Library's new exhibits help tell Reagan's story

First major renovation for 12-year-old facility

October 18, 2003|By Amanda Covarrubias | Amanda Covarrubias,LOS ANGELES TIMES

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. - In 1966, actor-turned-politician Ronald Reagan crisscrossed the state in a powder-blue Mustang convertible, campaigning for his first term as California governor.

Next month, that car will go on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Simi Valley, as will the restaurant booth in which Reagan proposed to his wife and the conference table from the Situation Room at the White House.

The new exhibits will be unveiled as the library completes its first extensive renovation since it opened 12 years ago.

"We could think of no better way to celebrate the anniversary of the Reagan Library than with the opening of these new galleries," said library director Duke Blackwood.

"Visitors to the library and museum will now get to see and learn more of Ronald Reagan than ever before," he said.

In the revamped galleries, curators have tried to personalize the life story of the man who became the nation's 40th president in 1981.

"It's the best way to energize the public and connect with every visitor, whether he or she is 5 or 100," Blackwood said.

The renovation of the galleries and their scheduled reopening Nov. 4 comes amid a larger renovation of the library that includes a Gallery of Presidents, a White House South Lawn reproduction and an Air Force One Pavilion.

The Gallery of Presidents features paintings of all the commanders in chief and a rare engraving of the Declaration of Independence.

Only about 30 such engravings exist today, and the Reagan Library is the only presidential library displaying one, said John Langellier, the library's assistant director.

Also on display is a 1787 copy of the U.S. Constitution and a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Lincoln.

Blackwood said the Gallery of Presidents was designed to educate the public about the office of the presidency.

After providing an overview of the nation's highest elected office, visitors will be led into the Reagan portion of the museum, where they can view and touch a replica of the kitchen of Reagan's childhood home in Dixon, Ill.

Also featured will be pictures from Reagan's days at Eureka College in Illinois and as a reserve officer for the U.S. Cavalry, where he became an accomplished rider.

There will be a replica of radio station WHO in Iowa where Reagan first worked as a sportscaster, and of a 1930s theater with wooden seats that will show movie clips from Reagan's films, including the training films he made during World War II.

Visitors will also be able to admire Nancy Reagan's gray wedding suit and see the wooden voting booth where Reagan voted for himself in the 1966 governor's race.

By the end of 2004, work is expected to be complete on the Air Force One Pavilion, featuring the former presidential airplane, which was shipped to the library in pieces and will be rebuilt on site for permanent display.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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