Two presidential libraries expand through earmarks

Michael Raffety

April 28, 2009

Among the 8,500 earmarks in the $410 billion half-year budget that Congress just passed is $22 million for expansion of the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum on Columbia Point next to the University of Massachusetts.

It will be a two-story, 30,000-square-foot addition on the north side of the library.

Congress already approved $8 million to buy land from the U Mass and pay for site preparation.

“The new wing will hold a treasure trove of historical papers and artifacts from John, Jacqueline, Robert and Edward Kennedy that document that period of American history,” Thomas McNaught, deputy director of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, told the Boston Herald recently.

The Kennedy Library features a soaring glass tower (115 feet high) designed by I.M. Pei and braced by his signature trusswork that shows up in the glass pyramid at the Louvre. The glass tower is attached to a taller and narrower concrete tower (125 feet high) that follows a Pei theme carried out in the National Gallery of Art’s East Wing addition in Washington, D.C., where you can touch the knife-shaped edge of the building.

The 115,00-square-foot foot library was built in 1979 at a cost of $20.8 million. There were nearly 19,000 unsolicited donations when fund-raising for the library began in 1964. Eventually 30 million people contributed to construction of the library. That was more than 10 percent of the population of America at that time, though it is likely that there were many foreign contributors as well.

Highlights of the museum include a replica of the Oval Office and Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s office.

Near the end of the Feb. 27 Herald article it also mentioned that the new library would house Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s papers.

It seems not quite kosher to have a senatorial library, though when your name is Kennedy in Massachusetts that’s a pass for special privileges and homage, including guaranteed election. Maybe they’ll have a Chappaquiddick exhibit in the new wing that is going to house Ted Kennedy’s papers.

Another feature of the existing museum is the sailboat that Jack Kennedy liked to sail. It is mounted outside on the seaward side of the glass pavilion. The day my wife and I visited the museum it was rainy and stormy. The boat looked like it was almost riding the waves again.

My favorite display at the Kennedy Library is the studio with actual studio artifacts, including the two speaker’s stands and video camera from the Nixon-Kennedy debate. It’s still fascinating after all these years to watch the debate again.

The Richard M. Nixon Library and Museum in Yorba Linda is less dramatic but fits in well with the neighborhood and the warm Southern California feel. It is shaped like a U around a beautiful garden area that is a popular spot for weddings.

Facing the garden is a small one-and-a-half story house, about 900 square feet, that is Nixon’s boyhood home, built by his father, Frank, in 1912, likely from a kit. Contributing to the family income was an orange grove that once surrounded the house. It is small but tidy and efficient.

It is interesting that both Nixon and Kennedy were naval officers in World War II.

A well done display in the Nixon Library is a room full of bronze statutes of key international leaders that Nixon dealt with — Mao Zedong, DeGaulle, Krushchev.

The Nixon Library is getting a big addition also. Near the end of this year it will finish a $7.4 million addition that will house more presidential archives.

Another item of interest is the helicopter that transported him around when he was president and flew him away for the last time, Aug. 9, 1974, after he resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

It is called Army One when a Army officer pilots it and Marine One when a Marine is piloting it. It carried Presidents Ford and Johnson before it carried Nixon. It cost $1 million to build in 1960. I don’t think President Obama should pooh-pooh the new presidential helicopter that is being planned at a cost of $400 million. “The helicopter I have now seems perfectly adequate to me,” Obama said at a White House event on fiscal responsibility. It is a 30-year-old helicopter. Thirty years of vibrating rotors is a lot of machine and metal fatigue. Helicopters don’t have the same lifetime as airplanes. I don’t think a 30-year-old chopper is good enough for the president of our country.

It costs a lot to develop a new fleet of presidential helicopters. Development itself is an expensive proposition. The first fleet from Lockheed Martin will be five to be followed by 23 that are more technically advanced. Total cost of the program is $11.2 billion.

The helicopters don’t just ferry presidents to and from the airfield or Camp David. They are also used on foreign trips. Nixon used his on 180 trips, including his summit meeting with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1974.

For a really big flying machine the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley has Air Force One, a 707 jet. That’s a great tour, though it was under construction when I toured the library. They were still putting the pieces together and I ony peaked under the tent. The setting for the Reagan Library is spectacular. It is on a hill and overlooks the Simi Valley, with a piece of the Berlin Wall standing like a graffiti-covered version of the monolith from Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

By contrast, inside is the gray suit that Nancy Reagan wore to her wedding with Ron and a restaurant booth where he proposed to her. The displays are among the most interesting of the four presidential libraries I’ve seen.

Like the Nixon Library the Reagan Library features elegant but understated California architecture.

Looking at Reagan’s huge Air Force One Jumbo jet you can see the progress of aviation, communications and reliability by looking at John F. Kennedys propeller driven Air Force One on display at the Pima Air and Space Museum on the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz. The Douglas VC-118A (a militarized DC-6) has just a single aisle and feels a little cramped. No offices, meeting rooms and bedrooms. Kennedy and Johnson used it for short trips and also for flying lower ranking VIPs. For longer trips they used the first jet put into service as Air Force One in 1961, a Boeing VC-137, also on display at Pima.

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