It was advertised as Sunnylands Center and Garden, and I always enjoy visiting gardens when I travel. However, what I found was a shrine to a politically powerful couple that my public school education had neglected to mention. As I walked through the high ceiling building that displayed photo after photo of them, accompanied by well tailored political accolades, I began to wonder how much hidden influence they had on “our country,” and maybe continue to have after their deaths.
Its not that I fear conspiracies. From what I see of humanity, there are plenty of people “plotting and planning” all sorts of things. Some get more notice than others, some people are more secretive than others, but the lying and conniving of politics is a constant regardless of whether it is called “conspiracies.” I simply don’t trust those with political power, who usually use force to get the rest of the populace to behave in ways they legislate.
But it was interesting to see “under the text book radar,” so-to-speak. Here was a self-congratulatory record of a couple who hobnobbed with nearly every president since the 1960’s, and had close connections with British royalty, too, if the photos and written memorabilia were to be believed. Both presidential couples and the British monarchs were guests at “Sunnylands” regularly, playing golf on the vast, private 200 acre course. So who were these politically connected people?
Their names were Walter and Leonore Annenberg, but besides being in all the photos and having grand visions of Sunnyland being a place where “solutions for the world could be worked on,” I felt frustrated in reading “about them.” Everything mentioned about them was of a non-descript political nature and I came away with a very flat and plastic image of them as people. I am sure there was more to them than that, but it was not represented. All I know is that they supported the political power structure. And that makes me not trust them.
The “gardens” may have suffered from the (politically induced) drought conditions in California. And I didn’t mind seeing some cacti and desert shrubs that I was unfamiliar with, but I didn’t see why it was advertised as “a garden.” It was quite small compared to the other public gardens I have visited. The designs were repetitive, and, well, seemed staged in the same cardboard way as all the photos with important people. (photos below)
Inside the building, there were all kinds of carefully choreographed videos seeming to tell the story of the majestic house and grounds, but there was no fullness of character to it. The story lacked personality beyond what the owners wanted others to admire in their wealth and position. Maybe they didn’t mean it that way. Maybe they meant to share it in some way, but I felt cheated. If they wanted to maintain their privacy, why go through the motions of telling their story without really telling it. There is a tour of the grounds available, but after seeing the tone of the displays at the center, it hardly seems worth the $40 price.
There was not an entry fee to the “Center” that contained this displays. Everyone can enter for free. You can see some interesting photos and videos showing some details of the whole design of their house and acreage. There were a few small displays of artifacts, such as a Picasso clown plate, some exquisite crystal, and ornate cigarette boxes. They were pretty. I’m pretty sure they were not worth my entire morning. I kept expecting to discover the “real” gardens, or hear something real about the people, but alas, no.
There was an extremely white coffee shop with outdoor patio seating in the back, next to the yard, as it seems more appropriate to call it now. A number of people were lounging around the tables there. The gift shop was typical of any, with humorous cards, etc.
It all reminded me of how the pharaohs of Egypt wanted monuments to themselves. Nothing new under the sun. You can read some about it some on the Sunnylands Center and Gardens website, but expect to be frustrated by lack of meaningful information. It is more like royalty telling us how important they are. Or were. Death is the great equalizer, no matter what monuments you leave behind you.
The Annenbergs definitely seemed to be of the opinion that they could make a better society by creating organizations and foundations. Such organization also seem void of real relationship. Of course, I admit that I am dubious about the effectiveness and motives of such entities. I see little overall real (versus politically acclaimed) positive impact, and suspect they have the unfortunate affect of decreasing real personal relationships.
If the Annenbergs were trying to make a better world for those of us who follow them, there isn’t much hard evidence that they were successful. Look around you. That is not their fault, but why should they get credit for doing it when politics goes on as usual, often violently. But they have left a nice house (I’m told by the exhibit) for the politicians to feel good about meeting in while they plan our lives for us… (click on any photo to enlarge)
In spite of the disappointment in the so-called gardens, and the unsavory sense of back room government deals, it was educational in it’s revealing yet another layer of government upperclassmen. I’m always trying to find a balance of unlearning what the system has taught me and going on about my life because I am a small pawn on a very large board. One must choose to stay happy in spite of the political shenanigans of others.