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Reagan's Image Omitted in New Courthouse Named for Him

Legislation: When art was purchased for Santa Ana building, likeness of former president wasn't on the list. Congressman hopes to fill gap.

October 07, 1998|FAYE FIORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — As finishing touches are applied to Santa Ana's new $123-million federal courthouse, the art that graces it is about to be subject to an act of Congress.

The government spent all of its money on art for the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse and forgot to purchase a single picture or statue of Ronald Reagan himself.

"You've flown in and out of John Wayne Airport? Well, there's a statue of John Wayne there," said Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), who has tucked language into a Treasury appropriations bill instructing the government to find ways to acquire fitting images of the former president without spending another federal dime.

Among the suggestions is a rotating exhibit in conjunction with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, as well as private donations to buy more art, Cox said.

"There's no money, it's not a money provision," said Cox, who wrote the legislation authorizing the courthouse and then naming it. "We're trying to find other sources to pay proper tribute to [Reagan]. We want some pictures and some statues, and we want everyone involved to understand the Congress supports this."

The government's Art in Architecture program requires that a fixed percentage of the gross cost of federal buildings be spent on art. All that was allowed has been spent for the Reagan building, but none of it in the image of Reagan.

The snafu was just the latest in the building's long, strange trip. Groundbreaking set for 1993 was delayed two years when a federal task force headed by Vice President Al Gore called for a moratorium on construction of new federal office buildings.

The building survived the moratorium, but with $40 million cut from its budget. Then the elegant structure, which will include 14 regal courtrooms, missed its scheduled completion last year when the travertine marble being quarried in Tivoli, Italy, for its walls was delayed by "unusual winter storms."

Unwilling to accept just any travertine, federal officials made two visits to the Tivoli quarry to ensure that only the highest-quality stuff would be shipped to Santa Ana. Then an Italian crew was hired to oversee quality control during construction.

All of that while judges and other federal workers have toiled out of trailers and a cramped modular complex with a leaky roof and buckets spread about to catch the drips whenever it rains.

The courthouse is scheduled to open in December, with a fine statue of Reagan somewhere on its 600,000-square-foot site, if Cox has anything to say about it.

"We are getting cooperation" from federal bureaucrats to obtain art of Reagan, "but we want to make sure nothing slips through the cracks," Cox said. His new provision, he added, "is a sort of belt-and-suspenders approach" to ensure that it doesn't.

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