Reagan Library – A Must Visit in Simi Valley
I’m headed for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library or the Reagan Library as I’ll call it from here on, in semi-arid and quite beautiful Simi Valley, California. It’s about an hour north of Los Angeles via the Ventura Freeway and then a short distance on highway 23. Won’t you join me to examine the life and times of this most enigmatic man.
Ronald Reagan was a transformative figure in American politics. There are some who think he should become the fifth President on Mount Rushmore.
There are others who think he should have been impeached for the Iran-Contra affair. His theory of trickle-down economics is hailed by some as opening up new opportunities for millions, while others say it has led to the slow destruction of the American middle class. Did he win the Cold War or was he just lucky to be in the right place at the right time as the Soviet Union crumbled under its own oppressive weight? Was the firing of the air-traffic controllers a stroke of genius or the beginning of the end for American organized labor? The one thing I think everybody would agree on was that he kept the U.S. out of any foreign wars other than the one-day invasion of the tiny island of Grenada and that was to restore democracy in a country that had fallen into violent Marxist hands. Believe it or not it actually worked.
No matter what your views on Reagan’s policies and beliefs (which btw would be considered too left wing for today’s RepublicanParty), Reagan the man was impossible not to like. He earned the nickname ‘teflon Ron’ fair and square as everybody was enamoured with his folksy ways and disarming charm. Unlike George W. Bush, he was never accused of being a puppet for unseen dark forces like you know who. Reagan was his own man.
There is surprisingly little signage for the Reagan Library, but assuming you have a GPS you start your visit to the Reagan Library by turning onto Presidential Way which is lined with flags of the 39 Presidents who preceded him. You will see the ones who followed him on the backs of the flags when you leave. Unfortunately some bird did not appear to be a Reagan fan and Ron’s visage is turd-stained. Hopefully someone will wipe that off soon.
If it’s quite busy and it apparently has been since Nancy’s death in March, 2016, you might have to park quite a ways away and take a shuttle to the entrance. The Reagan Library is a large three storied flat-roofed structure that sits atop a hill although you only realize that when you walk out the other side. It is designed to fit in with landscape and it does that quite well.
There is a courtyard between where you enter the complex and the actual entrance to the Reagan Library. The first thing I saw was this portrait of Nancy Reagan, the one person who really could influence Ron’s thinking on any particular subject. She appears to have almost impossibly long legs considering she was only five foot four.
As you walk toward the entrance Ron, bigger than life as he always was, is there to greet you. Notice the flowers left for the recently departed Nancy.
Then I got a jolt as I looked at the admission price – $29.00! That’s over double the $14.00 charged at the Kennedy Library. Is there something symbolic in that? I don’t know, but taking a family would be an expensive endeavour. However, I’m seeing lot’s of school groups here and presume they have not had to pay the $16.00 children’s admission. On inquiry I learn that the fee is higher than usual because it includes the Vatican Splendors special exhibit which runs until the end of August, 2016. There is no option to just visit the Reagan Library and not include the Vatican Splendors. Presumably the price will drop to something less stratospheric after the Vatican exhibit moves on.
UPDATE: The regular admission fee is $16.00, less for seniors and children.
The Reagan Library has four major components – the museum, Air Force One, the special exhibits area and the grounds. I recommend starting at the museum which is a one-way chronological tour that starts with Reagan’s birth and goes through to his death and funeral. You learn of his early days as a standout high school athlete, a budding acting career that takes off and his conversion from liberal to conservative during the eight years he worked as a spokesperson for G.E.
You also learn about why he was called The Gipper. I’ll save you the suspense.
The tour continues with the start of Reagan’s political successes, first as Governor of California and then the Presidency. The most interesting room on this part of the tour is a recreation of Reagan’s Oval Office with the original massive wooden desk made from timbers of the British ship H.M.S. Resolute sent to U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes as a gift from Queen Victoria. After this you come out into a long hallway that can take you to the Air Force One exhibit, but I recommend continuing the Ronald Reagan story before doing that.
As you walk down what is termed the ‘Crisis Corridor’ you can’t help but be impressed with how many crises Reagan faced in his Presidency and actually how well he handed most of them. There is a great statue of Reagan with Michail Gorbachev at the Reykjavik Summit.
The tour inevitably ends on a sad note with Reagan’s final years when he was stricken with Alzheimer’s disease and Nancy did her best to protect his virile image in the face of increasing debilitation. His state funeral was one of the largest in American history.
After exiting the museum this is the time to make your way to the Air Force One exhibit. Be prepared to be blown away.
Air Force One
Where the museum rooms have been fairly small and quite on the dark side, the Air Force One room is the complete opposite. It is massive enough to enclose the plane designated as Air Force One for all the Presidents from Nixon through George W. Bush. It’s a Boeing 707 and was retired in 2001, dismantled and re-erected in this building designed especially for it. All you can say when you walk into the room is “Wow”.
As you walk toward the plane there is a huge semi-circular mural depicting the evolution of Air Force One from FDR’s first flying boat through to the 747 of today. That orange and silver plane on the right was used by John Kennedy until Jacquie insisted it be painted less garishly.
The best part is that you can go inside and here I am giving my best Richard Nixon imitation.
This is the cockpit.
Reagan’s office – notice the jar of jellybeans.
And the meeting area.
Aside from Air Force One this giant room has other interesting artifacts including the limo Reagan had just stepped out of when John Hinkley Jr. tried to assassinate him.
Just outside the Air Force One exhibit there’s this great statue of Ron on horseback.
Currently there is a special exhibit relating to the history of the Vatican which I walked through fairly quickly as it seemed quite at odds with Reagan’s Presbyterian beliefs. But hey, the Gipper played for Notre Dame so he had to be a Catholic, right? Maybe that explains it.
After visiting the interior of the Reagan Library it’s time to explore the grounds which do have a commanding view of Simi Valley.
Here is a piece of the original Berlin Wall.
The fact that it is a piece sitting here in California and not still standing in Berlin is attributed to Ron’s famous demand –
By far the most important spot on the grounds is the gravesite of Ronald and Nancy Reagan. I’m here just a month and a day after Nancy was interred beside her beloved husband. The simplicity of the gravesite is a testament that Ronald Reagan came from simple roots and has returned to them.
After paying homage at the gravesite the last stop is the museum store which has some Reagan related items for sale that can only be purchased here. They are pricey, but of good quality. Who wouldn’t want a mug with one of Reagan’s famous sayings on it?
After visiting the Reagan Library, I am more than convinced that The Great Communicator has earned his place in history and the respect not only of his fellow Americans, but all in the world who cherish freedom over oppression. Rest in peace Ron and Nancy.