Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Simi Valley, Calif. Visited: May 12, 2005 NPS Site Visited: Not an NPS Site Presidential Library Visted: 9 of 12 Local Website
WHAT IS IT? The Presidential Library, Museum and final resting place of our 40th president, Ronald Wilson Reagan.
BEAUTY (6/10) The Reagan Library, in itself nothing spectacular, can lay claim to being the Presidential Library with the best scenery. Situated on a hilltop above California’s Simi Valley, the Library’s backyard offers unobstructed views of the Santa Monica mountain range, rolling hills and palatial estates nestled in the valleys.
We were told the Reagan Library is the highest Presidential Library, as well as the largest in size.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (3/10) President Reagan passed away June 5, 2004. He was laid to rest on the grounds behind the Museum.
Why was this location chosen to house the 40th president’s legacy? Two contractors donated 100 acres of prime real estate to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. Would you say no?
CROWDS (5/10) One out of 17 people in the United States lives within an hour’s drive of the Museum. (!) We think most of those people chose to visit the Museum the same day we did. Vehicles lined the hillside drive up to the Museum since all of the parking lots were full. Courtesy shuttle vans drove back and forth along the road offering door to door service for those who preferred not to walk. Probably a good idea considering the advanced age of many of the Museum visitors.
Once inside the Museum, we had no trouble getting around. Most of the visitors, it seems, were guests at the many private functions taking place at the Library.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5) The Library claims that over 16 million people live within an hour’s drive of the Library. They must all know short cuts around the freeways that we don’t.
On a traffic-less Los Angeles day (never), the Reagan Museum is 45 minutes from downtown L. A. If you are in L.A., take I-405 North, CA-118 (a/k/a the Ronald Reagan Freeway) west and signs will lead you to the Site.
We came from the Santa Monica Mountains NRA. A short drive north on CA-23 led us right to the Site.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5) The bookstore was packed with people and items to purchase. President Reagan’s visage finds itself on cards, limited edition porcelain, a high priced well-dressed action figure and a large jellybean mosaic. T-shirts and hats proclaiming "Peace Through Strength" commemorate the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan.
Books by and about Ron, Nancy and their kids are the only ones on sale. A few of them are even autographed. Books signed by the late president cost an astounding $4,000 per copy.
There are no books about the 80’s, the Cold War or Iran-Contra. If it isn’t a biography (about a Reagan) it isn’t here. Even then, you might be out of luck. Pulitzer Prize winner Edmund Morris’ authorized but controversial Reagan biography (because the author included himself in the story as a fictional character), Dutch, is not here. Neither is Peggy Noonan’s loving bio, When Character Was King, Patti Davis’ The Long Goodbye and Bob Colacello’s Ronnie and Nancy. These books all portray the president in a good light but are not for sale. The lack of books is especially astonishing given that the Store has more square footage than every other Museum exhibit room.
If, for some reason, you really wanted a talking Dennis Miller doll, there was a basket full of them (half-priced!) near the entrance. There is an incredible amount of knickknacks and keepsakes for sale. The only things you will not find at the Reagan Library’s Bookstore are books.
COSTS (2/5) Entrance to the Museum is $7 for adults, $2 for anyone between 11 and 17 and free for young Reagan fans under the age of 11. Seniors also receive a discount. Admission is $5 for those over 62.
If you are a member of AAA, don’t forget your card. We flashed ours and paid $7 for 2 adults, a 50% savings.
The Museum hosts Chamber Music Concerts and other special events throughout the year. There is no charge to attend these outdoor events.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (2/5) Friendly volunteer docents are waiting around every corner. These women are lovely to talk to, but are usually unable to offer more than a surface explanation of the exhibits. “Why is there a portrait of Andrew Jackson in Reagan’s Oval Office?” The docent’s response: “Well, (Reagan) always said he admired something about (Jackson), maybe it was his go get ‘em attitude”
TOURS/CLASSES (3/10) These same docents lead frequent tours through the Museum and its grounds.
The Reagan Library and Museum may be the largest Presidential Library but we found it to have the smallest exhibit space and least number of actual presidential documents on display.
Filled with clothing, costumes and personal effects, this Site felt more like a Hall of Fame or Hard Rock Café than an overview of two presidential terms. We found the Museum to be high on style; surprisingly short on substance.
President Reagan narrates the five-minute introductory montage and all of the audio exhibits. Reagan smoothly recounts the failed assassination attempt, his handling of the air traffic controllers strike and his contributions to the defense of the United States, namely the Strategic Defense Initiative. Listening to the president’s delivery and watching his performances on screen, it is easy to see why so many Americans approved of Reagan as the representation of America to the rest of the world.
The Museum is shockingly small and under whelming. The room that recaps his Presidency recounts the same three things as the film, SDI, assassination attempt and the air-traffic controllers. That is it! Outside is a portion of the Berlin Wall, ubiquitous at Republican Presidential Libraries.
A larger room showcases President Reagan’s home furnishings, his tuxedo’s, Nancy’s dresses, their TRULUV canoe and gifts from pro sports franchises. What happened political and culturally in the 80’s? Who knows and who cares.
What about the Iran-Contra Affair? Heavily increased Nuclear Weapon production? Spiraling National debt? Sorry. Those things are hardly mentioned. But neither are many of the brighter moments of Reagan’s Presidency. The curator of the Museum is an equal opportunity omitter.
He also has a sense of humor. A Dennis Rodman signed basketball sits in Nancy’s Just Say No to Drugs exhibit as does a signed picture of John Riggins in his infamous “loosen up Sandy baby” tuxedo. Most notable is the 2000 New York Times Book Review cover that adorns the SDI satellite exhibit. The article details the $60 billion spent on the project and the absolute lack of results. This is as close as the Reagan Library gets to criticism.
In fairness, the Museum does not gushingly praise the president’s terms in office either. Those eight years just sort of happened. If the Museum is your barometer, his terms in office were not nearly as impressive as his portrayal of George Gipp in Knute Rockne: All American.
FUN (4/10) Well, we didn’t not have fun.
Do not come here to learn Reagan’s political philosophies or presidential actions. Sure, the titles liberal, conservative and communist are thrown around but nowhere are these loaded words explained by actual laws, decisions or events. Did the president never sign any documents, write memos or involve himself in decision-making? We cannot believe this to be true and wish there would have been at least one presidential primary document in the Museum.
Facts are secondary here to feeling. That is not a criticism. In fact, it does a lot to explain the president’s extraordinary popularity and continued veneration. Regardless of your political affiliation, it is impossible to leave the Museum mad. There are too many pictures of the president’s warm smile and debonair attire.
The Museum aims to recreate a fairy tale sense of 1980’s good feeling. When we entered the intro film, a docent said, “The film is wonderful because it takes you back to the good times of the 80’s.” Through ignoring history and showcasing signed memorabilia, glossy pictures and happy, caring faces, we were transported into a dazed world of gratitude and acceptance. The Museum succeeds.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (5/10) The Reagan Library and Museum is an easy day trip from the Los Angeles area. Our average Presidential Library visit tops four hours. We expected to spend the entire afternoon in Simi Valley but exploring the Museum took less than an hour.
The only reasons to come here are to pay your respects at Ronald Reagan’s gravesite and to appreciate the Site’s expansive views of the Simi Valley.
In a few months, the Air Force One Pavilion will open. This ersatz hangar will give you the chance to walk through and explore an actual, now decommissioned, Air Force One Jet. The new exhibit will bring more reasons to travel back to the beautiful Simi Valley.
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