July 11, 1976, was a sweltering desert day at Sunnylands, the grand Rancho Mirage estate of British ambassador and publisher Walter Annenberg and his wife, society doyenne Lee. That afternoon the residence, a midcenturymodern masterpiece by architect A. Quincy Jones and interior designer William Haines, was the scene of Frank Sinatra’s fourth (and last) marriage. The bride was Barbara Marx, a Midwesterner who had reinvented herself as first a Las Vegas showgirl and then as a wifeto- the-stars. Guests who gathered around the tanned and smiling middle-aged bride and groom included Kirk Douglas and Gregory Peck; outside the front gates, reporters were nearly falling over from heatstroke.
That’s just one of many scenes to take place at the storied home, completed in 1966. To the world’s social and political elite, Sunnylands has long been the closest thing to a real Shangri-la. When its restored doors opened in March, it was set to inspire a new generation.