Paul Carter with his map, “Native Son Richard Nixon’s Southern… (Mel Melcon, Los Angeles…)
Paul J. Carter was 9 when Richard M. Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974, watching the televised speech with his dad, a loyal Republican who had come home from work early for the event.
"I … didn't grasp the magnitude of it," said Carter, now 47 and a lawyer in Long Beach.
Nearly four decades later, the boy's puzzlement over the nation's 37th president had evolved into a grown-up project, "Native Son Richard Nixon's Southern California: My Life on a Map!"
Made like a guide to Hollywood stars' homes, the fold-out map is an illustrated romp through the life of the only White House occupant born and raised in Southern California. It's a hot item at the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum in Yorba Linda, with more than 500 copies snapped up last year at $4.99 each.
"It's a really, really good seller," said Jonathan Movroydis, spokesman for the Richard Nixon Foundation.
He expects sales to jump with Sunday's launch of a year-long celebration of the centennial of Nixon's Jan. 9, 1913, birth. The small farmhouse where Nixon entered the world is pictured on the map, with the long-gone citrus trees his father had planted on 9 acres surrounding the home.
The copyrighted map — whose cover depicts its bemused subject reading it — is dotted with photos and with drawings by artist Jean-Louis Rheault and includes milestones in Nixon's controversial career. But check out Nixon as a frowning schoolboy at Yorba Linda Elementary, where, the map notes, he "often went to school barefooted" (which may explain the scowl).
There's the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where Nixon sports his 1933 Whittier College football uniform against USC: "Whittier lost 51-0." Elsewhere, infant Tricia pops from the roof of the hospital where the first of Pat and Richard Nixon's two daughters was born in 1946.
And there's a Bundy Drive home where, the caption says, Nixon stood on the roof with his hose in 1961 as a fire raged through the neighborhood. The map says he hit a hole-in-one at the Bel-Air Country Club the same year.
Does anybody recall a slogan for Nixon's losing 1962 gubernatorial campaign against Pat Brown? Here's one on a billboard: "Click with Dick…"
World leaders commemorated at the Nixon library make an appearance — Mao Tse-tung, Charles De Gaulle, Golda Meir. A miniature Nikita Khrushchev points angrily, as if repeating his 1956 "We will bury you!" threat.
For those who remember the famous photograph of Nixon walking on the beach in wing-tip shoes, there is this counterpoint: an illustration of a hairy-chested Nixon in red trunks in the ocean off San Clemente. The president was swimming there, the caption says, when the "First Article of Impeachment was voted up by Congress" in 1974.
Carter said he wanted the map to be fun, easily understood and hard to stop looking at — and a more complete picture of the man still known largely for the Watergate scandal.
A map of Carter's Nixon-related life might start with the Palos Verdes Peninsula home of his childhood, then move on to Cal State Fullerton, where he was a student in the early 1990s. The political science major's service-minded mother suggested her son volunteer at the Nixon library, where he met the former president several times.
"I had assumed he was mean," Carter said in a recent interview in his office with a view of the Queen Mary. "But he was very nice, and that got me intrigued and wanting to know more about him."
Carter admired Nixon's devotion to his family and the loyal friends who stood by him for life. "If you were a bad guy," Carter said, "people wouldn't stick with you like that."
After graduating from Drake University's law school in 1995, Carter began planning his "native son" project. A chance meeting with the mayor of Whittier in 2009 finally got it off the ground.
"I said something like, 'It must be fascinating to have all these places marked where [Nixon] grew up,' " Carter recalled. But the mayor said, " 'Well, we've kind of lost track of them.' I couldn't believe it."
After more than 18 months of research and six more working with the artist, the map was published.
By then, Carter was a partner in a busy law firm, serving on the board of a local hospital and its foundation, supporting area Republicans and volunteering with his college alumni association. He and his wife, Sandra, a Democrat (she's "very, very tolerant," her husband says wryly), had adopted four children, now 4, 6, 7 and 11.
"But the finished project was worth it," he said, and he's recouped his $2,000 investment.
In fact, he's already at work on another bio-map, of Ronald Reagan. Carter said Nixon's younger daughter, Julie, and her husband, David Eisenhower, grandson of President Eisenhower, have asked for one on Ike.
Carter said he'd like to do all the presidents, but that one may have to wait. After the Reagan project, Carter plans one on a Democrat. He hasn't decided between Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy.