This is the tale of two homes.
They are just a handful of miles apart on the oceanfront road in the town of Palm Beach.
One has its own name – Mar-a-Lago – and is now the weekend White House and a Situation Room that comes with dinner guests for President Donald Trump. And it’s also a private club with a $200,000 price tag to become a member.
The other was simply known as the Kennedy home and was the occasional retreat for President John Kennedy, his parents and his siblings, and later where his widowed mother, Rose, spent much of her time.
In the early 1970s, I had the opportunity to see both up close. I was editor of the Palm Beach Post, a newspaper that served the large geographic and economically diverse Palm Beach County – home to some of America’s richest men and women, as well as some of America’s poorest and most ill-treated migrant workers.
Mar-a-Lago was built by Marjorie Meriwether Post, the cereal heiress and her then husband, financier E.F. Hutton. For years it was the center of the social scene on this barrier island.
There are multiple billionaires who either live there or visit often, as well as a long list of multimillionaires. Worth Avenue is the town’s Rodeo Drive, and Rolls Royces and Bentleys are common modes of transportation.
I often thought of it as Brigadoon, the mystical village in the Scottish Highlands. Or as Webster defines Brigadoon, “a place that is idyllic, unaffected by time, or remote from reality.”
And Post’s home defied reality.
Her estate manager gave me a tour after the end of the social season and after Post had departed.
Fifty-eight bedrooms, 33 bathrooms, a 29-foot marble dining table, a ballroom, a golf course in the backyard, and on and on.
When she died in 1973, Post left the estate to the U.S. government with the hope that presidents and foreign dignitaries would use it. But Richard Nixon preferred his home in Key Biscayne. Jimmy Carter liked going back to Plains, Ga. Ronald Reagan loved California. And the taxes and upkeep were expensive. So the government sold it in 1985 to Trump for $8 million.
Joseph Kennedy bought the Palm Beach family compound in 1933 for $105,000, plus $15,000 for the lot next door, which created 200 feet of beachfront property.
It had 11 bedrooms, 12 bathrooms and a few half-baths, a lot of shared space, a pool and tennis court. But all you could see from the street was the perimeter wall and the large wooden door.
In early 1972, Sen. Ted Kennedy still harbored aspirations about a run for the presidency. And he agreed to an interview during a short Florida vacation.
The first thing I saw when entering the house was the piano covered with family pictures. I knew right away that this was a lived-in home where parents and sons and daughters shared love and laughter, sadness and the searing pain of loss; where they could not escape the memory of one of the most atrocious acts in our history, the assassination of a president, of a son and brother, and the closing of Camelot for millions.
It was here where John Kennedy had worked on his memorable inaugural address, which included this call to us all, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” He also wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Profiles in Courage,” there. And it’s where he spent the weekend before heading to Dallas on that infamous November day.
Ted Kennedy, fresh from a swim, welcomed me into a large, bright, cheerful family room and immediately introduced his three children, Ted Jr., Kara and Patrick. As they walked off, Patrick, who was about 5 years old, was summoned back by his dad.
“Patrick,” the senator said, “shake hands with Mr. Favre again. When you shake hands with someone you look them in the eyes.” I knew then Patrick was another Kennedy destined for political office.
The home was sold in 1995, along with its furnishing, for almost $5 million. It was sold again in 2015 for about $31 million.
Welcome to Brigadoon.
Gregory Favre is the former executive editor of The Sacramento Bee and retired vice president of news for The McClatchy Co. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.