The random thoughts of a nash.
tv didn't do it justice
Published on June 26, 2004 By Gene Nash In Travel

        I watched the funeral proceedings broadcast from Ronald Reagan's Presidential Library, which, as you may have surmised from my eulogy blog, I have been to on more than one occasion. Television did not do it justice, neither the building nor, especially, the view out the back where the actual proceedings were held.

        The view from the back of the library is one of the most striking and beautiful views I have ever seen. It is also quintessentially Californian. No matter where in the world or in what context I saw a portrayal of that view I would sigh and say, "Ahhh, California. Home." It is open skies and rolling hills stretching into forever. They say on a clear day you can see the ocean. The view is so beautiful that upon first seeing it I became jealous. I wanted a view like that! Can I build my house here? I don't know how much property they own or if development can encroach. If you have a chance, it's worth going just to see.

        None of that really came through on TV. A combination of evening mist and the sunset hour seemed to wash it all out in a blurry golden haze. Too bad.

        The building itself also didn't fare too well during the broadcast. It looked like a khaki shoebox. In person it's a serene haven done in a California Mission style. I loved the courtyard (through which they carried the body from the parking lot into the library) so much I wanted one of those as well. I don't know who the architect was, but he did an excellent job. It too is reminiscent of the courtyard in a California Mission.

        So what else is there? It's been a few years since I last visited so I can't speak to the current exhibitions, only about what I saw.

  • A gallery. I saw a fascinating exhibit of Winston Churchill's paintings there once. The old chap was a very good artist.
  • It opens with a biographical section. Some of it is propagandistic -- I can't believe they actually spun his ratting people out to the House Unamerican Activities Committee as something good -- but most of it was straight ahead and interesting. How much you get out of this may depend on how much you already know about the President. It is fascinating to see objects you've only previously heard or read about
  • Exhibits about politics. (You could even sit and watch Kennedy and Nixon go at it in the first ever televised debate.)
  • An impressive mock up of the Oval Office as it was during his term. (Whenever I think of the Oval Office or the White House, it is this I see.)
  • Rotating displays of items acquired while in office (including a sample of Nancy's infamous chinaware, if I recall). The supply of material they have to draw from is reportedly vast -- so these displays are ever changing.
  • They also had an interesting use of technology -- a sort of "virtual" Reagan. In a theater-like room you could type a question in at a terminal then take a seat. The computer would search through extensive clips of Reagan speeches and news conferences to find an appropriate answer then play your question followed by the response clip. Pretty cool.
  • Much more than I could ever possibly remember.

        As for the Library part, I think you need to be a credentialed, qualified researcher to gain access.

        The area where President Reagan was laid to rest used to be publicly accessible without any kind of admission. Call first (800-410-8354 or 805-577-4000) to make sure it still is. If it is and you find yourself in California and would like to pay your respects drop by. You can see the magnificent view, look at the courtyard, see a 2001-like monolithic slab of the Berlin wall, and poke around the gift shop all for free. The museum and gallery are what require admission. (Again, call first to confirm that -- it's been a few years since I've been there.)

        Gene Nash

        P.S. -- Looking around the library websites, seeing the pictures, reading the info... I still find it hard to believe he's dead. He was there my entire life. He was there when I actually saw these things. Now he's gone. It's hard to connect.

on Jun 26, 2004
"I saw a fascinating exhibit of Winston Churchill's paintings there once. The old chap was a very good artist."

Winston loved to paint, I remember asking him as a young man what he loved most, he replied "Pigs and painting, Peter". Splendid.
on Jun 26, 2004
"Pigs and painting, Peter"

Cool. I like that.

One painting in particular stuck in my mind, sort of a colonnade at evening. The technique was fantastic.

They also had some Churchill artifacts, like a leisuresuit he wore while staying in the command center night and day. It was designed so he could sleep in it then jump up and start commanding. There's nothing like history right before your eyes.