The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California
Who was Ronald Reagan? My first recollection of him was as the host of the TV anthology series, “Death Valley Days”. In 1967, soon after I began my studies at UCLA, Reagan became governor of California and the defacto head of the University Of California Board Of Regents. Although few governors before or since played such an active role in the governing of the university, Reagan was determined to make his mark.
While the Vietnam War raged, the University of California at Berkeley became “Ground Zero” for opposition, protests and demonstrations. In response to what he perceived as spoiled and unprincipled students and faculty, Reagan forced budget cuts across the entire UC system. Around that time, some unprincipled and spoiled demonstrator threw a rock and broke a large window at UCLA's old English Building. Becoming an icon for both sides of the conflict, there were sufficient funds to board-up the hole, yet there was no replacement glass installed during my tenure at UCLA.
In the years 1967 – 1970, the war raged higher and tensions increased on campuses all across the country. Ronald Reagan, to his great displeasure, hosted one of the last UC Regents’ meetings openly held on a UC Campus. There, at the UCLA Faculty Center in 1967, Reagan’s attendance brought out one of the largest political demonstrations ever at UCLA. At the time of the meeting, Reagan and the other regents sat behind a glass wall, obscured only by draperies. Outside, unruly students released the parking brakes on several cars and began pushing them around the adjacent parking lot. With only a few campus police on hand, it was all that they could do to prevent mayhem.
In the spirit of the day, someone in the crowd of several hundred started a chant. Knowing just how to rile the tradition-bound and conservative Ronald Reagan, the student demonstrators repeatedly chanted, “F*** Ronald Reagan. F*** Ronald Reagan”. The chant was so loud that it was impossible for the governor and the UC Board of Regents to conduct business. After it was evident that they had adjourned and left the building, campus police regained control and dispersed the crowd. Eventually, the events of that day began a spiral of budget cuts and UC fee increases that continues to this day.
Ronald Reagan, like Bob Hope, John Wayne and a host of other establishment actors came to epitomize the far side of the “generation gap” from the one that I represented. I opposed the Vietnam War, the UC faculty salary cuts and student fee increases. My parents were Eisenhower Republicans. They condoned no form of violence in our home. Out of respect for my upbringing and my parents, I observed the UCLA anti-Reagan protest, but other than joining in the chant, I did nothing more that day. With the perspective of time, I feel that Ronald Reagan represented in a courteous way, a set of political beliefs that were unlike my own. If we students had not breeched the decorum that Reagan expected in his life, would the budget cuts have been as deep and would the fee increases have been as steep?
Now that Ronald Reagan is gone from the scene of life, he lives on in many memories. Some ardent followers see him as the conservative messiah, while for others he was the bane of both the environmental and peace movements. Did Reagan’s funding of the “Peacekeeper”, the multiple-warhead, independently targeted intercontinental ballistic MX-Missile help end, or did it extend the Cold War?
At inception, I felt that the International Space Station (ISS) was yet another Reagan make-work project for the military industrial complex. Although that may have been its original impetus, I have come to believe that with its $160 billion+ in federal government funding, that the ISS was a good investment after all. Keeping an active manned space program keeps our engineering and planning skills sharp. In any event, Ronald Reagan’s funding of both the Peacekeeper and ISS projects takes him into the ranks of the biggest spending presidents in U.S. history. Who says that the government did not create jobs or stimulate the economy, even if it was for questionable purposes?
In December 2010, I made my first visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Although I did not agree with many of his policies or decisions as either governor or president, I hold no ill feelings for the man. Under the circumstances of the times, he did the best he knew how to do. As I approached the library on foot, I let bygones be bygones. Regardless of my previous feelings about Ronald Reagan, there was enough attraction for me to visit his library, museum and final resting place.
With a traditional Spanish style courtyard at its entrance, and strong touches of California ranch architecture in both its finish and details, I found it a handsome building in a beautiful setting. Sitting at the brow of a hill the site has a commanding view of high chaparral in the Los Padres National Forest. On a clear day, one can also see the Pacific Ocean, near Ventura. Despite the close proximity of cities such as Simi Valley and Moorpark, the view is only slightly changed from what it must have been during the nineteenth century Spanish Rancho era. With Ronald Reagan's love of the ranching lifestyle, this site reflects the man in his most favorable light.
In a remote, yet picturesque corner of the grounds is the Ronald Reagan Crypt. Its inscribed comments are brief, mentioning little more than the bare facts of his life. The Presidential Seal, rendered as a brass plaque is its only adornment. With its spectacular view of Ventura County both around and below, who could stand on that spot and harbor hostility toward the man, or anything else, for that matter?
It was the holiday season at the Reagan Library. Poinsettias adorned the courtyard. Inside, Christmas trees representing each decade of the republic were on display. The gift shop was abuzz, selling Ronald Reagan logo items along with other patriotic souvenirs. Except among the omnipresent security force, there was a festive mood throughout the museum.
Other than the spectacular view, the second most amazing feature at the Ronald Reagan Library is Air Force One. Trucked to the site in pieces, and then assembled to look like new, it stands on pedestals in a custom-designed pavilion. In front of the airplane is a picture window large enough for the plan to fly through, unimpeded. Of course, there is the issue of getting the plane up to speed in such a short distance. Through the wonders of stop-action video-capture, you can watch a YouTube video of Air Force One Departing the Ronald Reagan Library on a clear afternoon.
After watching Air Force One take off, we visited the Christmas tree display area. There, stood a series of trees, each decorated to represent a decade since 1776. Near the display of Christmas trees stood John and Jan Zweifel’s White House in miniature. At one-foot-to-one-inch scale, the model is sixty feet in length. The Zweifels and a select group of volunteers put over 500,000 hours of labor into creating their masterpiece. Our YouTube video, The White House in miniature starts with a gingerbread White House in the lobby of the Library and proceeds with a snowy-night Christmas tour of the presidential mansion.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library was dedicated in 1991. In 1994, as he felt the slow release of Alzheimer’s disease, Ronald Reagan wrote his public farewell message. Until near that time, he had been actively involved with the planning of the Reagan Library. According to the docent on our tour, he was especially keen to include a full-scale replica of his presidential Oval Office. With some difficulty, the architects accommodated what we might call Reagan’s last wish. Major construction at the library culminated with the opening of the Air Force One Pavilion in 2005. After his death in 2004, the remains of Ronald Reagan, the fortieth president of the United States found peace on the grounds of his presidential library. If you are near Simi Valley, California, I recommend that you make time for a visit. It is Cold War history at its finest.