mirage, near Palm Springs, California. Completed in 1966, the 25,000-square-foot house on 200 acres was the $5 million winter home of Walter Annenberg and his second wife, Leonore, from 1966-2009. After her death, the house  was restored in 2011, including seismic retrofitting of the house and estate, and opened to the public in 2012.

It's considered a fine example of Mid-century Modern Contemporary architecture, yet it's signature roof—a Mayan-style pink pyramid—is an expression of its occupants. Today it is used to inform the public about midcentury modernism, although it is still used as a retreat (see Annenberg Retreats) for the rich and famous.

Who was Walter Annenberg?

  • 1908: born in Wisconsin
  • 1942: inherited a publishing empire, including The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Daily Racing Form, from his father, Moses
  • 1944: created Seventeen magazine
  • 1953: created TV Guide magazine
  • 1958: funded the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania
  • 1969: appointed ambassador to Great Britain by President Richard M. Nixon
  • 1971: funded the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California
  • 1988: sold Seventeen and TV Guide to Rupert Murdoch
  • 2002: died in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania; at rest with Leonore (1918-2009) in a pink mausoleum on the grounds of Sunnylands

Related Books:

Sunnylands: Art and Architecture of the Annenberg Estate in Rancho Mirage, California, David G. De Long (ed.), University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009
Buy on Amazon

A. Quincy Jones by Cory Buckner, Phaïdon Press, 2002
Buy on Amazon

A. Quincy Jones: Building for Better Living by Brooke Hodge for the Hammer Museum Exhibition, 2013
Buy on Amazon

Sources: Sunnylands at a Glance at sunnylands.org/page/74/fact-sheet; Historic Estate at sunnylands.org/page/3/historic-estate; "Walter Annenberg, 94, Dies; Philanthropist and Publisher" by Grace Glueck, New York Times, October 02, 2002 at www.nytimes.com/2002/10/02/arts/walter-annenberg-94-dies-philanthropist-and-publisher.htm; "Touring California with architect A. Quincy Jones" by Cory Buckner on the Eichler Network; [Websites accessed February 14, 2013]. Pacific Coast Architecture Database (PCAD) [accessed February 13, 2013]. "The Annenberg Retreat At Sunnylands Dedicated February 2012" Press Release at sunnylands.org/page/131/press-kit [accessed February 18, 2013]

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Sunnylands Interior: Atrium

Interior atrium of a mid-century modern estate house in southern California
The Atrium of the Estate House at Sunnylands, Rancho Mirage, California. Press Photo by Graydon Wood © January 2012 The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands

Architect A. Quincy Jones freely used aspect of Frank Lloyd Wright's organic architecture ideas in the design of Sunnylands. The low, rambling residence becomes integrated within the landscape of southern California—the desert, the San Jacinto Mountains. The pink stucco exterior walls are often faced with eleven-foot lava-stone interior walls from Mexico, used as a backdrop to the Annenberg's fine art collection. An 1881 original casting by Auguste Rodin adorns the center of the atrium, as the eye wanders to the living room beyond.

Earthy marble flooring bring natural elements to interior living spaces. The geometric coffered ceilings are reminiscent of the work of early modernist architect Louis Kahn—especially his work with Anne Griswold Tyng.

William Haines and Ted Graber, a popular design team of the day, assisted Mrs. Annenberg with the interiors. Color choices reflect not only the preferences of the residents, but also the vibrant, bright pinks and yellows popular in 1966 Rancho Mirage, California.

Sources: The Center at sunnylands.org/page/21/the-center; Historic Estate at sunnylands.org/page/3/historic-estate [Websites accessed February 14, 2013]

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Sunnylands Interior: Living Room

Midcentury modern living area with large windows bringing the sunny outdoors inside.
Interior living area of the original house at Sunnylands, Rancho Mirage. Press Photo by Graydon Wood © January 2012 The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands

Outdoor overhangs and eaves provide natural shading over the large, floor-to-ceiling glass walls of the living area of Sunnylands. Trellises, exposed steel beams, and coffered ceilings make the Annenberg estate a model of modernism, while natural lighting and cooling features remind us of organic architecture and Frank Lloyd Wright. Mrs. Annenberg's love of flamingo pink and canary yellow bring modernity to architectural earth tones.

Walter and Leonore Annenberg hosted many Hollywood celebrities as well as world leaders while wintering at Sunnylands. The historic 1966 house, designed by A. Quincy Jones, has 10 bedrooms in addition to the master bedroom suite. The property also has three cottages designed by Jones: Mesquite, Ocotillo, and Palo Verde Cottages provide 12 more guest rooms. The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands stipulates the use of the estate. The modernist house is open to the public when not in use as a retreat for world leaders and dignitaries.

The Annenbergs chose the interior design team of William Haines and Ted Graber to punctuate the architectural design of A. Quincy Jones. The house still features many original furniture designs by decorator William Haines.

Sources: Historic Estate at sunnylands.org/page/3/historic-estate; Retreat Facilities at sunnylands.org/page/52/retreat-facilities [Sunnylands website accessed February 14, 2013]

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Sunnylands Golf Course at Rancho Mirage

A bridge crosses a stream on the golf course overlooking the southern California mountains.
Views of the mountains from a Chinese Pavilion on the golf course at Sunnylands in Southern California. Sunnylands Press Photo © January 2012 The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands

In the early 1960s, architect A. Quincy Jones first enlisted landscape architect Emmet Wemple to develop the Annenberg's desert land in Rancho Mirage. The setting, overlooking the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains, was perfect—surround Jones' mid-century modern palatial residence with a nine-hole golf course, three cottages, a dozen lakes, and a tennis court. Generously sprinkle with olive and eucalyptus trees, and stock the lakes with catfish and large-mouth bass.

Golf course architect Louis Sibbett "Dick" Wilson soon took over from Wemple, and the pastoral recreational setting became a desert oasis for the Annenbergs and their guests. Between 1966 and 2009, the Annenbergs hosted an array of presidents, prime ministers, and professional golfers—private lessons from the likes of Raymond Floyd, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, and Tom Watson would have been a treat for any visiting dignitary or celebrity. Between 2008 and 2012, the Annenberg Trust spent over $60 million to restore and update the Sunnylands property, including $25.5 million to restore the original estate, cottages, and the golf course.

About Sunnylands Golf Course:

Size: 9-18 hole, par 72 private course with driving range
Area of Greens: average 8,000 to 9,000 square feet
Designer: Dick Wilson in 1964; restored by Tim Jackson and David Kahn in 2011
First president to tee off: Dwight D. Eisenhower
Art: Kwakiutl totem pole by Canadian artist Henry Hunt
Conservation: upgraded irrigation system in 2011 for efficiency and environmental sustainability; approximately 60 acres of turf grass were replaced with meadow grass and mulch to reduce water use
Current Use: recreation for participants of Annenberg Retreats at Sunnylands

Sources: Sunnylands at a Glance at sunnylands.org/page/74/fact-sheet; Retreat Facilities at sunnylands.org/page/52/retreat-facilities; Sunnylands Golf Course at sunnylands.org/page/19/golf [accessed February 17-19, 2013]

05
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About A. Quincy Jones (1913-1979)

Small room, modern 1960s furniture, geometric ceiling of sunken panels, many, many pictures.
Jones-designed coffered ceiling, Room of Memories at Sunnylands. Press photo by Graydon Wood ©2012 The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands

Archibald Quincy Jones (born April 29, 1913, Kansas City, Missouri) was one of several midcentury architects who took advantage of southern California's postwar building boom. Jones' sensitivity to neighborhood community development and his interest in organic architecture contributed not only to his success with housing tract developers, but also to developing a relationship with the very wealthy Annenbergs.

Note that the white American architect A. Quincy Jones is NOT the same person as the well-known Black American music composer and record producer, Quincy Jones, although both artists are well-known in Southern California. The architect died August 3, 1979 in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 66.

Education and Training:

  • 1931-1936: BArch, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
  • 1936-1937: draftsman for Douglas Honnold
  • 1937-1939: designer for Burton A. Schutt
  • 1939-1940: designer for Paul R. Williams
  • 1940-1942: Allied Engineers, Inc. in San Pedro, California, with Frederick E. Emmons
  • 1942-1945: U.S. Navy

Professional Experiences:

  • 1945-1950: principal, A. Qunicy Jones, Architects
  • 1947-1951: Smith, Jones and Contini, Associated Architects
  • 1956: registered architect in Arizona, California, and Texas
  • 1951-1969: partner, A. Quincy Jones and Frederick E. Emmons
  • 1975-1979: Professor and Dean of School of Architecture, USC

Selected Architecture:

  • 1947-1951, Mutual Housing Association (MHA), Crestwood Hills tract housing, Brentwood, Lost Angeles, California
  • 1954, Jones House, Brentwood, steel-frame residential structure
  • 1954, Greenmeadow Community, an Eichler development, Palo Alto, CA
  • 1955-1956: Eichler Steel House X-100, San Mateo, California (CA)
  • 1966: Sunnylands, the Annenberg Estate at Rancho Mirage, CA
  • 1971: Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California (USC), Los Angeles, CA

Related People:

  • Elaine Kollins Sewell Jones (1917-2010), public relations consultant and Jones' wife
  • Edgardo Contini and Whitney Rowland Smith, designed Mutual Housing Association Tract in Brentwood, Los Angeles, CA
  • Joseph Eichler, designed houses for California developer between 1951-1974
  • Frederick E. Emmons, partner during the Eichler years
  • Walter and Leonore Annenberg, philanthropists, patrons, and owners of Sunnylands

Concepts and Designs Associated with Jones:

  • connecting indoor and outdoor spaces with glass walls
  • coffered ceilings, often extended as outdoor overhangs
  • steel residential structures
  • greenbelts
  • planned residential community design, New Urbanism
  • midcentury modernism

Significant Awards:

  • 1950: Builder's House of the Year, Architectural Forum magazine, December 1950, began the Jones-Eichler relationship
  • 1960: Fellow, American Institute of Architects (FAIA)

Learn More:

  • A. Quincy Jones: The Oneness of Architecture by A. Quincy Jones
    Buy on Amazon
  • A. Quincy Jones: Building for Better Living by Brooke Hodge, 2013
    Buy on Amazon
  • A. Quincy Jones by Cory Buckner, Phaïdon Press, 2002
    Buy on Amazon
  • Residential Architecture in Southern California by Southern California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, 1939 reprint
    Buy on Amazon
  • Midcentury Houses Today by Lorenzo Ottaviani, Jeffrey Matz, Cristina A. Ross, and Michael Biondo, 2014
    Buy on Amazon

Sources: "Touring California with architect A. Quincy Jones" by Cory Buckner, the Eichler Network; Pacific Coast Architecture Database (PCAD)—Jones, Archibald, Smith, Jones and Contini, Associated Architects, Emmons, Frederick, Eichler, Joseph [accessed February 21, 2013].