Ronald and Nancy had no obvious connection to Simi Valley, California, so when I visited the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum recently I was obsessed with learning why it’s there. I finally found the right person to talk to–Bill.
The Reagans would often helicopter from their home in Bel Air, California, to their ranch near Santa Barbara. This meant they flew over Simi Valley and apparently liked what they saw. Bill wasn’t sure if they flew or drove up to look for property, but, in any event, they found 160 acres on top of a mountain that appealed to them. Up to that point, the Reagan Library was supposed to be at Stanford University. Reportedly, a property developer simply gave the Reagans 160 acres, and that’s why RRPL&M is there.
The hacienda style Reagan Library high above Simi Valley at 40 Presidential Drive is the largest of the federally operated presidential libraries and, in my opinion, the most beautifully situated. Its mountaintop perch is so expansive that a 90,000 square feet hangar was easily added by 2005. Inside it is the Boeing 707 that served 7 Presidents between 1973 and 2001. The Reagan Foundation received the Air Force One that took President Reagan to 26 foreign countries, reassembled it on the mountain, and placed a vast pavilion over it. While a walk-through of AFO was definitely a highlight of my visit, it was also the source of the only irritation I experienced the entire day. To enter it, you and your party must submit to a photo that you can later purchase. Tacky.
The rest of my experience was 5 Compass and so all-encompassing that today I’ll tell a bit of what I learned about Ronald Reagan’s life before he became the 40th President, and I’ll cover his actual Presidency and its aftermath tomorrow, focusing on what I learned that surprised or interested me.
Reagan remains the oldest elected president in American History. He was 69 years and 349 days old at the time of his inauguration on January 20, 1981. So what had he done for almost 70 years before that? Between 1937 and 1964 he made over 53 movies. By the time he played George “the Gipper” Gipp in Knute Rockne, he had already made over 20 film appearances, 3 with his first wife Jane Wyman. There is only one picture of Jane in the entire Reagan Presidential Library, and it’s a family grouping in the section about his Hollywood years. While I skipped the movie about his movies, I became fascinated with some of his films that I haven’t seen but heard about–Storm Warning, The Girl from Jones Beach, and especially his last one, The Killers. Apparently he played against type in this 1964 noir thriller and got some of the best reviews of his career. About racism, Storm Warning also starred Doris Day in an early and rare dramatic performance.
Reagan’s media career ended with host duties on television’s Death Valley Days. After serving as Screen Actors Guild President, he became 2 term Governor of California. Balancing its budget and leaving a huge surplus was surely part of the reason why he lost only 6 states when he ran for President against Jimmy Carter.