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Presidential libraries: All the presidents’ things

Courtesy Ronald Reagan Foundation

“How many books are there?”

It’s often the first question visitors ask when they arrive at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, high on a hilltop in Simi Valley, Calif.

Those who’ve visited the Reagan library or any of the other 11 presidential repositories overseen by the National Archives realize they are more than storehouses for important papers and books.

Presidential libraries and museums frame eras in American history, demonstrating the power and the perils of the U.S. presidency through artifacts as wide-ranging as taped telephone conversations and preserved pieces of the Berlin Wall.

“You are getting something extra out of your events when they are held here,” said Melissa Giller, communications manager for the Ronald Reagan Foundation. “You are also getting a sense of history and of presidential leadership.”

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum
Simi Valley, Calif.
Like the president himself, the Reagan library might be one of the most exuberant when it comes to welcoming and entertaining visitors.

It is also one of the most dazzling in terms of its setting. The library and museum sit atop a hill, some 40 miles from Los Angeles. On a clear day, the view goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
During a renovation 18 months ago, several Hollywood-style activities that use green-screen technology were added.

Guests can play Knute Rockne to Reagan’s George Gipp in the 1940 film “Knute Rockne All American.” Better yet, they can step in for Reagan at his inauguration, reading his speech from a teleprompter as Nancy Reagan and others look on.

Guests at dinners can sit beneath the wings of Air Force One, after they’ve toured the plane and perhaps even had their photo taken, waving from atop its stairs, reminiscent of an on-the-go commander in chief. This particular plane, a Boeing 707, flew seven presidents around the country, including Reagan, and of the 1 million miles it flew, Reagan logged 667,000 of them. A massive pavilion built to house the plane opened in 2005.

Traditional meeting spaces are available in the Presidential Learning Center. The complex also has outdoor spaces, including a terrace adjacent to a piece of the Berlin Wall.


Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum
Grand Rapids, Mich.
A bridge away from downtown Grand Rapids and its convention center district, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum has always been a natural for off-site events. In good weather, attendees can walk across the Grand River for dinners and receptions.

For an evening event, the museum’s all-glass lobby is most popular.

“It is an open space, and it overlooks downtown Grand Rapids and the Grand River,” said Kristin Mooney, public affairs specialist. “A large presidential seal overlooks the lobby.”

For daytime events, small groups can meet in the Michigan conference room and adjoining Cabinet Room.

The Cabinet Room is an exhibit, but it can be closed for private bookings. An exact replica, it could elevate decisionmaking, as leaders sit in chairs designated for Ford and his cabinet members.

Because food and beverage are not allowed in the Cabinet Room, groups tend to use it in tandem with the adjacent Michigan room, where their coffee breaks, lunches or dinners could be held. Another event space, a 250-seat auditorium, has a stage and audiovisual equipment.