The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California, is the hall of homage and final resting place of the 40th president of the United States.
By Lazelle Jones
In most cases it’s difficult at best to avoid dissension when talking about the modern American presidency. But in the case of President Ronald Reagan, most people can agree that he accomplished great things and truly earned his nickname, “The Great Communicator.”
The 40th president led the United States from January 1981 to January 1989. He lived and provided leadership not only to our country but to the world during a time filled with tumult, challenge, and rapid change. And because of his leadership, parts of the world emerged stronger.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, dedicated in 1991, is located in Simi Valley, California, a little more than an hour’s drive from Pomona, where FMCA members will gather for the association’s 75th International Convention, March 20 through 23. It makes a fine stop either to or from the event, and is close enough to warrant a visit even if your travels do not take you through Simi Valley.
The facility is the largest of all of America’s presidential libraries. It’s administered by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, whose mission is to continue to recognize Reagan’s achievements and to insure that future generations have the opportunity to discover them for themselves. This is one of 12 presidential libraries managed by the National Archives and Records Administration.
At the library’s dedication in 1991, Ronald Reagan said, “The doors of this library are open now and all are welcome. The judgment of history is left to you, the people.” That means you and me.
Located on a 100-acre site high atop a mountain, the complex is divided into the Presidential Library and Museum and the Air Force One Pavilion, which opened in October 2005. Your admission fee covers entry to the entire complex.
The library and museum include a monumental collection of documents “” not only Reagan’s presidential papers, but items from his eight years as governor of California. That means more than 1.5 million photographs, plus numerous recordings, videotapes, and thousands of books and related publications. Serious researchers are in their element.
Luckily for regular visitors, the story of Reagan’s life is made plain, and they don’t have to dig through books to find it. A complete timeline is provided, beginning with Reagan’s childhood in Dixon, Illinois, when he was a student “” up to and including college “” to his early days in broadcasting and movies. Reagan’s film career spanned more than 20 years, and he spent time in television as well, hosting “Death Valley Days” and “GE Theater.” You can see original costumes and movie posters from these days. Reagan was an energetic and enthusiastic participant in such organizations as the Screen Actors Guild, which no doubt was a precursor to his growing interest and future participation in politics and government.
Reagan won the California governorship in 1966 and helped provide the state with greater economic strength. However, it was the events during his eight-year presidency that many of us most often recall. Without a doubt, his challenge to the Soviet Union to “tear down the [Berlin] Wall” still resonates in the minds of people around the world. Finally, under his watch, the Berlin Wall was removed, and the museum displays a piece of that structure.
Other items on view at the facility include a sampling of gifts presented to the president by world leaders. The collection is periodically changed and represents a fraction of the more than 2,000 items in the museum’s holdings. Also on hand are gifts presented specifically to Mrs. Reagan. Some of her wardrobe worn during the White House years also is displayed.
As for the White House itself, you can view a full-scale replica of the Oval Office as it looked when Reagan left it in January 1989. And sports fans will enjoy inspecting the memorabilia given to the president while he was in office.
FMCA members who already may have seen the library and museum probably have not seen its second “half,” the 87,000-square-foot Air Force One Pavilion, which opened on October 24, 2005, after four years of planning. Inside the pavilion is the famed Boeing 707 jetliner that flew 445 missions and more than 1.3 million miles.
Between 1973 and 2001 seven different American presidents used this 707 to conduct government affairs, but it was Ronald Reagan who by far maximized the plane as an effective diplomatic tool in his efforts to end the Cold War. Reagan used it for 211 diplomatic missions totaling almost 700,000 miles of air travel.
Air Force One is complete as it was when in service. With its landing gear anchored in bedrock, visitors can walk around and view it from all angles. The plane’s nose is slightly elevated to simulate takeoff.
Next, you can step inside and walk through it from front to rear, to see it as it looked back in the 1980s. The President’s cabin, the First Lady’s office, the lounge for the chief of staff and cabinet members, the seating area for staff, the galley, and the seating area for reporters all can be viewed.
Other displays in the Air Force One Pavilion include the Marine Corps One helicopter; President Reagan’s 1984 Cadillac limousine; and a Chevrolet Suburban that was used by the Secret Service. Here also is a replica of part of the Berlin Wall and a pub in Ireland Reagan visited that was dismantled and reassembled here. It is an amazing place.
President Reagan’s final resting place is on the grounds as well. The memorial atop it is made of white limestone and etched with this sentiment: “I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth in each and every life.”
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum also offers new and rotating exhibits. A special look at Reagan’s involvement as a lieutenant in the U.S. Cavalry (he joined the 14th Cavalry at age 24) tells the story of the horse and horse soldier in the American West. This includes items used by John Wayne and Ronald Reagan when they starred in Westerns.
More than 3 million people have visited the complex since it opened, further testimony to the importance and the necessity felt by the American people “” and the peoples of the world “” to reflect on the accomplishments of Ronald Wilson Reagan.
The library, museum, and Air Force One Pavilion are open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults, $9 for seniors 62 and over, $3 for children ages 11 to 17, and free for children 10 and under. For $3 you also may rent headsets for an audio tour that provides insights into the exhibits that include recorded comments from President and Mrs. Reagan.
The facility is wheelchair-accessible and group tours (20 or more) are available. Parking for motorhomes is not available.
For more information, contact:
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum
40 Presidential Drive
Simi Valley, CA 93065