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Yorba Linda Is Expected to Announce Nixon Accord : Library May Open Minus Key Papers

November 29, 1987|MARIANN HANSEN | Times Staff Writer

Gerald R. Ford has a presidential library. So does Jimmy Carter. Ronald Reagan hopes to break ground in Ventura County next fall for his.

But Richard M. Nixon, who preceded all three men to the White House, has yet to find a home for the mementos of his stormy presidency.

This week, Yorba Linda officials are expected to announce the details of an agreement between the city and the Richard Nixon Presidential Archives Foundation to build the library there, said John C. Whitaker, executive director of the foundation.

But the long-awaited Richard Nixon Presidential Library stands to be the first presidential library without presidential papers.

The federal government took custody of Nixon's presidential materials--44 million pages and 4,000 hours of tape recordings--when he tried to have some of them destroyed.

They now sit in a warehouse in Alexandria, Va. National archivists are sifting through them, removing classified information.

Nixon and members of his Administration have fought the National Archives to prevent public release of some of the materials, particularly those known as the Special White House Papers from the Watergate period.

The eight other presidential libraries are operated by the National Archives, but Nixon's initially will be privately run.

"The question isn't whether Nixon can operate his own library but what's going to go in it," said a former House subcommittee staff member familiar with presidential libraries.

The library initially will include Nixon's vice presidential papers, all his personal papers since he left office, manuscripts for his six books and his personal White House diaries, Whitaker said.

The foundation will hire a museum company to plan and build the exhibits, which will probably focus on Nixon's work with China, the Middle East, arms control and domestic issues, Whitaker said.

"There will not be a lot of glass containers with dusty items in them," he said.

And there will be a section on Watergate. "The (former) President feels it was part of his presidency," Whitaker said.

Nixon himself, when he toured the proposed San Clemente site for the library four years ago, told the media that the museum would not ignore Watergate.

"The Watergate episode, of course, is part of the history of the times. . . . (It) will be seen in perspective, and that's the way it should be," he said then.

The foundation expects that the library and museum will bring 500,000 visitors to Yorba Linda each year. They will be built with $25 million in private donations.

Four years ago, San Clemente officials asked the Nixon foundation to sign an agreement to ensure that the facility would provide a balanced presentation of Nixon's presidency and include items on Watergate.

But Yorba Linda, which recently won the library after San Clemente delayed approval for four years, has not considered a similar agreement.

"Any presidential library is going to have a certain bias. We're not, at least thus far, involved in the particular content of the library," City Manager Arthur C. Simonian said.

Some critics have taken the bias charge even further, saying presidential libraries are empty, fake monuments that deify former presidents, said John Stewart, acting director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.

"I think they (presidential libraries) have all done very well in not exaggerating and not blowing the Presidents out of proportion," Stewart said.

"But just the fact that you have an institution on the life of one person, that's a biased statement. You're coming to a conclusion about this person--that he was great enough to have this institution."

Most people visit presidential libraries because they like the former President, he said. For example, many admittedly visit the Kennedy library for a nostalgia trip, "and they usually get it," Stewart said.

Although they are called libraries, it is the museum that attracts the visitors. The Kennedy museum presents the family history since 1840, when Kennedy's grandparents immigrated to the United States from Ireland.

By far the most popular exhibit is the collection of film clips from Kennedy's press conferences, Stewart said.

Similarly, the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum, which opened Oct. 1, 1986, in Atlanta, Ga., offers a videotape question-and-answer section, where visitors can select from a series of 100 questions, punch a button and view Carter's prerecorded answer. (Whitaker said the Nixon museum will offer something similar.)

The museum has several exhibits on aspects of the Carter presidency--such as the Middle East, Camp David and the Iran hostage crisis--and on the office of the presidency in general, as well as a replica of Carter's Oval Office.

"I'm sure there are things in the museum he (Carter) would just as soon forget about his presidency, such as the hostage crisis," said Martin Elzy, assistant director of the library, where, in January, the National Archives opened 6 million of the 27 million pages of Carter's presidential papers.

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