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Dignitaries Usher in New Era For Sunnylands

The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands has hosted seven U.S. Presidents, the British royal family and Hollywood celebrities, and in March parts of it will be open to the public.

Rancho Mirage has long been known as a playground for Presidents, and now global leaders have a new venue to meet up and advance world peace at the private estate of Walter and Leonore Annenberg.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and Rep. David Dreier were among the leaders who dedicated the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands during a ceremony Sunday morning on the lavish grounds, which had previously been hidden from the public behind pink walls.

“They built this magnificent place as a tribute to the idea of human freedom and personal liberty,” Kennedy said with the backdrop of the estate's 18-hole golf course behind him.

Some 300 local residents, friends of the Annenbergs and state and local officials marked the opening of Sunnylands as a place where Presidents, the bipartisan leadership of Congress and other global leaders can meet to advance the cause of world peace.

Fifteen acres of the property, including a visitors center and some of the gardens, will be open to the public starting March 1, a move that the family was happy to make.

“Absolutely, we want to share it,” Wallis Annenberg said, adding that the ceremony brought tears to her eyes.

Annenberg – the daughter of Walter Annenberg – said seeing the grounds brought back memories.

"It's like a rebirth, a starting over, with a message, I think, as the congressman and chief justice said, a message of bringing people together for the purpose of dialogue in the most beautiful setting imaginable in the city of Rancho Mirage,” she said.

Diane Deshong, the eldest of Leonore Annenberg's daughters, her two children, Leonore and Howard, as well as Elizabeth Kabler and her daughter Liz, were also in attendance.

Secretary of State George P. Shultz also showed his support. However, Gov. Jerry Brown was not able to make it, nor did Rep. Mary Bono Mack, who is expecting a grandchild. 

A place for international agreement

During his speech, Kennedy outlined his hopes for Sunnylands and declared his belief that Americans have allowed civic discourse to fall into disrepair.

“We must remember that a dialogue that is necessary to define ourselves to state our purpose to inspire the rest of the world, is a dialogue that is civil, decent, rational, intelligent, elegance and powerful. The Annenbergs understood that. The Annenbergs had Sunnylands for that purpose,” he said.

After the dedication, Kennedy told Patch that he hopes that leaders will use Sunnylands for good.

“We need venues and people who will commit to looking at long term problems in a rational way. We can’t go on with partisan back fighting. We can’t all sound like judicial decisions. We need something more dynamic than that. We still need to have decency and respect and tolerance and a good conversation,” Kennedy said.

During the service, Dreier, R-San Dimas, praised the Annenberg Foundation Trust for its work to open Sunnylands, adding that new ideas can emerge when distractions are stripped away.

"It's hard to imagine a challenge too intractable, problem too entrenched, a conflict too intense to be resolved by spending just a little time here at Sunnylands. We can only speculate on which international crisis might have been averted if the key players could have meet quietly at this stunningly beautiful place," Dreier said.

He added that Sunnylands perfectly displays the Annenberg's legacy through "art, architecture and the environment."

Local anticipation

Among the 300 attendees at the event, which part of Modernism Week in nearby Palm Springs, were several local council members and mayors.

Councilwoman Iris Smotrich said that Sunnylands will help raise the city of Rancho Mirage onto an international stage and help the entire Coachella Valley.

"It's going to bring a lot of visitors and a lot of revenue," Smotrich said. " ... It will bring people who will realize that the desert is not just a desert of sand and cactus. It's green, it's beautiful and it has so much to offer culturally and educationally."

Anne Phillips, Director of Programs and Education for the Tolerance Center in Rancho Mirage, said she has been eagerly anticipating the opening of Sunnylands.

"It's been fun to drive by to work for the past two and a half years and see the progress with the gardens," Phillips said.

IF YOU GO: Sunnylands Center & Garden is free and open to the public Thursdays through Sundays starting March 1, 2012. Tours of the estate and residence will be available when there are no retreats scheduled on the property. The cost of tours are $35. For more information, visit sunnylands.org.

Tully February 13, 2012 at 07:01 PM
After wintering in the desert for many years, it will be lovely to finally see beyond the bushes to a significant, and historic, bit of California's history.

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