From 1969 through 1980 Richard and Pat Nixon’s official private residence was La Casa Pacifica, located steps from the Pacific Ocean in beautiful San Clemente. The La Casa Pacifica residence was built in 1927 by Henry Hamilton Cotton, an early Democrat Party supporter.Only the AMTRAK Surfliner’s tracks separated the estate from the sand and sea. Here is a short video with a: View of La Casa Pacifica from AMTRAK Surfliner. The first struct seen is a small cupola structure. In the 1930′s President Franklin Roosevelt visited the home, arriving by train for an overnight card game in this little building.
Recently I had the pleasure of briefly participating in a video segment while conducting research at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace. Check out the clip here. The video shows the grounds and some of the galleries at the Library and reflects on the ease of access to historic materials for researchers. The Library is a terrific place to visit for many reasons. It is a beautiful setting, shows the simplicity of early life in California, and provides a complete frame of reference for the entire life and accomplishments of Richard Nixon.
One of the benefits of researching Richard Nixon’s life is meeting and getting to know those that were close to Nixon. One such person was Clara Jane Nixon.
From mid 2010 through the end of 2011 Clara Jane welcomed me to her home numerous times. She was a perfect host and a delightful lady. She lived by herself in Irvine, California, in a beautifully furnished townhome. When she passed away on January 18th of this year, she was 93 years old.
Clara Jane explained to me how she met Don Nixon, brother to President Richard “Dick” Nixon. She had been in Alaska on a 7 day cruise with a friend in 1941. Upon her return, on September 7, 1941, she stopped by Murphy Hospital in Whittier to see a friend. Then she went to see her uncle William Milhous, who had married Clara Jane’s aunt Lena Scott. “Uncle Bill had wanted to introduce me to a young man, so he asked me to go with him to the local store. As we drove from his house, we passed the local store and continued on to the Nixon Market, where Uncle Bill introduced me to Don.” Later that day, Don joined Clara Jane and the Milhouses for dinner, and then drove Clara Jane to her parent’s home in Placentia.
Once Clara Jane and Don began dating, the Nixon family enjoyed her company very much. In fact, Clara Jane explained that when “Dick and Pat had a party at their house, they asked Don to invite me.” Don was especially smitten.
When Clara Jane introduced Don to her parents, they all had a good laugh because her mother had known Don for years from buying meat at the Nixon Store. After just three weeks of dating, Don proposed to Clara Jane.
Clara Jane and Don Nixon were married at the Capilla de San Antonio Wedding Chapel in Anaheim on August 9, 1942 while Dick was serving in the Navy in the South Pacific. Don and Dick were very close. Clara Jane and Don named their son after “Uncle” Richard Nixon.
For his first congressional campaign Richard Nixon spent a good deal of time at Don & Clara Jane’s house on Whittier Boulevard. “Dick would come over in the early afternoon, retire to a back bedroom and start writing and rewriting speeches and plotting strategy. As soon as I could throw out his discarded notes, Dick would make a new pile.” Clara Jane recounted one of the first times Richard came over during that campaign, where he liked to have an early dinner and prepare for his evening speaking engagements. “When Dick came over at 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon, I met him at the back door. He walked in right passed me and went to the back bedroom. I thought to myself ‘Just who does he think he is?’ Then a little while later he called out to me: ‘Hey, Clara Jane, come here.’ He was resting on the bed, in his shorts and undershirt, with a stack of notes a pile high, and said as friendly as ever ‘Now tell me what happened here today.’ I realized then that he has a very focused mind.”
Clara Jane was a great cook, and Richard Nixon especially loved her enchiladas. In fact, when he was president, he even arranged for Clara Jane to make up a batch of enchiladas and ship them to him so he could enjoy her home cooking at the White House.
When Eisenhower and Nixon were re-elected, the inauguration was on Monday, January 21, 1957. But on Sunday, January 20th there was a small swearing in ceremony for close family only. Clara Jane recalled the event: “Once Ike and Dick were sworn in, they came through shaking hands with everyone. I happened to be at the end of the line, and when Ike reached me, he said: ‘Have you had breakfast yet?’ to which I replied ‘No.’ So he said ‘Okay, let’s go’ and he took my hand, and we strode arm in arm into the East Room where there was an incredible buffet set up.” Overall regarding Ike, Clara Jane summed up her feelings: “I liked him.”
Clara Jane’s fondest memory of Richard Nixon was that when he was Vice-President, after Frank Nixon died in 1956. Richard bought Clara Jane a gold ring with diamonds to thank her taking care of Hannah, and sent it to Clara Jane with a hand written note, on the Vice President’s stationary, that read “Thank you for the loving care of Mother.” This was significant to Clara Jane because Quakers did not op for or wear jewelry, and still Richard thought to go out and buy her such a gift.
After Hannah died, Richard wanted only one thing – a clock that his parents’ had. The clock was a wedding gift to Hannah and Frank Nixon from her parents, Almira and Franklin Milhous. That clock now sits on the mantle of President Nixon’s birthplace in Yorba Linda where his Presidential Library is located.
Clara Jane is credited with collecting and preserving the furnishings for his birthplace. At least one of the important items was saved by coincidence. In the early 1950s, when Don and Richard’s parents were moving into a new house in Whittier, Clara Jane took the old wrought iron bed frame from the bed that Richard was born in, had the legs cut off the headboard, and moved the footboard to the headboard. She then put the cut down headboard in her garden to grow sweet peas. Nearly forty years later, when the Richard Nixon Birthplace was being renovated for the opening of the Presidential Library, Clara Jane found the headboard in a Milhous barn and took it to an antique shop where she knew the owner. Together they located a near match and had the legs welded on.
During our discussions, Clara Jane related funny moments with Richard and Don, such as when her daughter Lawrene was married at the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach. President Nixon, Pat and Tricia attended the wedding and reception at the Newporter Inn. Clara Jane recalled that there was a huge sea food buffet, and the secret service agents were startled when they detained a man with a bulging sports coat only to discover he was attempting to exit the reception with a large crab under his coat. It was an event that Don and Richard got a good laugh out of.
After 1974 when Pat and Richard lived full time in San Clemente, Clara Jane and Don enjoyed the occasional evening when Pat and Richard came by their house in Newport Beach for dinner. “We would have dinner, and sit out on the patio and watch boats go by in the back bay area. It was very pleasant. ”
The last time we visited together, Clara Jane smiled and reflected: “Four times I have sat on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. When I was taking civics in school I never thought that I would meet a President, much less know one and be related to him. It’s been an interesting run.”
An interesting run, indeed.
Southern California is attractive to many people for many reasons. Some appreciate the fact that you can go from the beach to the snow within a couple of hours. There is no question that Richard Nixon loved the beaches of Southern California. He camped at the beach in Laguna as a child, and enjoyed both Long Beach and Santa Monica as a young man. In his courtship years with Pat, their favorite first dates were to Dana Point. As President and afterward until 1980, he lived on the beach in San Clemente with its spectacular sunsets.
But what is not so widely known is that Nixon enjoyed the local mountains as well. A cousin owned a cabin near Arrowhead and Nixon was known to make trips to spend weekends in the San Bernardino Mountains with Pat and friends. He even skied the local resorts.
The first rain of the season reminds us that we have local ski resorts to take advantage of. As we approach the centennial of Nixon’s birth it is fun to remember that he too raced up the mountain – and down the slopes.
Richard Nixon had a tremendous love of sports. He was known to comment that if he had not been a politician, he would have liked to have been a sports writer. Nixon’s appreciation for sports and competition was was developed in his early years in East Whittier.
The Nixon family moved to East Whittier in 1922. At that time, Whittier Boulevard was a two lane road, barely paved, cutting through thousands upon thousands of acres of orchards. House were few and far in between.
The Nixons had a small house and gas station across the street from the East Whittier Friends Church. When the East Whittier Friends Church opened its new church in 1926, Frank Nixon moved the old church building across the street and opened a general store.
The East Whittier Friends Church and Nixon General Store were the central focal points in East Whittier. Church services were four times on Sundays, so all the local kids gathered at the Nixons on Sundays. Nixon and his friends would play football and baseball out on Whittier Boulevard in between services.
Richard Nixon’s lifelong love of sports was developed right out on Whittier Boulevard.
In 1916, Yorba Linda had no paved roads. The Nixon family did not own a car. Instead, they traveled by horse drawn wagon. One day, three year old Richard Nixon was riding in the wagon with his mom near their home. As they rounded a turn, young Richard fell from the wagon and was struck by the wagon wheel as he hit the ground.
The wheel sliced Richard’s scalp from the top of his forehead to the back of his neck, separating the skin from the bone on his scalp for several inches.
Yorba Linda was a town of just a few hundred at the time. There was no hospital. A panicked Hannah sought assistance from a family friend to take Richard to the closest hospital. Hannah, Richard and the neighbor “raced” in a Ford Model A across the dirt roads of Yorba Linda and Placentia to the Fullerton General Hospital. Top speeds reached a breathtaking twenty miles an hour.
At the hospital, the doctor was able to suture the wound rather than rely on the more primitive method of simply tying strands of hair together on either side of the cut to close the wound. However, Richard did have a lengthy scar, which caused him forever more to come his hair back rather than “parting” it on the side.
Since Richard Nixon was born at home, this was his first experience at a hospital. The building that housed the Fullerton General Hospital still stands at 201 East Amerige, Fullerton.
In August 1968, the Republican Party held its convention in Miami, Florida. Richard Nixon was nominated the Republican candidate for President. At the time, the country was at war, and the Democrat incumbent was so unpopular in his own party that he neither ran for another term nor did he attend his own party’s convention.
As Nixon closed his acceptance speech, he told the cheering crowd: “Tonight, I see the face of a child. He lives in a great city. He is black, or he is white. He is Mexican, Italian, Polish. None of that matters. What matters, he’s an American child. That child in that great city is more important than any politician’s promise. He is America. He is a poet. He is a scientist, he is a great teacher, he is a proud craftsman. He is everything we ever hoped to be and everything we dare to dream to be. He sleeps the sleep of a child and he dreams the dreams of a child. And yet when he awakens, he awakens to a living nightmare of poverty, neglect, and despair. He fails in school. He ends up on welfare. For him the American system is one that feeds his stomach and starves his soul. It breaks his heart. And in the end it may take his life on some distant battlefield. To millions of children in this rich land, this is their prospect of the future. But this is only part of what I see in America. I see another child tonight. He hears a train go by at night and he dreams of faraway places where he’d like to go. It seems like an impossible dream. But he is helped on his journey through life. A father who had to go to work before he finished the sixth grade, sacrificed everything he had so that his sons could go to college. A gentle, Quaker mother, with a passionate concern for peace, quietly wept when he went to war but she understood why he had to go. A great teacher, a remarkable football coach, an inspirational minister encouraged him on his way. A courageous wife and loyal children stood by him in victory and also defeat. And in his chosen profession of politics, first there were scores, then hundreds, then thousands, and finally millions who worked for his success. And tonight he stands before you—nominated for President of the United States.”
Less than three months later, Richard M. Nixon was the first (and only) native born Californian elected President of the United States.
To a degree, Nixon was superstitious, believing in luck. Nixon returned to Miami for a second nominating convention in 1972, after which he was re-elected in one of the largest landslides in Presidential politics.
Forty years later the Republican Party has returned to Florida to nominate its candidate for President.
When Frank and Hannah Nixon moved to Yorba Linda, there was almost nothing there. Early residents compared Yorba Linda to “a filling station in the desert” to paint the image of a nearly non-existent town. While there was not much of a town, that did not mean that there was not much to do.
Frank Nixon built the house that Richard Nixon was born in on January 9, 1913, narly 100 years ago. He also planted almost ten acres of lemon trees. Plus he helped to build the Yorba Linda Friends Church, and then taught Sunday School to the children. Famed writer and Nixon cousin Jessamyn West recalled that Frank Nixon’s Sunday School class was the most popular in town.
The church eventually was acquired by Baptists, but it still stands tall in Yorba Linda.
In researching Nixon’s governor’s race in 1962, I am struck by the applicability of Nixon’s words to the present Presidential Contest.
When Nixon was helicoptering out to kick off the official campaign, he flew over the 12th Congressional District where he began his political career. Nixon saw how much the landscape had changed over the years. The orange, lemon and avocado groves he used to drive through were mostly gone, replaced by thousands of homes and shopping centers. When he arrived in Pomona he reflected on what he saw from the helicopter, relating it to his political philosophy: “What created all this wealth? What created this progress? Government didn’t create it. The instrument of progress for California and the nation is private individual enterprise and I’m for more of it rather than less of it.”
A few weeks later, in addressing the monthly brotherhood meeting at the University Synagogue in Brentwood, Nixon explained that “it is the people, not the government, that has created both the material and spiritual greatness of our country.”
President Obama would do well to remember the words of Richard Nixon spoken fifty years ago.