Skip to comments.RONALD REAGAN - turned humble California abode into Western White House
Posted on 06/05/2004 6:43:15 PM PDT by doug from upland
HE TURNED A HUMBLE CALIFORNIA ABODE INTO THE WESTERN WHITE HOUSE AND HELPED A NATION BELIEVE IN ITSELF AGAIN
By Reid Slaughter
Cowboys & Indians, July, 2001
A dense fog hung over the Santa Ynez Valley on the morning of August 13, 1981. As a sizeable army of expectant journalists untangled their gear and readied for the moment, Secret Service agents dragged two pieces of leather-bound patio furniture out onto the gravel driveway. Then, from the doorway of a small, 100-year-old adobe house, wearing blue jeans and cowboy boots, the leader of the free world emerged.
Ronald Reagan, just six months into his presidency and still feeling the effects of a would-be assassin's bullet, was about to exercise his considerable mandate to sign into law the largest tax cut in American history, which reduced the tax rate from 70% to 28%. The aptly named Economic Recovery Act would end "stagflation" and launch the Reagan Revolution.
The former actor knew Rancho del Cielo ("The Ranch in the Sky") was the perfect place for such an occasion. It was literally as far from Washington, D.C., as he could get, and it was the place where Reagan the Commander-in-Chief became Reagan the common man, building fences, clearing away brush, riding and grooming his horses.
Over the next eight years, much more history would be made on the 688-acre spread the Reagans purchased in 1974 for $527,000. World leaders from Margaret Thatcher to Mikhail Gorbachev would visit and critical policy decisions would be made. In fact, Reagan would spend almost 50 days per year at the ranch, earning it the nickname the "Western White House."
But for all of its notoriety, Rancho del Cielo has remained a remarkably private place. "Really, there were very few visitors, and almost nobody, even his top staff, went into the main house," observes John Barletta, the Boston native and Secret Service veteran who served as chief of security for the Reagans whenever the couple was in resident at Rancho del Cielo. "Everyone knew that this was his place to recharge," Barletta adds.
Though the ranch was a sanctuary for Reagan, "he always did his homework first," says Secret Service agent John Barletta. "There's no such thing as 'a day off' when you're the president."
Cowboys & Indians received exclusive access to the ranch, which was acquired in 1988 by Young America's Foundation. The foundation plans to preserve this historic site and use it to educate young people about Reagan, his ideals of individual freedom, limited government, strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values. They also plan to construct retreat facilities for the ranch. The project is most appropriate since, as C-SPAN noted, "There is more of Reagan in this ranch than in all the speeches he ever gave." The Washington Post remarked that Ranch del Cielo was "a true national treasure...the place to see the real Ronald Reagan." In the following pages, the surprising humility and gentility of our 40th president is supremely evident. In Reagan's own words, "This place casts a spell. I suppose it's the scriptural line, 'I look to the hills from when cometh my strength.' I understand it better when I'm up here."
LIFE ON THE RANCH
Over the more than 40 visits Reagan made to the ranch during his presidency, a certain routine developed. Each morning, a Secret Service agent would pick up the daily dispatch of presidential papers from the office in Santa Barbara. According to Barletta, Reagan would work through them right away. "People would say, 'Oh, he's out of town' or 'on vacation,' but that means nothing. The presidency and all the work that goes with it goes wherever the President goes."
And so did the enormous security detail. Reagan was virtually never alone, and for the morning ride, which could take anywhere from two to four hours, the parade of security must have been a sight to see. Barletta always rode next to the President (whose Secret Service code name was "Rawhide"); behind them, Mrs. Reagan (code name "Rainbow") and another agent. Following them was a custom-made Hummer (code name "Halfback"), built exclusively to handle the rough terrain of the ranch. Inside were four to six agents carrying heavy weapons, regular and satellite phones, emergency medical equipment and, of course, the "football," the code name for a briefcase containing nuclear missile launch codes.
Every effort was made to preserve a sense of serenity for the President while also employing the vast array of high-tech security and communication devices that are now a standard part of the office. Trees were planted around the command posts where agents, snipers, Seabees, and other military personnel lived and worked. Taking a trip from Disneyland, fake boulders were ordered from the Disney company to hide sophisticated motion detectors, electrical wires, and sensors. Trail numbers were carved into rocks located along the riding paths to track the president's position moment-by-moment on a photographic map shot from space by the Air Force.
Each ride ended with Reagan jumping off his horse and going to help his wife off her horse, then giving her a kiss and a hug. Woe to the overzealous agent who might try to help the First Lady off her horse before the President got to her.
"The President's idea of 'relaxing after lunch' was different than most folks," Barletta recalls. "He liked to do chores." Indeed, despite the fact Reagan was 70 years old when he took office, he delighted in the gritty work of ranch life, and would keep his security detail (who quickly learned the cowboy work ethic of pitching in to help) huffing and puffing while pruning trees, building hundreds of feet of fencing out of old telephone poles, constructing a dock on their pond, "Lake Lucky," or laying the stones for the patio in front of the main house. The six-one, 184-pounder was fond of saying, "Taking care of a ranch is the best workout there is."
All of the work was tempered with a genuine desire to slow down and drink in the extraordinary beauty of the ranch itself. "Rancho del Cielo can make you feel as if you are on a cloud looking down at the world," Reagan said. "From the house we look across the meadow at a peak crowned with oak trees and beyond it, mountains that stretch toward the horizon. From some points on the ranch, you can watch boats cruising across the Santa Barbara Channel, then turn your head and see the Santa Ynez Valley unfold like a huge wilderness amphitheater before your eyes."
Reagan's ability to maintain perspective was also one of his strongest points as president, according to Barletta.
"I remember when we were flying back from the Reykjavik Summit in Iceland," he recalls. "The Russians had said that unless the U.S. put a halt to it's 'Star Wars' initiative, they would refuse to bargain on the other points. Reagan would not give in, and we left there with nothing. Everyone on the Air Force One was very discouraged, knowing the press would label the trip a failure. Then here came the President strolling through the cabin, smiling and telling jokes. He also said the end of the Soviet empire was coming, and that Communism was about to crumble. He was absolutely right."
Patience is a quality more common to older men, and so is faith. Reagan's steadfast belief in God was a favorite subject on his rides with Barletta. "He is a strong Christian," says Barletta, who protected Reagan for 17 years before retiring. "He felt very blessed. He also loved going to church, but on the couple of occasions when we organized it, the presidential security measures--blocking off streets, clearing surrounding buildings, doing background checks--paralyzed the city of Santa Barbara, so he stopped. He called the ranch his 'cathedral in the sky.' 'This is where I'll worship from now on,' he said."
In the evenings, Mrs. Reagan would ring the big black bell on the porch, signaling it was time for dinner. The President was a man of simple culinary tastes and usually asked for a bowl of macaroni and cheese. At night the Reagans would sit on the couch together and watch movies of favorite TV shows such as Murder She Wrote or Jeopardy. Often there was a surplus of work to be done, and the President would attack his "homework," as he called it, at the table in the L-shaped family room, protected by the bulletproof glass that had been installed into their quaint abode. After work he would read and maybe fall asleep by the fire with a favorite book such as Lonesome Dove resting on his chest.
"The Reagans lived a very healthy lifestyle on the ranch," says Barletta, "and I think that's what kept the President so youthful throughout his eight years. I watched Ford and Carter both grow old before my eyes during their terms. The job does that to you. People don't understand how stressful and unrelenting it is. But Reagan somehow stayed the same, and I think a lot of it was this place and his ability to unwind here."
In fact, Rancho del Cielo proved to be a tonic for the whole presidential entourage. "The Secret Service guys loved it because it was gorgeous weather, beautiful country, and we got to take off the suits and wear jeans to work. The White House press corps loved it, too. I would see the reporters hanging out in their shorts or swimsuits at the pier or the Sheraton in Santa Barbara. Then, just before the evening news live shot, they would throw on a coat and tie, and order the cameraman to shoot them from the waist up and say, 'This is so-and-so with the President at the Western White House in California.' Very official. And to us, very funny."
The American West is mysterious that way, and Ronald Reagan, the so-called "Cowboy President," realized the power of this place. He used it to build his dream retreat. From there, he turned a troubled nation around and built a legacy that will last for generations.
Until www.reaganvigil.com goes live late tonight or early tomorrow, here is a link to the website to organize candlelight vigils in hometowns across America and internationally.
We put it together in a hurry, so please forgive its lack of slick appeal, but it should get the job done.
Send it out to everyone you know, every list you've got so that folks can get together and start organizing vigils!
And if you are in Washington DC Sunday night, come by Lafayette Park across the street from the White House at 6 PM.
Let's get this together for the Gipper!
I was at the ranch in July of 1973, just after he bought it. As a matter of fact, it was more or less the first official function there. To say the house was humble is the understate by a large degree. He would change that. But not in a pretentious or flashy way. He did it the way any rancher would. Make it comfortable and functional while keeping expenses under control.
About four years later, we were there again after many of the improvements had been made into what the world knows as the ranch today. This was probably the first housewarming. I believe my signature, along with the other guests that night, are on the first page of the guest book. The boys, who were 14 and 12 at the time also signed it. My daughter was almost 4 but could already sign her name.
As the kids were signing in, one of the party made a fuss over the 'children' signing the guest book. Ron heard this and hushed everyone up with 'They're (meaning the children) our guests too'. Then he asked my daughter, 'Young Lady, can you sign your name?'. When she answered in the affirmative, he told her to go right ahead.
He was one of the most magnificiently polite and caring people I ever met. He always had a sense of proportion about things.
So if you go to one of the early pages in the guest book you'll see Alex's signature when she was 4.
I remember Reagan splitting wood and doing ranch chores. The RAT lickspittles in the press called it theatrics. Never having done physical labor or lived as a result of their own efforts, the elite media can easily be understood to not understand the satisfaction of hard work and self-sufficiency.
I do, because I am working class filth.
Good bye, Ron. We didn't see eye to eye on some things but you were a stout comrade.
Cheers to you, wherever you are!
The western white house was coined by Nixon and his home in San Clemente
I remember that.
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