Yorba Linda is just east of Anaheim and didn’t really exist when Richard Nixon’s family lived in the area in the early 20th century. It wasn’t incorporated until 1967. Today with a median household income slightly over $121,000, it’s often listed as one of the richest cities in the U.S.
When the Nixon Library opened there at 18001 Yorba Linda Boulevard in 1990, it was run by the private Richard Nixon Foundation. The National Archives and Records Administration didn’t take over its operation until 2007 when the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum became one of the 13 it now administers. Changes were made. An exact replica of the White House East Room was added. Reportedly, greater coverage of Watergate occurred. Visitors can now listen to secretly taped conversations Nixon had in the Oval Office. It’s a unique Presidential Library for many reasons. It’s unusual, for example, to have both a President’s birthplace and tomb at the same site.
The Special Exhibit Gallery contains the Centennial exhibit I wrote about yesterday. It’s great. I especially enjoyed the tale about Leonid Brezhnev. The Soviet leader visited Camp David in 1973 and Nixon presented him with a Lincoln Continental. A lover of fast cars, Brezhnev wanted to try it out right away and got behind the wheel. Nixon climbed in and they took off. When Brezhnev took a steep curve at more than 50 MPH, Nixon cautioned, “Slow down, slow down.” Brezhnev paid no attention. After the ride, Nixon told Brezhnev, “You are an excellent driver.”
That Lincoln is now in the Kremlin Collection in the Motor Museum in Riga, Latvia, not too far from the Rolls Royce Brezhnev totaled in 1980 when he ran into a truck in Moscow. I saw both vehicles in the fall of 2011 and blogged about them in “Riga’s Auto Museum”, which is in the archives.
Down the hall from the Special Exhibit Gallery is the re-created East Room and, in the opposite direction, a wall containing all of the more than 50 Time magazine covers featuring Richard Nixon.
The older, more traditional Exhibit Galleries in RNPL&M’s other extension require a lot more reading and reward the patient with opportunities to learn about Nixon’s speeches, campaigns, etc. His 1960 Presidential bid remains the closest election in U.S. history. Despite this loss, Nixon was a California Congressman, a Senator, a 2 term Vice President under Eisenhower, and finally an active and controversial President. After leaving office, he re-invented himself by advising subsequent Presidents and writing 10 books including 2 major memoirs.
The older galleries have more about Pat Nixon. Born in Ely, Nevada, Thelma Catherine Patricia was a farm girl, a movie extra, and a commercial subjects teacher before meeting Richard via a community theater production of The Dark Tower. When they married 2 years later, Pat and Dick couldn’t afford a photographer so there’s only one grainy wedding picture of the occasion. It’s on display as are their daughters’ wedding gowns, the red coat Pat wore during the Nixons’ first historic visit to China, etc. Outside is a lavish garden containing official First Lady rose bushes near the white gazebo that Tricia Nixon Cox stood under at her 1971 White House wedding.
RNPL&M’s future plans include building a replica of Richard Nixon’s Oval Office, continued refreshment of the 25-year-old galleries, and more. You might think that visiting here would be painful, but it’s not. It’s actually healing, especially if you do it with Vietnam POWs.