‘Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago, and Rise of America’s Xanadu’


Les Standiford, Atlantic Monthly Press, 288 pages, $27. Les Standiford, author of a book about Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, traces the history of Palm Beach and its epic cast of characters — from Henry Flagler, who laid the railway and built the Breakers to Marjorie Merriweather Post, a cereal heiress and philanthropist who built the 115-room Mar-a-Lago. Palm Beach helped redefine class in America, Standiford observes in a new book that will appeal to nose-pressed-against-the-glass readers. Once upon a time, status was predicated on lineage and ancestors who had arrived on the Mayflower. That was before celebrity “became the new imprimatur of consequence.” Palm Beach made Newport, R.I., stale upper crust. For social cachet without the prerequisite of pedigree, up-and-coming Americans looked to Palm Beach, which has welcomed the duke and duchess of Windsor, King Hussein of Jordan and the pornographer Larry Flynt. Buying Mar-a-Lago and its furnishings for $8 million in 1985 was President Donald Trump’s ticket to Palm Beach. Post had bequeathed the property to the National Park Service in 1973 for use as a winter White House, but in 1981 Congress returned it to the Post Foundation as too expensive to maintain. It was put on the market and Trump snapped it up. Now, of course, it’s a private club, with a portrait of Post on a wall in the former library, across from a younger version of the current proprietor in tennis gear. Trump also recently filed it as his current residence.