Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum
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Backstory and Context
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The Watergate scandal and Richard Nixon’s subsequent resignation in 1974 complicated the issue of creating a presidential museum for him. Officially a president’s papers remained in their own private possession, but it was customary for them to donate the papers to allow for public access. After his resignation, Nixon voluntarily donated his presidential documents, but requested that taped conversations from the White House be destroyed after a certain date. Concerned that valuable evidence might be lost to history, Congress passed the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act (PRMPA) in December 1974. The act immediately placed all of Nixon’s presidential materials in the custody of the National Archives; it does not apply to other presidents.
The Richard Nixon Foundation was established in 1983 to build and manage a presidential library for Nixon. Construction began in 1988 in Nixon’s hometown of Yorba Linda, and cost $21 million. The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum was completed and opened in 1990. The dedication ceremony was attended by Nixon, along with Presidents George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan, who each addressed the audience of 50,000. From its beginning the library and museum was handicapped by the fact that all of Nixon’s presidential papers remained in federal custody, at a National Archives facility in Maryland. The library and museum was initially operated privately by the Nixon Foundation, unlike previous presidential libraries which were managed in conjunction with the government. The Foundation received criticism for portraying Nixon in a more sympathetic light in its exhibits. A particularly controversial section was the museum’s original exhibit on Watergate. While the Foundation stated that it depicted Nixon’s own perspective on the scandal, critics alleged that it insinuated the president was the victim of a Democratic conspiracy.
In 2004, Congress passed legislation calling for the establishment of an official presidential library and museum for Richard Nixon. In 2007, the Nixon Foundation allowed the National Archives to assume ownership of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, and it officially became incorporated into the federal system of presidential libraries. As part of the transition, the complete collection of Nixon’s presidential materials was finally moved to the library. The Nixon Foundation was retained in an advisory role, but on occasion it conflicted with the National Archives over the way Nixon is portrayed. In 2011, for example, despite vigorous protests by the Foundation, the original Watergate exhibit was replaced with a new, more objective version that included White House recordings, among other sources. In 2016 the library and museum underwent an ambitious $15 million renovation project to update exhibits and add more interactive features, including audiovisual material.
Today the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum contains multiple permanent galleries tracing the life and career of Richard Nixon from his childhood, to his military and political careers, to his greatest legislative and diplomatic achievements, to Watergate and his post-presidential years. Noteworthy exhibits include a complete replica of Nixon’s Oval Office, and the actual Marine One helicopter used to transport him from the White House after his resignation. The library holds millions of documents, photographs, audio and visual recordings from the Nixon Administration, and his pre- and post-presidential careers. Next to the library and museum is Nixon’s boyhood home, the house where he was born in 1913 and spent his childhood. Built by his father, Frank Nixon, in 1912, the home has been restored to its original condition and is open for tours. Also located on the grounds are the graves of Richard Nixon and his wife Pat.
CBS Sunday Morning. “Nixon Presidential Library re-opens” (video). Posted October 16, 2016. Accessed May 1, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oh52Lh9ZKqI
Biography. “Richard Nixon – Mini Biography” (video). Posted February 1, 2013. Accessed May 1, 2018. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KrXr1zksNEs
Nagourney, Adam. “Watergate Becomes Sore Point at Nixon Library.” New York Times. August 6, 2010. Accessed May 1, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/07/us/politics/07nixon.html
Nagourney, Adam. “Nixon Library Opens a Door Some Would Prefer Left Closed.” New York Times. March 30, 2011. Accessed May 1, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/01/us/01nixon.html
Needham, John and Dave Lesher. “Nixon Library Opens With Pomp, Tributes: Dedication: Three former Presidents at Yorba Linda ceremony. Bush makes the only mention of Watergate.” Los Angeles Times. July 20, 1990. Accessed May 1, 2018. http://articles.latimes.com/1990-07-20/news/mn-178_1_richard-nixon
Richard Nixon Foundation. “A Look Inside the Nixon Library” (video). Posted December 20, 2016. Accessed May 1, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9VZo_sd3Y0
“Richard Nixon library offers candid new take on Watergate.” Syracuse.com. March 31, 2011. Accessed May 1, 2018. https://www.syracuse.com/have-you-heard/index.ssf/2011/03/richard_nixon_library_offers_c.html
Whiting, David. “Nixon library director leaves mixed legacy.” Orange County Register. November 21, 2011. Accessed May 1, 2018. https://www.ocregister.com/2011/11/21/nixon-library-director-leaves-mixed-legacy/
Woodyard, Chris. “Nixon Library reboots for a new generation.” USA Today. November 11, 2016. Accessed May 1, 2018. https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/destinations/2016/11/11/nixon-library-renovations-yorba-linda/92676428/
The University of Texas at Austin
Richard Nixon Foundation
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