Friday’s daytime agenda focused on two local landmoarks—the fabulous Sunnylands Estate in Rancho Mirage and the famous Shields Date Garden in Indio.
Sunnylands was first. This gorgeous 200-acre property was once the home of Walter and Lee Annenberg and hosted world leaders on numerous occasions as they relaxed and enjoyed the desert lifestyle while tackling important world issues. We walked the same manicured grounds where presidents Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Obama strolled in the sunshine and where Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles had visited among many other world leaders. An excellent film introduced both the Annenbergs shown at left below and with famous guests plus the storied history of the property.
Annenberg was a wealthy publisher, noted for his visionary publications TV Guide and Seventeen and for TV icon American Bandstand which was based in Philadelphia and gave Dick Clark his start. Annenberg and wife Lee were extraordinary hosts and established numerous charitable ventures to promote communications studies and harmony by bringing opposing sides together in Sunnylands’ congenial atmosphere to find common ground.
Today the Annenberg Foundation operates the $35 million Sunnylands Visitors Center we visited. The perfectly groomed cactus gardens and reflecting pools were irresistible attractions for shutterbugs and our own John Walcek was first among them. While positioning some of us for a group shot inside the garden he moved Jim Ayres a bit for better composition. Unfortunately, the sudden gesture made Jim stumble backwards directly into a barrel cactus. Ouch! Luckily he regained balance before landing on his rear. Being pricked in the leg was bad enough but I shudder to think of those consequences!
Next stop was the Shields Date Garden, a local institution since 1924, where patio dining and lunch awaited. Excellent cobb salad, cheeseburger or chicken sandwich plus drinks were on the menu. Behind the restaurant was a garden of date palms and other desert plants, a pond and Biblical references along the pathway.
The scene reminded me of the oasis in the movie Ben-Hur where he overnights and meets the sheik who owns the horses he drives in the climactic chariot race. Beautiful date palms formed the perfect setting for our Shields visit. The orientation film taught us it can take 15 to 20 years before date palms are commercially productive and that growing dates is a very labor intensive and specialized occupation. Some 48 female palm trees are planted and just one male tree among them. When it flowers workers harvest the pollen and then pollinate the female trees. When the young dates appear about half are removed so the trees can support the weight of those that remain. Shrouds protect the dates from rain. More than 95% of U.S. dates come from this valley.
Floyd Shields, who was a date novice when he arrived in California learned quickly. In just three years he began hybridizing the dates. Today numerous varieties are offered for sale and some of us enjoyed refreshing “date shakes.”
A self guided architecture tour of celebrity homes such as Frank Sinatra’s followed the Shields visit for some and for others technical seminars were held at the hotel at the same time. So much to do and so little time!
After a very busy day of touring and learning we enjoyed an evening hosted bar, yummy buffet and live entertainment at the MonStore Garage. The event at MonStore was led by Brad Prescott and Jeff Stork plus fellow collectors Aaron Leider and Michael Lewis, Chris Menrad, J. J. Johnson, and Wick and Allison, whom we sincerely thank. About 30 of our meet cars lined both sides of the large patio where guest tables were set up. Who could ask for a better setting and a way to greet our friends and make new ones? We dined in comfort as the sun went down on a great day, but not before we generously supported our silent auction fundraiser. The sandman beckoned for sweet dreams of Saturday’s concours.
Next will be our fabulous Lincoln concours and awards banquet.