Around Town: Trump visit gives Palm Beach taste of life as winter White House

A Coast Guard gunboat patrols the Intracoastal Waterway west of Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.
Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

By Thom Smith

The Donald Trump presidency is expected to create the greatest security nightmare in history, let alone the history of the republic. Never before has any office holder anywhere had so many places to hang out: Trump Tower in New York, a 15-bedroom mansion on 230 acres in Bedford, N.Y., Trump Vineyard Estates in Charlottesville, Va., all the hotels (including Trump International — just down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House), not to mention  those golf courses. And of course, Mar-a-Lago.
     Built by Marjorie Merriweather Post in the ’20s, it is grand by any standards. When Post died in 1973, she deeded the estate to the nation, ostensibly to serve as a “winter White House.” A few years later, however, Uncle Sam gave it back to the Post foundation — too expensive to preserve and to protect.
     Enter Trump. He claimed he offered $28 million only to have it rejected. So in typical Trumpian style, he bought surrounding properties and squeezed the foundation, which in 1985 acquiesced. For the thrift-store price of $5 million for the estate plus $3 million for the furnishings, Post’s 58-bedroom, 33-bath dream became Trump’s reality.
    At the time he had only three kids, so what was he going to do with all those rooms?  He may not be the richest resident on Forbes’ list — at $4.5 billion, he’s in a 14-way tie for 324th — but a fundamental motivation for The Donald has always been money, the more flauntable and ostentatious the better.
    So he split it up: residence on one side, the Mar-a-Lago Club on the other.
      Reports list membership at more than 400, with a waiting list of people who will pay a reported $100,000 initiation fee  and $16,000 a year. Thousands more attend charity events in the ballroom every year.
But what changes ­outside and inside Mar-a-Lago’s walls will be implemented when “Mogul” (Trump’s Secret Service code name) is on site, as occurred Thanksgiving weekend.
     The Secret Service will not post “snipers” in the tower, as one local TV station reported. Sharpshooters is the more appropriate word, although their presence was presumed, not confirmed.  
    However, a mobile observation tower was positioned on the grounds, courtesy of the sheriff’s office. In Lake Worth, 25-foot Coast Guard Defender patrol boats armed with .50-caliber machine guns kept curious boaters at a distance.
     Palm Beach police and sheriff’s deputies established a perimeter. All traffic along Southern Boulevard was halted for Trump motorcades between Mar-a-Lago and the airport.
    Media crews set up reporting sites on the north shore of Bingham Island just east of the Southern bridge, and pedestrian traffic was restricted. Traffic along A1A, the only road passing by Mar-a-Lago and the only southern access to and from the island, moved at a snail’s pace.
    On the water, the Coast Guard and Secret Service established three security areas. The Atlantic Ocean zone extends 1,000 yards offshore from approximately Worth Avenue south to Ocean View Road. Boaters can pass through the zone at a steady speed. No stopping or even slowing. Don’t even think about fishing or diving.
    The same north-south boundaries and speed requirements apply in Lake Worth — the body of water, not the town — but traffic is permitted only on the western side, the Intracoastal Waterway east to Fisherman Island.
    The waters on the east side of the lake from Everglades Island to 1,000 yards south of the Southern Boulevard bridge are off limits to vessels and people.  No boats, no paddleboards, no swimmers.
     Palm Beach residents with waterfront homes, such as Wilbur Ross, Trump’s reputed choice to serve as secretary of commerce, may come and go as long as they contact the Coast Guard in advance.
    Mar-a-Lago is a no-fly zone when “Mogul” is present.  Commercial flights will be diverted north or south.
      Apparently, the inconveniences in Palm Beach are nothing compared to those in New York, where the streets around Trump Tower are closed off when Trump is in the building. Shop owners are complaining their business is suffering. Tiffany  — the jeweler, not the daughter — canceled its annual window display.
    But Palm Beach is upbeat.
“It’s nothing new for us,” Palm Beach Public Safety Director Kirk Blouin said. “We’ve been providing security for presidents and other dignitaries for a long time. I’ve been here more than 20 years and things have always run smoothly.”
      Several presidents have visited Palm Beach. However, the island is best known for its Kennedy connection. While some business was handled at Joe Kennedy’s “beach house” at the north end, press briefings were held at Palm Beach Towers in midtown and security was far less pervasive than it is today.
Perhaps Trump will conduct press briefings in Mar-a-Lago’s ballroom.
     Town and county law enforcement have been working with the Secret Service since Trump became a viable candidate, but Blouin said it would be “premature” to reveal any restrictions on public access and mobility.
    “It’s exciting for us and the people in town,” he said, “and we’ll get the job done.”
    Needless to say, circumstances now will be somewhat different.
    With the voting over, the postmortems can begin.
    First on the dais Nov. 21 was FAU political science professor Jeffrey Morton, with his take on the election’s implications for foreign policy. A winner of the Foreign Policy Association Medal in 2012, Morton will return to the University Theatre after the inauguration on Jan. 30 with the topic “A New President Confronts the World.”
Presidential historian and NBC commentator Michael Beschloss will address “Critical Moments of the American Presidency: Past, Present, and Future,” Feb. 22 at the Alan B. and Charna Larkin Symposium on the American Presidency, in the FAU Student Union. (Tickets for both: 297-6124,
Another presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize winner, Jon Meacham, headlines the 2017 Festival of the Arts Boca at Mizner Park. His topic: “The Art of Leadership — Lessons from the American Presidency,” March 6.
Meacham is just one of several stars — musical and literary — at the Festival of the Arts, which runs March 2-12 at Mizner Park. Choice tickets go quickly. Jazzman Branford Marsalis joins with Symphonia, Boca Raton, Constantine Kitsopoulos, conducting, on March 3.
Last year 12-year-old Indonesian pianist Joey Alexander wowed the audience with his jazz improv. This year he has a partner, Mexican Daniela Liebman, 14, and backed by Symphonia on March 5 will work some magic on Strauss, Mendelssohn and a dash of Joey’s jazz.
    Two important dates stand out next spring for another hot young classical pianist — and computer whiz — Daniel Hsu, 18. On March 10 he’ll perform the Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1 with Symphonia and a surprise violinist. Six weeks later he’ll go it alone at Carnegie Hall.
    March 12: Half a century after hitting the top 10 with The Look of Love and Mas Que Nada with Brasil ’66, Sergio Mendes is still going strong, albeit with Brasil 2017 — three Grammys in 2012 and an Oscar nomination for his score of Real in Rio.
    For opera fans,  La Boheme will be semi-staged March 4. Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jennifer Egan is up March 2, New Yorker cartoonist Bob Mankoff on March 4, and physicist Brian Greene speaks March 7.
    For tickets, call 866-571-2787.

    A column in the December edition of The Coastal Star stated the Boca Raton City Council in 2009 approved the $7.5 million Wildflower property purchase “intent on turning it into a revenue producer.” However, because of conflicting comments at the time in meetings about the purchase, it’s unclear whether the council purchased the property specifically as a revenue producer.
    According to minutes from the City Council meeting held on Dec. 8, 2009, where the council approved the purchase, Deputy City Manager George Brown stated the city had wanted to purchase the property for years, and once it was bought, the city would decide what to do with it.

    The people of Boca Raton have spoken: No commercial development on the Wildflower site.
    Last July, the City Council voted a commercial designation to 2.27 acres on the north side of the Palmetto Park Road bridge over the Intracoastal. In the ’80s it was Wildflower, a popular nightclub. But when the economy soured, it closed and was eventually razed.
In 2009 the city bought the land for $7.5 million, intent on turning it into a revenue producer. That money would come from Hillstone Restaurant Group, which operates the Houston’s chain. Lease projections targeted $33 million for the city over 45 years.
    Residents rallied. Despite a 4-1 council majority in support of the lease, they succeeded in drafting a referendum that asked voters if they favored preserving all city-owned land along the Intracoastal for public recreation, boating access, streets and storm water uses — in other words, nothing commercial.
    Two-thirds said yes. For the victors, the logical choice is to join the former Wildflower with Silver Palm Park on the south side of Palmetto Park Road with a link under the bridge.
    In the ’70s, the mantra in Boca was “controlled growth,” a conscious effort to curtail urban sprawl and still prosper. For years, the tallest building in downtown, First Bank and Trust on Palmetto Park Road, just east of Federal, rose all of eight stories. The new Hyatt Place, which is accepting reservations for Dec. 20, offers 200 rooms on 13 floors. Other developers have proposed monsters twice that size but public resistance has sent them back to the designers.   
    Big season at the Kravis Center for its 25th anniversary. Lots of stars. Arts and science. Lots of special events. The party started Oct. 1 with an all-day, no-charge community salute and continues Dec. 6-11 with the road show of Christopher Wheeldon’s 2015 Tony-winning musical An American in Paris, based on the music written in 1928 by George and Ira Gershwin that inspired the 1951 Oscar-winning film.  The musical won four Tonys, not bad considering it was up against Hamilton.
    Brian Wilson and Al Jardine, two surviving members of the Beach Boys, performed Pet Sounds a couple of months ago at Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood. On Dec. 16, the remaining two, Mike Love and Bruce Johnson, bring Little Saint Nick to the Kravis. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could get together and do it again?
    Two days later … Itzhak Perlman. Nothing else to say.
    Tap out the old year with 42nd Street on New Year’s Eve. Salute Vienna with  Strauss music on New Year’s Day and try some Dirty Dancing — The Classic Story on Stage, Jan. 3-8.
If sex has appeal, stop by the Cohen Pavilion on Jan. 5 for a little lunch with Dr. Ruth Westheimer. She’ll be interviewed by Steven Caras, who won’t dance around the dicey questions.
    On Jan. 12, the Palm Beach Wine Auction (with dinner) returns for the 10th year to raise money for Kravis Center education programs. A ticket costs $1,000, but it affords the opportunity to score some great wine … and to see how the president-elect lives. The auction is held at the Mar-a-Lago Club.
    Jay Leno should have a few choice things to say Jan. 15, Kenny Rogers drops by on his “Final World Tour” Jan. 18, and Billy Crystal promises to stand up, sit down, tell some stories, show film clips and “talk about my life and career and the world as I see it” on Jan. 22.
    Speaking of country singers, the first performance at the Kravis Center was held not in 1992 but two years earlier. The orchestra pit, some three stories deep, had been poured, but the auditorium and lobby existed only on blueprints. That didn’t stop the center’s first executive director, Arnold Bremen, from putting on a show.
    To salute the construction crew and drum up local interest, Bremen trucked in a 150-foot sub sandwich and then brought out bluegrass wizard Ricky Skaggs and his band. “I just hope they don’t deaden it too much,” he said, referring to acoustical engineering.
Old School Square will present six shows in December. On Dec. 7 at 2 and 8 p.m., Crest Theatre will present the American Big Band’s new Christmas production, “Home for the Holidays,” featuring an 11-piece band along with six singers and dancers. Tickets are $42 and $32.
    On Dec. 8 at 9 p.m., the Fieldhouse at Old School Square will present an on-the-road version of Jim Caruso’s Cast Party. Tickets are $50.
    At Crest Theatre at  7 p.m. Dec. 11, Will and Anthony Nunziata will offer fresh interpretations of Broadway classics and pop standards. Tickets are $52 and $42.
    Dec. 16 through 18, Crest Theatre will present Avenue Q, winner of the Tony “triple crown” for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. Performances will be at 8 p.m. with an additional 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday. Tickets are $52 and $42.
    At 8 p.m.  Dec. 22 and 23, Crest Theatre will present Steve Solomon’s My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish, I’m Home for the Holidays: The Therapy Continues … Tickets are $46 and $36.
     At 7:30 p.m. Dec. 26, the Pavilion at Old School Square will present the State Ballet Theatre of Russia. Tickets are $30 ($20 for students). To purchase tickets, visit or call the box office at 243-7922, Ext. 1.
    Yes, Pulitzer Prizes are awarded for poetry, and Charles Simic won it in 1990. He also served as U.S. poet laureate in 2007-2008, and he’ll be a special guest poet at the 13th annual Palm Beach Poetry Festival. The festival, set for Jan. 16-21 at Old School Square in Delray Beach, will attract poets from a wide range of genres, including Laure-Anne Bosselaar, winner of the prestigious Isabella Gardner Prize for Poetry. (
    Food fights … Delray Beach loyalists now know what will replace Tryst, the popular Atlantic Avenue gastropub. Owners promise a February opening for Rok:Brgr, the first location for the chain outside of Dade and Broward counties. It will have seating for 100, another 25 at the bar, local craft beers and local suppliers.
    It’s getting high marks down south, but burger competition is hot and heavy.
    In Lake Worth, new owners have different plans for the building that was home for a decade to Mother Earth Sanctuary Cafe. So Mother Earth owner/chef Patti Lucia closed it down Nov. 30. She’ll continue to serve at Lake Worth’s Farmers Market and look for a site that would double as a commercial kitchen and cafe somewhere between West Palm Beach and Delray Beach.
    On her Facebook page a dejected Lucia wrote: “I learned a long time ago to go where you are wanted and stay where you are welcome. … After the news of Mother Earth closing, not one politician in this town reached out … to say , ‘hey we are sorry you are closing. You were a valuable business in this town …’ Not one. Silence speaks loudly, too.”
    Another Lake Worth favorite is gone — Havana Hideout. Costs exceeded revenue.
    Down in Boca, Bogart’s, the upstairs restaurant at the Cinemark theaters, is gone.
 Cinemark will introduce its own  concept — Cinemark Movie Bistro —with typical movie fare plus some regional specialties. For example, the Fort Collins, Colo., site offers sandwiches, wraps, sliders, pizza, nachos, wings, salads, even fried pickles, while the Lake Charles, La., menu includes shrimp po’boys and crawfish pie.  

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