They say that most residents of Manhattan have
never visited the Statue of Liberty, ridden to
the top of the Empire State Building, or been
to Ellis Island. I think that same statistic must
be true too for the majority of residents of Southern
California when it comes to visiting a local national
landmark - the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
Nevertheless, nearly 300,000 tourists a year do
visit the Reagan Library which sits atop 100 scenic
acres in Simi Valley. Every President since Herbert
Hoover has established a library. With the opening
of Clinton's, there will be twelve and we have
three of them in California - Herbert Hoover's
at Stanford University, Nixon's in Yorba Linda,
and Reagan's in Simi Valley. All, except Nixon's,
are currently managed by the National Archives
and Records Administration (NARA).
Reagan's Library opened in 1991. It was the first
time in history that five living presidents gathered
in the same place at same time. They gathered
near the landscaped replica of the White House
South Lawn where Marine One lands. You can't see
Pennsylvania Avenue from there but on a clear
day you can see the Pacific Ocean. Reagan's grave
site is set off to the side of that "South
While the Library has been open for more than
a decade, a major new addition opens on October
24th, 2005 - the Air Force One Pavilion - making
it an even more interesting and educational destination.
Recently I received a preview of that 87,000 square
Today, when you enter the Library, you enter through
a gallery of presidential signatures and then
to another gallery of presidential portraits in
rooms replicating the décor of the "Yellow"
and "Red" rooms in the White House.
There, you'll find displays of campaign buttons
and memorabilia of presidents.
There's a Learning Center which rotates new exhibits
2-3 times per year aimed at 5th through 11th grade
curriculums. The fall 2004 exhibit portrayed the
Lewis and Clark Expedition. The fall 2005 exhibit
will be Lieutenant Ronald Reagan and the U.S.
Cavalry. This will show off both the Hollywood
and historical versions of the "horse soldiers"
that helped settle the American West. The Center
also has a 220-seat restaurant called Reagan's
But the heart of the Library is the display of
Reagan's years and the Library's directors have
done a magnificent job of bringing alive his unique
life. You'll first watch a video overview of Reagan's
life. Then you'll pass through Dixon arch, the
portal to his Illinois home town and discover
the boy Ronald Reagan. There's a model of his
family's kitchen, photos and memorabilia of his
career as a lifeguard, as a radio announcer, and
his experience in the U.S. cavalry. Then, you
come upon his acting career. There's a replica
of a 40's movie theatre where you can watch clips
from his films. They have the original booth from
Chasan's, the Hollywood restaurant where he actually
proposed to Nancy Davis. There are displays of
his love letters and Nancy Reagan's wedding dress.
Moving on, you come to Reagan's years as a politician.
On display is the 1965 Ford Mustang convertible
which he campaigned in for Governor of California.
And there's the actual doorway and foyer of the
home where he lived in Sacramento during his years
You'll move on next to memorabilia of his presidential
years. First on display is his inauguration tuxedo.
There's a section on his attempted assassination.
There's the actual White House switchboard that
was used through the '90's that even has Chelsea
Clinton's bedroom marked on it. And then the exhibit
focuses on his first term as president. His White
House situation table is on display. There's a
dining table set for a state dinner with a menu
on display. The recreational times are on display
as well with photos and memorabilia of Camp David
and a section on his ranch in Santa Barbara, the
Rancho del Cielo. There are blow-up calendars
displaying the President's and First Lady's detailed
monthly schedules. And a section is dedicated
to Mrs. Reagan and her career as a movie star
and First Lady.
You then enter a long corridor that brings you
into the new Air Force One Pavilion where you
will find Reagan's actual Air Force One. The plane
is elevated above the ground and, facing a huge
glass wall overlooking the Santa Susana Mountains,
actually appears to be flying.
You enter on the third floor of the Pavilion,
walk around the entire plane, and enter the same
door that President Reagan would have walked through.
After entering the plane, you'll pass the communication
center, a stateroom area, a small lounge, a seating
area for the president's confidants, and then
the press area, finally exiting the tail of the
plane on the main floor of the exhibit hall. On
that floor there are the vehicles used in presidential
motorcades - Reagan's 1982 Cadillac Limo and secret
service and police motorcade escort vehicles.
There is also Marine One, the presidential helicopter.
The main theme of the Air Force One Pavilion is
how President Reagan used travel - and face to
face diplomacy - to promote U.S. interests and
Reagan's Air Force One was a Boeing 707 - a much
smaller plane compared to the current Air Force
One which is a 747. This was modest transportation
compared with today's. There is no bedroom, no
elaborate kitchen, and when every seat was filled,
it only carried 52 passengers. But seven presidents
flew aboard this very same plane. It went into
service in 1972 with Nixon and remained Air Force
One throughout Reagan's term. The first President
Bush used it in his first year in office before
the newer 747 came on duty. And President Clinton
and the current President Bush occasionally flew
in it as well - as their "back up" Air
When you finish the tour of the Air Force One
Pavilion, you re-enter into the main museum to
find yourself in front of a replica of the Oval
office decorated exactly as it was on Reagan's
last day in office. All the pictures behind the
desk are of family members except for President
Eisenhower's. The rug with the presidential seal
is the one he used during his tenure.
Before leaving the main building, you'll enter
the Legacy gallery whose theme defines the Reagan
presidency - "peace through strength"
- and culminates in a replica of the Berlin Wall.
With the new Pavilion opening, an audio tour will
help educate visitors about the Reagan years.
But the museum also has over 200 docent volunteers
ready to answer whatever other questions you might
There are also 35 government archivists working
at the Library. If you're a scholar or just curious,
you can make an appointment to review the actual
papers of the Reagan presidential era.
The Reagan Presidential Library is open from 10
a.m. - 5 p.m. every day except Christmas, Thanksgiving,
and New Years Day. Don't let it be said that you
have never visited this national landmark in our
own backyard. And, if you have, with its new Air
Force One, it's worthy of another trip. Do it
for the Gipper.
Director of Communications and Operations
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation
40 Presidential Drive
Simi Valley, California 93065
fax (805) 520-9702