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California and the West

Conservative Group Buys Reagan Ranch

Politics: Young America's Foundation will use the former Western White House for a leadership program. The price is not disclosed.

April 21, 1998|FAYE FIORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — A political group that promotes conservative values on college campuses has purchased the Santa Barbara ranch that was Ronald Reagan's Western White House, and plans to make it the centerpiece of a leadership development program.

The deal was scheduled to close today on the 680-acre spread bought by Young America's Foundation of Fairfax, Va., a 29-year-old group that teaches patriotism, limited government, and other values espoused by the Reagan presidency.

The ranch, beloved by the former president, who once said the property, "if not heaven itself, probably has the same ZIP Code," will be maintained as it was when the Reagans occupied it, officials said.

"Ronnie and I are delighted that Young America's Foundation will be the new owners of Rancho del Cielo," former First Lady Nancy Reagan said. "We hope that our ranch will be a spark for many bright young Americans in the years ahead."

The ranch will become the base for the Ronald Reagan Leadership Development Program, which will be headed by Frank Donatelli, Reagan's former political director. Although various exhibits are planned for the ranch, seminars and similar activities will be held in nearby Santa Barbara in additional space the foundation plans to buy to avoid building conference rooms and altering the historic site, officials said.

"We are tremendously excited to be able to share President Reagan's vision, principles and ideas with America's future leaders at one of the places he loves most," said foundation President Ron Robinson. "Young America's Foundation is committed to preserving and protecting both the Reagan legacy and the ranch itself, which will be maintained just as it was when President and Mrs. Reagan lived there."

Neither the foundation nor Reagan's Bel-Air office would disclose the price finally agreed upon in a deal that has been pending since at least late February. But the ranch, in the Santa Ynez Mountains 29 miles north of Santa Barbara, was thought to be overpriced when listed last summer for $5.95 million. It was rarely shown.

The 87-year-old Reagan, who has Alzheimer's disease, lives in Bel-Air and no longer visits the property, which features wooden corrals he built, a fact he once announced to former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev on a 1992 visit before the two world leaders toured the area in a sport utility vehicle with the license plate GIPPER.

In another memorable visit, Queen Elizabeth braved mud in a four-wheel-drive vehicle to reach the secluded presidential hideaway.

What should become of the property was a matter of considerable dispute almost from the moment it went up for sale. Although the Reagan faithful cherished memories of the jeans-clad president relaxing and riding on the ranch, many considered the use of taxpayer money to preserve it a violation of Reagan's small-government philosophy.

The deal seems to be the happy ending Mrs. Reagan might have sought--preservation with private money and an investment in the conservative values for which her husband's White House stood.

"It's comforting to know that the ranch we cherish will be preserved and protected in its present state," she said. "More important, it is critical to the future of this country that Young America's Foundation use the ranch to instill in tomorrow's leaders the lessons of my husband's presidency and to teach them that we are a blessed people whose best days are yet to come."

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