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Reagans Easing Into Private Life as Californians

November 19, 1988|LAURIE BECKLUND | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — While all eyes in this city are focused on the move of George Bush down the hall into the Oval Office, the first President in nearly three decades to weather a full eight years in office is quietly preparing to move back to California.

Surely if anyone can go home again, it will be Ronald Reagan and his wife.

Not since Dwight Eisenhower has a President had the chance to ease himself out of office so smoothly. A small army of civil servants and personal friends has been working behind the scenes for up to two years to ensure that the Reagans' transition into private life will be as comfortable--and as private--as possible.

Foundations of Library

When citizens Ronald and Nancy Reagan set foot on California soil after the inauguration Jan. 20, awaiting them will be a gated $2.5-million Bel-Air home purchased and refurbished to their taste by friends, penthouse offices in a Century City high-rise featured in the movie "Diehard," and the foundations of a library that will house more papers than any other presidential library in history.

"When George Washington left office, he just packed a couple of trunks of papers and took them with him back to Mt. Vernon," said David Van Tassel, supervising archivist for the Office of Presidential Libraries in the National Archives and Records Administration. "Today the volume of material is simply staggering."

Despite his determination to scale back bureaucracy, Reagan will have by far the most official papers of any President in history. As of the end of 1987, he and his White House staff had accumulated 55 million papers. By the end of his term, that number is expected to exceed 62 million, far beyond the previous record of 44 million set by Richard M. Nixon.

The first shipment of official Reaganalia left Washington on Nov. 4 when two C-5A cargo ships--the giant planes Reagan referred to when he said all the arms sent to Iran could fit into a single plane--took off for Los Angeles with more than 20,000 cubic feet of official gifts, ranging from jelly beans to caviar and jewels to saddles. Most of the gifts will eventually be displayed in the Reagan library.

It will take as many as seven such shipments to complete the entire move, according to Ray Fontaine, comptroller of the General Services Administration who has overseen the nuts and bolts of presidential moves dating to Lyndon B. Johnson.

"You can't just call up North American Van Lines and say, 'Move us,' " Fontaine said. "It probably takes about 25 to 30 work years just to move a President these days."

Because of the sheer bulk of his presidential holdings, the distance of his move, the cost of guards for classified documents and inflation, moving this President and setting up his post-presidential operations will cost about $4 million, another record, Fontaine estimated.

The move is a complex combination of personal, social and official transitions. Involved in virtually all of them is the Reagan "kitchen cabinet" of prominent businessmen, such as industrialists Holmes Tuttle and Earle Jorgensen.

Members of this group are on the board of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation, which will also be the landlord renting office space to the federal government for Reagan's official office. They will also own the home the Reagans will live in and are expected to advise him informally on the activities that he chooses to pursue in his retirement.

In a statement submitted to the Office of Government Ethics, a corporation calling itself Wall Management Services Inc. said it was composed of 18 "financially independent" friends who wanted to purchase and remodel a home that they would lease to the Reagans with an option to buy. The ethics office, noting that the arrangement called for rent and ultimate purchase at "fair market value," found no problem with the arrangement.

In August, 1986, the group bought the 7,192-square-foot ranch-style house at 666 St. Cloud Road in Bel-Air for $2.5 million. In February, the address was officially changed to 668 on city records because of the "mutual concern" of the Reagans that the old number could be construed as a Biblical reference to Satan, according to Elaine Crispen, press secretary for Nancy Reagan.

Nature of Assets

Tuttle, who had participated in a similar purchase of a home by friends for the Reagans in Sacramento after he became governor, declined to be interviewed. A White House spokesman has said the arrangement will enable Reagan to defer making any major real estate decisions until after he learns the exact nature of his assets, which have been kept in a blind trust since he took office. The rental price has not been disclosed.

The home, which has three bedrooms, six baths and servants' quarters, is modest by Bel-Air standards. Next door is the old Kirkeby Estate, which was the setting for the television show, "Beverly Hillbillies" and sold for $13.5 million in 1986.

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