Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Roadboy Visits The Reagan Library and Museum

Spectacular Vista's and Air Force One

The National Archives, Office of Presidential Libraries, is charged with managing America's 13 current presidential libraries / museums. 

The creation of presidential libraries began in 1939 when Franklin D. Roosevelt donated land on his Hyde Park estate to house his presidential records. FDR believed that presidential records belonged to the nation, not each individual president. He felt that presidential records must be archived, preserved and made accessible to the public. 

The Presidential Libraries Act of 1955 made the process of presidential library building official, requiring they be built using private funds. The law decreed that upon completion the libraries would be federally maintained.

I've now visited the Eisenhower, Johnson, Lincoln, Bush (W) and Reagan libraries. All, except the Lincoln Library, are part of the National Archive's system.  

Clearly the location, character and size of each presidential library becomes the personal statement of its namesake. Some libraries are located in a president's ancestral hometown (Dwight D. Eisenhower's beloved Abilene Kansas for example). Other's are built in a place that comes to be associated with a specific president (President Clinton is clearly identified with Little Rock, Arkansas). President Reagan's library stands in California on top of a hill.

Much like a portrait captures only what an artist intends for the viewer to see, presidential libraries are not true museums, they are showcases where the carefully packaged legacy of a president is presented.

President Reagan

Ronald Reagan 
Ronald Reagan was larger than life; an iconic and charismatic leader whose legacy is equal parts actor, cowboy and president. He is also a man of many contradictions. 

He overcame humble beginnings with early achievements in sports and theater. A superb athlete, he worked summers in Illinois as a lifeguard and is credited with the rescue of over 70 distressed swimmers. He documenting each rescue by carving a notch in a nearby log.

Despite the depression, he was able to attend college. And, while admitting to only being an average student, he emerged a student leader. The first speech he is credited with was a loud protest of cuts in academic funding and increases in student fees. Ironically, after securing his own education, as governor and president he tirelessly slashed state and federal funding for education.

His love of school plays quickly allowed him to understand how best to exploit his looks and charm. Never lacking confidence, he left college for Hollywood securing dozens of movie roles.

After a couple of decades the number and quality of movie roles being offered to him declined to a point where he decided to embark on a new career in politics. 

Stubborn, yet never lacking in optimism, his innate charisma continued to serve him well. He knew what to say, how to say it, and perhaps most importantly, when to deliver his lines. The famous "Mr Gorbachev Tear Down This Wall!" was, in part, improvisation against the advice of his speech writers. 

He could flash a 30 megawatt smile and use his innate ability to read people to convey to them his sense of what was right. This allowed him to establish special, highly personal, and convincing relationships with the world's leaders of his day.

The courage and humor he displayed after the attempt on his life will stand for all time. 

On a personal note my father was always fond of Ronald Reagan. And, when the chance came to catch a glimpse of him, Dad took it. My mom said they arrived early and staked out a spot with a good view. And, when the president arrived he scanned the audience and, with deliberation, walked directly to my father. He stopped and shook dad's hand. He then turned, smiled, waved and left the room. 

It was like he came to see my dad, every bit as much as my dad came to see him.

Reagan's Oval Office is Accurately Reproduced 

The Reagan Library and Museum
The hilltop site of the Reagan library is blessed with sweeping views in every direction. Its architecture, however, is (at best) average. The building is '80's office park meets warehouse". It completely lacks the charisma and charm of its namesake. And, once inside the tour route is poorly oriented with no natural flow at all.

The library carries a steep (I think) $21 admission price. It is currently the most expensive of all presidential libraries.

I advise visitors to come with clear expectations. As with most presidential libraries / museums, the museum is just a big infomercial chronicling his triumphs: the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, along with his success in nuclear arms reduction. He also takes credit for ending the Iran hostage siege and inflation.

Despite the clear impacts on his career and life, don't expect any mention of his first marriage, his parental shortcomings, his relentless efforts to bust trade unions, or the complete failure of "Trickle Down" economics.

His shameful complicity in Hollywood blacklisting is portrayed with a spin only a soviet propagandist could love. His legacy of explosive modern deficit spending to stimulate the economy (i.e. spending freely on defense, while cutting taxes and pushing debts to future generations), although emulated by most of the presidents that followed him, is ignored. And, if you seek understanding of Iran Contra, good luck. Only the most observant will find a small mention of it in the basement.

Much here becomes obvious only by omission. 

I encourage visitors entering the museum to carefully study the names of donors engraved at the entry. "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also"Luke 12:34 

Air Force One
The library / museum tour includes the huge new warehouse housing Air Force One - Tail 27000. 

This is the elegant 707 President Reagan used for most of his presidency. It is restored and freshly painted in the original Raymond Loewy livery commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy.

Tail 27000

Every Inch Gleams

The Loewy Livery

Tail 2700 served from 1973 until it was replaced by two new 747's in 1990. Despite the addition of the 747's, Tail 27000 continued to serve until 2001. This aircraft holds the distinction of flying more presidents, more miles, on more missions, than any aircraft in American history.

Its permanent home, elevated, and afforded a breathtaking (and seemingly endless) view of California's rolling hills, is appropriate and wonderful.

And its View

As an added bonus, while LA's Petersen Auto Museum is being rebuilt, the library is temporarily hosting some very cool cars.

There is a gift shop and cafe (serving decent burgers and sandwiches). 

Bring a camera and, If weather permits, (i.e. not too windy) spend some time exploring the grounds. President Reagan's grave is on the west side of the building.

Wear comfortable shoes since the (totally inadequate) parking lot is frequently full compelling visitors to park down a steep hill.  Flag down a shuttle if you need it!

Roadboy's Travels © 2014

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