Orange County columnist says the Nixon Foundation and the federal government are finally getting along

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tags: Nixon Foundation, Nixon



David Whiting is the Page One columnist at The Orange County Register.

In the most significant turnaround for a U.S. presidential archive, the long-embattled Nixon Presidential Library & Museum in Yorba Linda has finally found peace in a $15 million remodel.

An exclusive, first-ever walk-through of the museum reveals much that is as modern as it is historic. Interactive displays and mobile app photo ops seem to drop you into world-changing events, such as Richard and Pat Nixon’s visit to China’s Great Wall in 1972. Or you can take a shot at presidential decision-making, such as supplying Israel with military equipment during the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

But in some respects, moving the museum into the 21st century isn’t the biggest change at the Nixon library. The renovation – expected to culminate with a reopening in October – also marks the end of two decades of infighting between the private Richard Nixon Foundation and historians connected with the federal government. Think of it as a local, museum-centric version of “Peace with Honor.”

During my visit Wednesday, Mike Ellzey, director of the federal library, and Bill Baribault, president of the foundation, joked amiably with each other. They easily agreed where their respective jurisdictions start and end, and discussed goals they describe as mutual.

“It’s a good partnership, and a good collaboration,” Baribault said.

“It’s a different period. It’s fun.”

Such a scene was impossible to imagine when Ellzey’s predecessor was in charge. At the same time, the foundation’s circle-the-wagons approach to certain historical realities has softened.

Significantly, the museum’s Watergate display remains essentially the same, few-holds-barred exhibit that it’s been in recent years. Even the photos and previous wording will return once the remodel is complete.

But plans for the rest of the museum are nothing like the staid, static and often boring presentation that existed just a few months ago.




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