Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Yorba Linda, Calif. Visited: May 2, 2005 NPS Site Visited: Not an NPS Site Presidential Library Visted: 8 of 12 Local Website
WHAT IS IT? The Birthplace and Presidential Museum of our 37th president, Richard Nixon.
BEAUTY (6/10) Most Presidential Museums recreate the relatively small Oval Office. Nixon’s Library has redone the White House banquet facility, the 4,850 square foot East Room. The stately East Room is the Site’s interior hallmark and is used mostly for banquets, private parties and weddings. The East Room is a very practical and usable White House reconstruction.
The Library’s location coincides with President Nixon’s birthplace, a small white house in what was once a remote California locale. The president and his wife are buried just a few feet from his birthplace. The grounds are bedecked in rows and rows of colorful flowers, especially roses (Pat Nixon’s favorite). The scents are wonderful and attract many birds, including a few mercurial hummingbirds.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (5/10) President Nixon was born here, in the little white house that his father constructed from a pre-fab kit. Almost all of the home’s furnishings are original.
CROWDS (6/10) No problems at all. The Nixon Library’s prime location makes it one of the most visited Presidential Museums. It handles the crowds well with ample parking and well-designed exhibits.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (5/5) Located in the northeastern corner of Orange County; at least 10 million people live within a short distance of the Nixon Museum. The Riverside, Orange and Newport Freeways all drop you off near Yorba Linda. Here are directions from the official website which boasts, “(the Museum is) just 15 minutes from Disneyland.”
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5) Where else can you buy the photo of Nixon shaking hands with a dazed and confused Elvis Presley embossed on t-shirts, post-it-notes, post cards, coffee mugs, float pens, bookmarks, magnets and paperweights? The bookstore has other fun stuff too, not just the old Presidential Library standby, presidential china sets.
If you have $5990 to spare (plus $600 delivery), Nixon’s replica desk, called the Resolute and fashioned with “plantation-grown, hand-carved Mahogany”, could be yours. We really should have bought something with the super hip Nixon “surf logo”. Perhaps the decals; their catch line is, of all things, “Stick with Dick.”
The book selection is good, but carries few items written about the Nixon era. Do not expect to find anything about Vietnam or Watergate. You will not find any form of All the President’s Men, the book or DVD. Do expect to find everything Richard Nixon wrote as well as a number of Henry Kissinger’s treatises. Books you would not expect to find (but are here) include The Gardens of Colonial Williamsburg, Bill Clinton’s My Way and Photo by Brady: A Picture of the Civil War.
A table of signed books includes many current bestsellers and major names including Bill O’Reilly, Dick Armey, Sean Hannity, Christine Todd Whitman, Larry King, Bob Hope and George Bush. The list goes on. The Nixon bookstore is a wild eclectic place.
COSTS (1/5) $7.95 per adult, AAA gets you a 10% discount.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5) Volunteer docents staffed nearly every room of the Museum and were extremely knowledgeable. They answered questions and elaborated on topics as wide ranging as Winston Churchill, Julie Nixon-Eisenhower and gifts of state. The helpfulness and proliferation of docents was a welcome change to our experiences at most Presidential Libraries.
TOURS/CLASSES (7/10) Is it possible to humanize Richard Nixon, a man whom few people, Republican or Democrat, ever have anything nice to say? The Museum manages to do just that thanks to, of all people, Lady Bird Johnson. The exhibits bizarrely begin with the president’s death and the letters of sympathy his daughters received.
The most striking letter is from Lady Bird. She tells the Nixon daughters of a letter of congratulations the president sent her upon the birth of a grandchild. The note was sent in 1974, during the height of the Watergate scandal, a time when the president surely had other things on his mind. Lady Bird’s words opened our hearts and beckoned us to give Nixon a chance.
The remainder of the Museum aims to uphold the president’s lost honor without making many excuses. It asks you to look at the ends without judging the means. Nixon put a man on the moon, he got us out of Vietnam, he reduced nuclear weapon stockpiles through his treaty with Brezhnev, he ended the draft, he reconstituted relationships with China and he attempted to institute a National Health Care system. The how, while examined by the Museum, is secondary.
Watergate, however, will forever be his legacy. The Site goes into Watergate with startling depth. The timeline delves into daily events; numerous first hand documents can be read. The Watergate room is narrow, dark and streamlined. The exhibit print is small because there is so much to say; its multi-colored fonts are illuminated with bright backlights. Black and white photos identify the large set of infamous characters. At the end of the hallway is a large photo of the president, his tragedy sealed with a wave goodbye in front of Air Force One.
Does the Site blame Nixon? Not really. It fingers an overzealous press but does not go on to suggest that Nixon was innocent. We are largely ignorant of the Watergate mess and the exhibit played to a more knowing crowd. We gathered that Nixon had to know something about the botched break-in but the scandal seemed overblown. We could not help but think that the Republican’s impeachment of Bill Clinton was just a 20-year old payback for what the Democrats did to Richard Nixon.
FUN (6/10) Fun and Richard Nixon, should those two words ever be in the same sentence? The Museum proves yes. Four exhibits immediately come to mind.
The Nixon-Kennedy debate exhibit allows you to sit on an old couch and watch the infamous debate on a 50’s television. Kennedy is just as dashing and Nixon every bit as sweaty and pale as the history books remember. The World Leaders Room lets you pose with 10 full sized statues of prominent 20th-century statesmen. Who knew Winston Churchill was so short?
A touch-screen computer monitor allows you to ask President Nixon over 320 questions ranging from “Do you regret your Watergate involvement?” to “How did Poker help your diplomacy tactics?” to “Who should the Democrats nominate for their 1992 presidential candidate?” His answers were “No”, “Russians play chess so they don’t understand the bluff,” and “Lloyd Bentsen”.
Finally, the traveling exhibit, “White House in Miniature” must be seen to be believed. Built at a cost of over $1 million, the model is built on a one foot to one inch scale and measures some 70 feet by 30 feet. Wow. It is the mother of all dollhouses.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (6/10) If you are one of the 15 million people who live in the Los Angeles vicinity, the Nixon Museum is worth a trip. As a tourist, should the Nixon library be at the top of your SoCal attractions? Probably not, unless you are a die hard Tricky Dick fan. Are there any of those left?
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