YOUR MAMA’S NOTES: President Obama and the First Lady can’t hardly cross the damn street without an avalanche of rumors they’re on the mad hunt for a post-White House residence. In 2012 there was a ton of tittering — mostly in conservative media outlets — about how big-time Democratic donor Penny Pritzker was gathering funds to buy the Obamas a $35 million house in Kailua, Hawaii and just a few weeks ago there were loads of reports the Obamas actually bought a post-presidency residence in Asheville, N.C. (The White House adamantly denied any purchase in Asheville and this property gossip has yet to turn up evidence a home was bought for or by them in Hawaii.)
Now comes a little presidential real estate scuttlebutt straight out of the California’s hot-as-Hades Coachella Valley where the President and the First Lady spent a scorching Father’s Day weekend holed up in a private residence in the swanky, guard-gated Thunderbird Heights enclave.
During his short visit, the President visited the fabled Sunnylands estate and played a round of golf at Porcupine Creek, the 249-acre Rancho Mirage mega-compound software billionaire Larry Ellison bought in early 2011 for $42.9 million. It’s likely one or both of the Obamas also paid a social call to the Thunderbird Heights home of Michael Smith and James Costas, the former the much-published decorating dervish who did over the Oval Office for the president and the latter a former bigwig at HBO who was recently appointed by the president to the coveted ambassadorship of Spain and Andorra.
Misters Smith and Costas own an 11,000-square-foot compound on 8+ acres at the very tip-top of the Thunderbird Heights enclave that property records show was acquired in September 2011 for $3,050,000. Although not known to be for sale, there is unsubstantiated speculation in the local papers that the Obamas might be interested in acquiring the Smith-Costas crib. This property gossip really hasn’t a clue if the President and/or the First Lady covet the Smith-Costas’s compound or if they peeped properties in Thunderbird Heights or anywhere else in the Coachella Valley for that matter. However, if they did have a look ‘round they surely they had a look-see at the most expensive listing currently on the open market in Thunderbird Heights, a contemporary compound on a gated, 3.29 acre valley view lot with a $4.25 million price tag.
Listing details show the private hilltop estate includes a 6,100-square-foot main house with roomy, open-plan living spaces that spill out to mister-equipped terraces with up-close views of craggy mountains and distant vistas of the incongruously verdant, well-watered desert floor. The main residence’s four bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms include an extensive master suite complete with gym, tanning, and spa rooms and, perfect for putting up the cadre of Secret Service agents who will follow them around during their post-presidential years, a 2,000-square-foot guest house provides another three bedrooms and three bathrooms.
Outdoor features include groomed grounds connected by meandering paths and stairways, a rock-formed lagoon with a 20-foot waterfall, a swimming pool, two spas, and a putting green with sand trap.
Our entirely unscientific research indicates the compound is owned by William A. Robinson, a low-profile multi-millionaire most often credited in media reports as the founder of DHL Worldwide Express. Interestingly enough, the mostly under-the-radar Mister Robinson was widely reported in the mid-2000s to be one of the largest donors to the campaign to reelect former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
While Your Mama has a strong suspicion the rumors of a presidential purchase in the Coachella Valley are nothing more than idle real estate chatter, it really wouldn’t be that strange. After all, there’s a long and well-documented list of former presidents who have spent time in the more upscale areas of the Coachella Valley. After he left office in 1977, late president Gerald Ford and his also late wife, Betty Ford, engaged the services of Welton Becket who custom designed a single-story, 6,300-plus-square foot sprawler on a 1.37 acre lot inside the gates of the upscale Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage. In case any of the children might be curious, the Fords’ low-slung home was sold by the Ford family, according to property records, in March 2012 to Hollywood business manager John McIlwee and DreamWorks honcho Bill Damaschke for $1.57 million.
listing photos: Sotheby’s International Realty