Reagan Library to Roll Out Renovated Galleries, Exhibits

Times Staff Writer

In 1966, actor-turned-politician Ronald Reagan crisscrossed the state in a powder-blue Mustang convertible, campaigning for his first term as governor.

Next month, that car goes on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Simi Valley, along with the restaurant booth where Reagan proposed to his wife, Nancy, and the conference table from the Situation Room at the White House.

The new exhibits will be unveiled as the library completes its first extensive renovation since it opened 12 years ago.

“We could think of no better way to celebrate the anniversary of the Reagan Library than with the opening of these new galleries,” said library director Duke Blackwood. “Visitors to the library and museum will now get to see and learn more of Ronald Reagan than ever before.”

In the revamped galleries, curators have tried to personalize the life story of the Hollywood actor-turned-Republican icon who became the nation’s 40th president in 1981.


“It’s the best way to energize the public and connect with every visitor, whether he or she is 5 or 100,” Blackwood said.

The renovation and reopening of the galleries on Nov. 4 comes in the middle of a larger renovation of the library that includes a Gallery of Presidents, a White House South Lawn reproduction and an Air Force One Pavilion.

The Gallery of Presidents -- dubbed the GOP by staff -- features paintings of all the commanders in chief and a rare engraving of the Declaration of Independence.

Only about 30 such engravings exist today, and the Reagan Library is the only presidential library displaying one, said John Langellier, the library’s assistant director.

Also on display is a 1787 copy of the U.S. Constitution and a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by President Lincoln.

Blackwood said the Gallery of Presidents was designed to educate the public about the office of the presidency.

After providing an overview of the nation’s highest elected office, visitors will be led into the Reagan portion of the museum, where they will be able to view and touch a replica of the kitchen of Reagan’s childhood home in Dixon, Ill.

Also featured will be pictures from Reagan’s days at Eureka College in Illinois and as a reserve officer for the U.S. Cavalry, where he became an accomplished rider.

There will be a replica of Iowa radio station WHO, where Reagan first worked as a sportscaster, and of a 1930s theater with wooden seats that will show movie clips from Reagan’s films, including the training films he made during World War II.

Another highlight of the new galleries will be the booth from Chasen’s restaurant where Reagan proposed to the former Nancy Davis and where they dined on the famous chili every week, Langellier said.

Visitors also will be able to admire Nancy Reagan’s gray wedding suit, see the wooden voting booth where Reagan voted for himself in the 1966 governor’s race and see the portico of the governor’s home in Sacramento.

Highlights of his presidency that will be represented in this phase and the next include the air traffic controller’s strike, the U.S. military buildup under his direction, a 1981 assassination attempt and the beginning of the collapse the Soviet Union.

The South Lawn reproduction opened last month, and a Presidential Learning Center for students is scheduled to open in February

By the end of 2004, work is expected to be complete on the Air Force One Pavilion, featuring the former presidential airplane, which was shipped to the library in pieces and will be rebuilt on site for permanent display. The pavilion will showcase how Reagan used the aircraft to help end the Cold War.