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June 07, 2013

Xi and Obama at "haven for presidents and monarchs, stars and tycoons"

President Obama and China's President Xi Jinping arrive later today for two days of meetings at a California retreat with a history of hosting presidents -- for parties, golf and even official business.

White House officials said Sunnylands, the Calfornia estate built for the late publisher Walter Annenberg and his wife, Lee, has been used for presidential meetings, "dating back to President Eisenhower" and provides what one senior official called the "really perfect venue for the type of discussions" Obama wants to have with Xi.

A Vanity Fair spread on the 200-acre estate last April -- as it was seeking to become "the Camp David of the West," opens with a quote from former First Lady Nancy Reagan, extolling the New Year's Eve dinner dance parties that the Annenbergs used to throw at the "plush" estate in Rancho Mirage, near Palm Springs.

"They were wonderful parties. People came from all over: London, Paris, New York—everywhere."

Among those who made the cut, according to VF, Brooke Astor, David Rockefeller, Malcolm Forbes, Bob Hope, Dinah Shore, Betsy Bloomingdale, "and nearly the entire top rung of the Reagan administration, including Secretary of State George Shultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, National-Security Adviser Colin Powell, and White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker. The Reagans attended 18 times between 1974 and 1993, including all eight years that he was president."

The piece -- and accompanying photo spread -- notes that six other presidents were also guests at Sunnylands, starting with Eisenhower, "who liked to play golf on the estate’s nine-hole course and fish in its 11 man-made lakes, which would be amply stocked with bass and trout before his visits. Shortly after the 1968 election, a victorious Richard Nixon spent a weekend with the Annenbergs and told Walter he’d like him to be his ambassador to Great Britain; six years later, after resigning the presidency in disgrace, Nixon retreated behind Sunnylands' eight-foot-high pink stucco walls. After Gerald Ford left the White House, he and Betty built a home in Rancho Mirage and became very close to Walter and Lee. George H. W. Bush hosted an official dinner for Japanese prime minister Toshiki Kaifu at Sunnylands in 1990. Bill and Hillary Clinton were there for Valentine’s Day in 1995, and George and Laura Bush made separate visits, in 2000 and 2004, respectively."


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