The heat of a July-like sun last week popped some of the red, white and blue balloons floating above the Richard Nixon Birthplace and Library ground-breaking ceremony.
Even though it was December, many attendants were wiping their brows at Friday's event, where residents, local politicians, scout troops, and a bulldozer gave tribute to the former president who left office 14 years ago.
Daughter Julie Nixon Eisenhower hosted the ceremony, standing in for her father in whose name a $25-million presidential library and museum facility will be built.
Idaho Indian White Eagle, dressed in native costume, sang the “Star Spangled Banner,” raising his feather-laden hands to the sky for the last notes.
Western-style dramatics were the order of the day, and the country feel of the ceremony needing only the sound of a passing lonely train.
“We prayed for this weather and look what we got,” said Yorba Linda Mayor Roland Bigonger, motioning to the clear view of some of the last untouched hills north of Yorba Linda.
Born in the house his father Frances Nixon built, 37th President Richard M. Nixon, 75, was honored as an historic figure at the ceremony. The library will house political records and memos leading up to his first successful presidential election in 1968.
Because the project is funded completely with private donations, the library differs from the nine existing presidential libraries that are maintained at the taxpayer's expense. President Ronald Reagan's library broke ground 11 days ago in Ventura County.
The library is also the longest awaited. Ironically, unlike the other libraries, the Nixon library will contain none of the papers or records from his White House years that ended in 1974.
The Nixon family home - still standing after more than 76 years - will be a showpiece of the 9-acre research facility.
More than 2,000 people -- including library foundation members and former Nixon cabinet members Maurice Stans and Bob Finch - attended the ground-breaking.
Yorba Linda resident Edith Eichler, 94, who can recall when Nixon was a small boy, also was present. Last year, she was almost evicted from her small home to make room for the library. The city finally stepped down from trying to obtain her land - which was once part of the Nixon homestead.
Local residents made dust clouds as they crowded around the balloon-framed stage. Organizers were using the house as headquarters and few people saw the attic bedroom, where poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was scrawled on the wall where Nixon and his brothers slept as young boys. But, according to Nixon daughter Julie Nixon Eisenhower, the poetry is still there.
Spectators waited through speeches of local politicians for the moment when Eisenhower blew a horn that signaled the bulldozer to scoop up the first load of dirt for the project. Thousands of balloons were released to mark the moment.
“We'll all see you in 1990,” Eisenhower told the audience. The library is expected to be completed in spring of 1990.
Bigonger's voice broke as he declared “this is one important moment.”
Bigonger said he and a handful of residents were all that was left of the Nixon Birthplace Foundation that 20 years ago bought the Nixon home and turned it into a historical site.
Anaheim bricklayer Bob Farrell, who built the historic marker for the site; resident Hurless Barton who stored some of the original Nixon furniture; Clara Jane, widow of Donald Nixon; and residents Robert L. Meador, Bill Drake, and Whit Cromwell were instrumental in preserving the home and 90 percent of the furniture used by the Nixon family until they left for Whittier in the 1920s.
“Since 1977, we've been waiting for this,” Bigonger said of the incoming library.
“It's where it should be,” declared Eisenhower. When the foundation originally began looking for a location to place the privately funded library, it chose San Clemente, where Nixon established his western White House.
The south county location was nixed after other city developments would have slowed the library's construction.
Led by television personality Johnny Grant, the Rev. E.B. Hill of Mountain Baptist Church in Los Angeles gave the invocation, calling Nixon a “good, Godly American… of great and high standards.”
Other speakers also had high praise for the former president, who left office in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Nixon was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in criminal charges following the investigation.
“History will treat him much more kindly than his own time,” said Rep. William Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton) of the former president.
Nixon's presidential papers, by a decision of Congress, will continue to be housed at the National Archives instead of at the museum.
The ground-breaking ceremony was followed by a private dinner at the Anaheim Hilton that ended with a speech by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Dinner guests viewed a video prepared by Nixon in which he talked about the accomplishments of his presidency.
to previous section
to next section