The elder daughter of Richard Nixon and the wife of one of his closest advisers broke ground Tuesday for a new public policy center to be built at the former President's library and birthplace.
"This is an extraordinary occasion," Tricia Nixon Cox told a crowd of more than 100 people. "I think of the opening to China in 1972 and words my father spoke: 'A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.' We are gathering today to take that initial step."
The Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom will house offices for scholars on foreign and domestic affairs as well as a conference center. The cost of constructing the bipartisan think tank has not been made public, but it is being funded entirely by the Elmer and Mamdouha Bobst Foundation, library officials said.
Former Warner-Lambert Corp. Chairman Elmer Bobst was a close personal friend and foreign policy adviser to Nixon, who delivered the eulogy at Bobst's funeral in 1978.
"They were like father and son," Mamdouha Bobst said in a short speech Tuesday. "We shared many things together--great love and great affection. [My husband] felt Dick was the most capable person to take the United States from troubled times into peace."
Cox and Mamdouha Bobst announced the gift to build the center in March, during a two-day conference in Washington on U.S. foreign policy. Their announcement preceded a keynote address by President Clinton.
It was at the Yorba Linda library that Nixon announced the formation of the center during a ceremony in January, 1994, three months before his death. The center now operates out of offices at the Nixon library and in Washington.
The 22,000-square-foot building is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 1997. It will also feature a reproduction of the East Room at the White House and a new lobby for the library.
To make room for the new building, dozens of citrus trees will be moved to another part of the nine-acre library grounds. The trees are a tribute to Nixon's father, Frank, who grew citrus trees on the land between 1912 and 1922, library spokesman Kevin Cartwright said.
After Tuesday's brief ceremony, which took place in intense afternoon heat, Cox mingled with the crowd and signed memorabilia. Her last public appearance at the library was in April for the unveiling of a commemorative postage stamp honoring her father.
"She was so gracious," said Tustin resident Kay Haskin, who asked Cox to sign a copy of Pat Nixon's biography, written by Julie Nixon Eisenhower. "I told her that she and her sister were credits to their parents."
Many of those in the crowd had merely been visiting the library when they happened upon the ceremony.
"We were a little overcome," said 72-year-old John Warden of Long Beach. "Just to see one of the Nixon daughters brings back so much nostalgia. We are glad to be here on this day."