Sunnylands | Historic House Landscape Restoration

Rancho Mirage, CA

In the 1960’s, working with a team of celebrated designers, Walter and Leonore Annenberg created a home and golf course in the desert that would become a retreat for political and cultural luminaries.

Once home to one of America’s most influential families and an icon of midcentury modern California living, the estate now hosts world leaders seeking to address pressing issues of our time.

For the transition of Sunnylands to a public resource, the Annenbergs’ Declaration of Trust mandated that future generations keep the estate in “excellent repair and condition.” The Trust enlisted a team of consultants to develop a rehabilitation program to return it to this condition, while also establishing a sustainability goal of reducing water consumption by fifty percent.

To meet this, we developed a solution to collapse and restore the historic landscape, and establish a new, low-water conception for the rest of it. Historic landscape restoration included a close study of the findings of our Cultural Landscape Framework Plan, investigating the landscape experience as it had been originally designed. Where possible, water reductions were made without altering the experience of historic campus elements. Through careful management of views, certain areas of the grounds were re-designated for drought-tolerant landscaping. Incorporation of new irrigation systems and lining existing lakes to make irrigation reservoirs greatly increased maintenance efficiency. In another part of the estate, the Cottages Campus was turned into the retreat center with the idea of removing the lawn and transforming its identity into a desert succulent environment. Today, the entire estate maintains Sunnylands’ legacy as a relaxing oasis and venue for political discourse, and is open to the public for guided tours of this picturesque midcentury modern property.

To realize Sunnylands’ incarnation as Camp David of the West, CMG provided a Cultural Landscape Framework Plan, a master plan for long-term programmatic development opportunities, a reconstruction of the historic house landscape, a cottages campus reinvention, a new administration campus, and continuing design projects.