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Trump’s Fight for Mar-a-Lago

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Some claim that Trump’s later decision to turn Mar-a-Lago into a private club was a result of not being invited to join the Bath and Tennis Club. Trump denies: “That club called me and asked me if they could have my consent to use part of my beach to expand the space for their cabanas! I said, ‘Of course!’ Do you think if I wanted to be a member they would have turned me down?"

The Bath and Tennis Club is the town’s premier lunch, pool, beach, and tennis club, frequented by heirs of old American industrial families with household names. It’s a beautiful place where it’s always summer, where gentlemen in Vilebrequin swimsuits and ladies in pastels and pinks socialize in much the same way they did in the 1920s. The second famous Palm Beach Club is the Everglades, whose membership has included such names as Vanderbilt, Whitney, Du Pont, Kennedy, and Hilton. The current aristocracy includes Trump’s secretary of commerce, Wilbur Ross and billionaire David Koch.

Palm Beach’s Waspy private clubs, as Trump claimed, had an open secret: they didn’t admit Jews or African-Americans. So he decided to convert Mar-a-Lago into a private club that is open to everyone. Apparently intimidated by accusations of discrimination, the Town Council voted to approve Trump’s plan.

MAR-A-LAGO CLUB MEMBERSHIP LIST A REAL WHO’S WHO, read a Palm Beach Post headline, noting that Steven Spielberg, Henry Kissinger, Denzel Washington, and Elizabeth Taylor, among others, had joined. The club’s membership director wrote, in a later article, that Princess Diana and Prince Charles, “each filed their own application and paid their own $50,000 initiation fee.”

The club recruited the likes of Céline Dion, Tony Bennett, Billy Joel and Diana Ross to sing in concerts in a 10,000-square-foot tent. Trump appealed to the Town Council to end restrictions affecting noise and traffic, that had been part of his agreement with the council for approval of his club. Trump had already implied that the club had been discriminated against because many of its members were Jewish, and, that the council members had not placed those same restrictions on their own clubs. Before the meeting, Trump’s attorney had sent the council members copies of the movies Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, in which Katharine Houghton brings Sidney Poitier home to her parents, and Gentleman’s Agreement, in which Gregory Peck plays a reporter who masquerades as a Jew to write about antisemitism. In the end, the council agreed to drop some of the restrictions.


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Gregory Peck in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, 1952
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