Trump’s trips focus attention on wealthy Palm Beach
Palm Beach, Fla. — When Donald Trump arrives at his Mar-a-Lago resort for Thanksgiving, it won’t be the first time a president-elect has used Palm Beach as his vacation refuge.
John Kennedy’s family estate, known during his term as the Winter White House, is seven miles north at the other end of Ocean Drive. Like Kennedy’s visits, Trump’s trips to Palm Beach will bring increased attention, some unwanted, to this wealthy enclave of about 10,000 people, a number that triples in the winter.
The new president’s stays will also bring road closures and heightened security when the caravan of Secret Service agents, political aides, journalists and medical personnel arrives and departs Palm Beach. The community sits on a long, thin barrier island with narrow streets and only three bridges to the mainland. In 1960, a would-be assassin planned to kill Kennedy there.
But unlike with Kennedy, the government will not have to build Trump a bomb shelter. He already has three. A closer look at the community and the president-elect’s place in it:
Palm Beach is quiet, and residents like it that way. Earlier this year, the town went to court to block a planned march by farmworkers to the home of Wendy’s fast-food Chairman Norman Peltz. Town officials wanted to ban the use of loudspeakers. A judge approved their use, but told marchers they had to stay on the sidewalks.
With Trump as president, more protests are likely, although the area around Mar-a-Lago isn’t inviting. The club sits on a busy stretch of road with limited sidewalks.
The town is also rich. It has Florida’s 10th highest median household income at $105,700, according to census data. Conservative commentators Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, former New York Mayor and Trump confidante Rudy Giuliani and entertainers Howard Stern and Jimmy Buffett are among the celebrities with homes there.
“Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, I am sure the residents of the Town of Palm Beach will take this as a great honor,” Mayor Gail Coniglio said. “We will all accept (Trump’s visits) with gentility.”
The community remains much like it was in Kennedy’s era, said Debi Murray, chief curator of the Historical Society of Palm Beach. The business district is still home to upscale shops, boutiques and restaurants, and the shoreline boasts exclusive resorts. And residents still don’t like “lookie-loos.”
Murray said one difference is that residents today are worried Trump’s visits could make the town a target for terrorism.
“It’s a more dangerous world we live in,” she said.
Attempt on Kennedy’s life
Domestic terrorism nearly claimed Kennedy in December 1960, a month before he took office.
Richard Pavlick, a 73-year-old retired New Hampshire postal worker who hated Catholics, planned to kill Kennedy in a suicide-bomb attack as the president-elect stayed in Palm Beach to prepare for his inauguration. Pavlick loaded his 1950 Buick with dynamite and parked near St. Edward Church, intending to detonate the car as Kennedy arrived for Mass.
He later told police he decided to temporarily spare Kennedy when he saw Jacqueline Kennedy and their children with him. A former colleague figured out the plan from postcards Pavlick had sent him. The colleague then alerted the Secret Service, and Pavlick was arrested a few days later as he re-entered town, seven sticks of dynamite still in his car. He spent seven years in mental hospitals.
When Trump bought Mar-a-Lago for $10 million from the estate of cereal tycoon Marjorie Merriweather Post in 1985, he was not greeted warmly by everyone in town. He was seen as brash, nouveau riche and a limelight seeker, not genteel, quiet old-money like his neighbors. After the town rejected his plan to subdivide Mar-a-Lago’s grounds and build up to 10 mini-mansions, he converted the property into a club in 1995 to bring in revenue. The property is now believed to be worth more than $100 million.
Trump and his neighbors have battled over the years about noise emanating from his grounds and over a car-lot sized U.S. flag and its 80-foot pole that he erected in 2006 without the proper permits. The two sides eventually settled. Trump got his pole, and his foundation gave $100,000 to veteran charities.
The stepped-up security
Former Secret Service agents Dan Bongino and Arnette Heintze say Trump’s neighbors should expect some security-related disruptions such as the possible construction of a helipad, but it shouldn’t be too stressful.
“Mar-a-Lago is a Secret Service agent’s dream to secure. It is everything you would want,” Bongino said. “You have limited access and a really exclusive enclave where people who don’t live down there will generally stick out pretty quickly.”
Mar-a-Lago’s members, who pay a $100,000 initiation fee and $14,000 annual dues, can expect to walk through metal detectors and have their cars and luggage sniffed by bomb dogs when Trump is there. Still, Bongino and Heintze said, Secret Service agents will do their best to allow the resort to operate near normalcy while still protecting Trump.
“Look at when the president visits the Waldorf Astoria in New York. There are a lot of people who live there,” Heintze said. “They aren’t thrown out.”
Berndt Lembke, Mar-a-Lago’s general manager, did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment from The Associated Press. He told the Palm Beach Daily News that guests won’t notice anything different unless Trump is present.
“He’s mostly here for Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Easter, when it’s mostly just members,” he told the Daily News.
The bomb shelters
One thing Trump will have in common with Kennedy when in Palm Beach is access to a fallout shelter.
When Kennedy became president, the military took 10 days to build a secret nuclear shelter and command post on nearby Peanut Island in case World War III broke out. Today, it’s a tourist attraction.
Mar-a-Lago is said to have three bomb shelters.