Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Birthplace

The Birthplace of the 37th President of the United States.

This precious, one and a half story, house is where the first baby in Yorba Linda, California was born. It was January 9, 1913. The baby, the second son of Frank and Hannah Nixon, was named Richard.

The Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace is a special place in so many ways, and the little house is the gem in the setting. "The Birthplace," will be 100 years old soon. Frank Nixon, the President's father built it from a kit in 1912, on the grounds of his citrus farm. In 1959, to honor Richard Nixon's forty-sixth birthday, the townspeople and the school board designated it a historic site, and it now has National Historic Landmark status.

It truly is a step back to the days of young Richard's boyhood because the furnishings are about 90 percent original. The story told is that when Richard Nixon was first elected to Congress from the district that included the home, his brother Don's wife, Clara Jane saw the historic significance that his election represented and put the furnishings from the little house in storage to ensure their safekeeping. The house was sold soon after.

A great deal of restoration work on the house was done to get ready for the opening of the Library in 1990. The work included the installation of security and sprinkler systems. The original furnishings and artifacts that belonged to Frank and Hannah Nixon were brought home too.

I have a vivid memory of the President reminiscing during the opening of the Library. He said he remembered often waking up in the early morning to the sound of a spoon beating on a mixing bowl, right underneath his window. He said his mother always said that the clear, cool, early morning air made her cakes taste so much better. Hannah Nixon baked pies and cakes to sell in the nearby store, and she also worked at packing lemons and oranges for shipment.

Many of Hannah's other cooking utensils are also in the tiny kitchen. The piano that young Richard played, is in the small living room. Until recently, his violin sat atop the piano, but it has now gone on tour as part of the "Presidential Instruments" special exhibit. The stairs that aren't even 12 inches wide, lead up to a small bedroom, shared by three little boys. A beautiful Pepper tree towers over the house. It was planted by Frank himself. When it became impossible to earn a living from a citrus farm, the family moved to Whittier in 1922. Brother Ed was born when Richard was nine.

Richard entered Whittier College when he was seventeen. He represented Whittier in over 50 debates, winning most of them. He was a born leader and held many offices including president of the freshman class and student body president. Years later he would be remembered for two accomplishments: dancing and the annual bonfire. He convinced the college-powers-that-be to lift the ban on dancing because the students would be safer dancing on the campus than going to the "dens of iniquity in Los Angeles". During his junior year, he was chairman of the annual bonfire. The bonfire took place on a mound of earth called fire hill. The custom was for everyone in the student body to pile things to be burned on the mound for days. The chairman was responsible for putting the last item on the top, and his status as a leader of men was judged by the size of the outhouse he could mid-night requisition for the crown. In most years the bonfire was topped by a one-holer. Occasionally, a really outstanding chairman would manage to find a two-holer. In 1933, according to Steve Hess and Earl Mazo, in NIXON, a political Portrait," Richard Nixon established a record that still stands. He produced a four-holer.

It is interesting to read in the same book that Richard Nixon classified himself as a "liberal" in college, "but not a flaming liberal." Recently I heard a TV pundit refer to him as our last Republican "liberal president."

It's well worth a trip to Yorba Linda just to see the birthplace of the 37th President of the United States. President Nixon personally requested that the porch light remain on at all times, to tell everyone they were welcome to visit. Marja and I plan on doing a plein-aire painting of the birthplace very soon. Hers in acrylic and mine in watercolor. Our small way of saying Happy 100th Birthday to a true American treasure.

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