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City Seeks Recognition for Nixon’s Birthplace : Yorba Linda Wants House to Be Designated as National Historic Site; Park Service May Object

Times Staff Writer

The small wood-frame house where Richard Milhous Nixon was born may not look like much from the outside--or from the inside--but to officials of Yorba Linda, the former President’s home is a historic site and should be recognized as such.

An aide to Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton) said Wednesday that the congressman will introduce legislation naming Nixon’s birthplace a national historical site. The Yorba Linda City Council unanimously requested the designation.

“He was a President and he deserves to be honored as such,” City Councilman Henry Wedaa said Wednesday.

Similar plans by residents of Plains, Ga., to honor former President Jimmy Carter encountered objections from the National Park Service during hearings in June. Plans for the Nixon site also may hit snags if the agency abides by tradition and endorses a site associated with the President’s “productive life” and not his birth, agency spokesman Duncan Morrow said Wednesday.

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“We generally find birthplace sites to be, frankly, an accident of history. The important historical figure generally didn’t do anything that history would remember or record at the place of his birth,” Morrow said.

Only two out of 15 homes of former United States Presidents named historical sites were birthplaces not associated with their “productive adult lives,” Morrow said. They were George Washington and John F. Kennedy.

Morrow would not say Wednesday whether the National Park Service, which ultimately would be responsible for the restoration and maintenance of such a historical site, would endorse the Nixon birthplace where the former President spent the first nine years of his life. Morrow also noted that on a few occasions Congress has created parks to which the federal agency has objected.

“It might be that in this particular case a birthplace is an appropriate place,” Morrow said.

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In June, the National Park Service objected to a historical status for a proposed Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains. Morrow said the site included areas, such as a school, whose relevance was questioned. Yorba Linda officials also are considering asking that the old Richard Nixon Elementary School, which is adjacent to the home at 1806 Yorba Linda Blvd., be named a historic site.

During the hearings, officials also considered banning such memorials for living former Presidents--a policy the agency has not yet decided, Morrow said.

In the Carter proposal, Rep. Richard Ray (D-Georgia), whose district includes Plains, introduced a bill naming seven pieces of property as historic, said Cindy Gillespie, an aide to Ray. At least two of the properties would be donated and others purchased with funds raised locally, Gillespie said. Ray’s bill now is in subcommittee.

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Dannemeyer, said his aide Dave Ellis, “will enthusiastically pursue designating the Nixon birthplace as a historical landmark.”

Yorba Linda Mayor Gene Wisner said it’s hard to find residents in the town of 36,000 who don’t want to commemorate Nixon’s birthplace. Officials hope to restore the site to what it used to be, the farmhouse Nixon’s father, Francis, built in 1912. Nixon was born there Jan. 9, 1913.

“There’s a lot of interest in the community,” Wisner said.

Yorba Linda residents--many friends, or friends of friends of the former President and his family --weathered the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon’s resignation and do not see that as an obstacle to honoring Nixon and preserving his former home, officials said.

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“That doesn’t seem to be a problem today. Watergate is behind us. He was a former President. Everyone I’ve talked to wants to preserve the site,” Wisner said.

Robert L. Meador, chairman of the Nixon Birthplace Foundation, agreed, saying: “I don’t think that Watergate had any effect on what the people in Yorba Linda want --the preservation of the home.”

The foundation, a nonprofit corporation formed by the city’s Chamber of Commerce when Nixon first was elected President, has items such as his old bed and other furniture in storage, Meador said. Interest in preserving the home has its peaks and valleys, he said, adding: “I think we’re seeing a resurgence in the drive to do something. . . . There seems to be a real interest peaking again.”


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