Walter Annenberg is the only U.S. envoy knighted by Queen Elizabeth, a distinction that’s emblematic of his success as the American ambassador to the United Kingdom.
This year, Sunnylands is commemorating the 50th anniversary of Walter’s appointment to the Court of Saint James’s in two ways. The first is a slideshow of photos culled from Annenberg scrapbooks of his years as ambassador. Available to the public at Sunnylands Center & Gardens, the slideshow depicts events such as Walter’s swearing in on April 14, 1969; the presentation of his credentials to Queen Elizabeth in London; and his signing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1970. The slideshow can also be found on the homepage of www.sunnylands.org.
The second acknowledgment of Walter’s ambassadorship (1969-1974), suitably staged in the Room of Memories at Sunnylands, is a display of photos, medals, and The Star of the President, a Steuben crystal piece that Walter commissioned as a Christmas gift for President Richard Nixon in 1971. The item is on loan to Sunnylands from the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, Calif.
President Nixon kept the piece on his desk in the Oval Office. “You may be sure I shall always cherish this additional evidence of our loyal friendship and support,” he wrote in a thank-you note to Walter and Leonore Annenberg. The president later commissioned acrylic reproductions of the piece to give to supporters of his 1972 re-election campaign.
Nixon appointed Walter to a prized – and weighty – ambassador’s position, despite his lack of diplomatic experience. The two found they had much in common after being introduced by Walter’s mother, Sadie, in the mid-1950s. In December 1968, just weeks after being elected to the White House, Nixon was staying at Sunnylands while attending a post-election gathering of the Republican Governors Association in Palm Springs. It was then, after a round of golf, that he asked Walter to become his ambassador to the United Kingdom.
Walter’s tenure in London was marked by a number of achievements. Within a year of his arrival, Walter and Leonore had famously financed a $1 million renovation of the U.S. ambassador’s residence, Winfield House. Using the same design team they had employed at Sunnylands, William Haines and Ted Graber, the update was wildly applauded for its appeal and as an investment in Anglo-American relations. Walter was credited with encouraging the merger of British Petroleum and Standard Oil of Ohio, and he loaned 32 of his Impressionist paintings to the Tate Gallery for an exhibition that drew more than 100,000 visitors.
In all, the Annenbergs hosted nearly 500 social events during their time in London and cultivated a strong relationship with the Royal Family. Walter and Leonore escorted Prince Charles and Princess Anne on their first trip to Washington D.C. in 1970. Prince Charles would later visit the Annenbergs at Sunnylands, as would his mother, Queen Elizabeth, and her husband, Prince Philip.