The Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Museum: A President Comes Home
"It's a long way from Yorba Linda to the White House."
On a hot July 19, 1990, more than 50,000 Nixon friends, family, fans, neighbors, and former administration and campaign officials gathered on the grounds surrounding his modest birthplace, the same site that later became the Richard Nixon Elementary School, to dedicate a library campus recognizing the life and legacy of America’s 37th President.
But how the presidential library of Orange County’s most famous son came to be built on the very land that his father once farmed for citrus, is as intriguing and fascinating as the man himself.
A Unique History
Location. Location. Location.
Several universities were considered to be the home of the Nixon Library, and a few – such as President Nixon’s alma mater Whittier College and the University of Southern California, Mrs. Nixon’s alma mater – eagerly hoped to start construction as early as 1975.
Nonetheless, the Library project was put on hold until 1983, when the city of San Clemente – the seaside Orange County village that saw a surge in population after the President and Mrs. Nixon purchased a home (La Casa Pacifica) there in 1969 – introduced a compelling proposal. The Library would be part of a retail and residential complex atop a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Ultimately, the city was unable to expedite approvals and so the Library project was again placed on hold until the city of Yorba Linda came knocking.
Sounding the Buzzer
Julie Nixon Eisenhower officially gave the signal on December 2, 1988, ordering a bulldozer adorned with American flags, to turn the first mounds of earth of a presidential center dedicated to advancing the causes of peace and freedom.
In 1987, the city of Yorba Linda came knocking with an intriguing offer. The city purchased nine acres of land from the Yorba Linda School District, on which the Richard Nixon Elementary School sat, and deeded it to the Nixon Foundation.
In return, the Nixon Foundation razed the aging elementary school, designed and developed the new Library and Museum and restored President Nixon’s birthplace, making it available to scores of visitors as the crown jewel of the new Library complex.
"Four living presidents, former and serving, will gather at and unprecedented public ceremony in Orange County." - Los Angeles Times, July 15, 1990
On July 19, 1990, President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush joined former Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan – and their First Ladies Pat Nixon, Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan – to dedicate the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace.
It was one of the largest gatherings of presidents ever together – and the first time four first ladies shared a stage.
One by one, each President, former and serving, presented remarks dedicated to the former president and elder statesman, Richard Nixon.
President Gerald Ford
Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon’s Vice President and successor to the Presidency, gave the first remarks at the opening ceremony. His words touched upon the unique and exceptional lifelong career in pursuit of peace for all Americans.
“Our lives have been intertwined with the remarkable career of a native son of California, who was born in that house right over there…You, Dick Nixon, have the gratitude of men and women everywhere who cherish peace with liberty. Because you loved your country and because you had the courage to serve, this day is a celebration richly deserved by you and by Pat.”
President Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan, a fellow California two-term president and longtime friend celebrated Nixon’s intelligence and judgement.
“We are gathered here today to pay tribute to a man who has been part of our lives for almost half a century…During my eight years in the White House, I relied on his insight and wisdom and I will always be grateful for the benefit of his seasoned expertise.”
President George H.W. Bush
George H.W. Bush, Ambassador to the United Nations and later head of the Republican National Committee during the Nixon Administration, spoke of Richard Nixon’s extraordinary eloquence in articulating the values and ideals of the American people.
“I would say to visitors here, look at Richard Nixon the man…He loved America’s good, quiet, decent people. And he spoke for them. He felt deeply on their behalf. For millions of Americans, this President became something they had rarely known: a voice speaking loudly and eloquently for those values, their values and their dreams.”
President Richard Nixon
Keynote remarks were delivered by the guest of honor, Richard Nixon. His inspirational words and the lessons from victory and defeat lie at the heart of his life and legacy.
“I believe in the American Dream because I have seen it come true in my own life. And I want you to know that as far as you’re concerned, I want your drams to come true as well. You will suffer disappointments in life and sometimes you will be very discouraged. It is sad to lose, but the greatest sadness is to travel through life without know either victory or defeat.”
"I Was Born In A House My Father Built"
The Birthplace was opened to the public by four presidents and first ladies on July 19, 1990.
The Nixon family homestead is the Nixon Library’s crown jewel. Although it was thought to have been built from a Sears & Roebuck kit, it is not known where Frank Nixon obtained the kit he used to build the home.
Nearly all of the furnishings on display to visitors inside of the house are original and were used by the Nixon family, including the master bed and bureau, dining room table, china and kitchenware, piano, and wooden high-chair used by all five Nixon boys.
The house was added to the list of National Historic Landmarks in 1973 and California Historic Landmarks in 1994.
A Walk Through the Presidential Library
The 42,000 square foot original gallery space was a roller coaster right through history, from the orange groves of Yorba Linda to the presidency and life as an elder statesman.
World Leaders Past and Present
The four Presidents in attendance posed with fellow international leaders that Richard Nixon selected to permanently cast in bronze, those throughout his career with whom he shared important relationships.
The ten statespersons selected for the Hall of World Leaders were, alphabetically, Konrad Adenauer, Leonid Brezhnev, Winston Churchill, Charles De Gaulle, Nikita Khruschchev, Mao Zedong, Golda Meir, Anwar al-Sadat, Shigeru Yoshida, and Zhou Enlai.
The Nixon Family
President and Mrs. Nixon shared opening day festivities not only with three presidential couples and over 50,000 visitors, but their daughters, sons in law and their four grandchildren. Jennie, Alex and Melanie Eisenhower and Christopher Nixon Cox were on hand touring the grounds with their grandparents; Alex and Christopher even shared a special moment waving from the bedroom windows of the Birthplace with their grandfather.
A Re-Imagination After 26 Years
On October 14, 2016, the Nixon Library re-opened following a $15 million renovation, with more than 70 new, interactive exhibitions.
The opening day ceremonies featured remarks from President Nixon’s eldest daughter, Tricia Nixon Cox, Archivist of the United States David Ferriero, and senior Nixon Administration officials including Dr. Henry Kissinger. The ceremony also included a performance by the USC Trojan Marching Band to honor alumna First Lady Pat Nixon.
Now 30 years later, the Nixon Library continues to inform and educate all who visit to gain a better understanding of the 37th President of the United States, his administration and his continued impact on our country and the world.