by Bob Sparrow
It was hard to avoid the stories on the news these past few weeks about the 40th anniversary of the resignation of Richard Nixon, a seminal moment in presidential history. It was August 9, 1974 and I can still see him on that fateful day, climbing the stairs to the helicopter that was waiting for him on the White House lawn, reaching the door, turning to those standing by and flashing that goofy, sweat-on-the-upper-lip smile, arms out-stretched and hands in his signature ‘victory’ sign. I’m unclear about exactly what victory he thought he was celebrating, but I’m fairly certain once he got into the chopper, Pat Nixon said something like, “Wipe that stupid grin off your face Dick, you just lost your frickin’ job!”
The helicopter took him to Air Force One, which flew him to Camp Pendleton Marine Corp Base, where be boarded another helicopter that whisked him to the Western White House just up the road in San Clemente. I guess officially it was no longer the Western White House, since by the time he got there he was no longer president. It is said that Nixon spent the next several years looking for loose change as he walked along the beach in his suit and tie.
Nixon bought (using a political supporter to finance the deal) 26 acres on the ocean at Cotton’s Point in 1969 for $1.5 million; then sold all but 5.9 acres, which was where the main house was and lived there until 1980. I lived and sold real estate in San Clemente while Nixon was living there, so I was very familiar with the estate at Cotton’s Point, but of course, we ‘commoners’ weren’t allowed anywhere near the property unless we could tell his Secret Service Agents the secret password. I was to learn years later that it was, “I’m not a crook”, said with a goofy smile, flapping jowls and a ‘victory sign’.
In light of this anniversary, I thought it might be interesting to visit this historic place and see if I could now get a peek at what Nixon called, ‘La Casa Pacifica’. It was not interesting . . . it was humiliating.
I first tried the direct approach to getting close to the old Nixon compound by driving up to the first of two gated guard stations at Cypress Shores and begged to be let in. I was summarily turned away. I then drove to the nearest public entrance to the beach and, channeling Nixon, donned a coat and tie and walked about a mile and a half on the beach to get in front of his former house, then searched for a ‘bird’s eye view’ vantage point. While walking along the beach I noticed two things, 1) people look oddly at someone in a suit and tie on the beach, and 2) there are still plenty of teenage girls laying out trying to get a tan, which bodes well for the future employment of skin doctors.
In my Nixon disguise I was able to get to the fence line of the property without raising too much suspicion, and there, snap a few pictures, but the ‘trespassers will be prosecuted’ signs and barbwire fence impeded any further progress. I looked around for a breach in the fence line and noticed a fishing troller about 200 yards off shore and then realized that it wasn’t a fishing troller at all, but rather a Secret Service command station keeping a close watch on the shoreline for people just like me. Overhead I noticed what was ostensibly a flock of seagulls, but I quickly detected that the seagull in the middle was humming – no question in my mind it was a spy drone made to look like a seagull.
Undaunted, I retreated back to a staging area where I stripped down and decided a beachfront assault from the ocean was my best opportunity to get a closer look at the former residence. Upon entering the water I realized that there had just been a great white shark citing two days earlier. In my head I heard ‘Jaws’ music and made a quick exit.
Just as I got dressed and was formulating my next plan of attack, a young female security officer came up to me with her Taser gun at the ready and personally escorted me off the beach. I told her I wasn’t a crook, but she said she’d heard that one before.
As I walked away I realized that my day ended in failure, much like Nixon’s presidency. The security guard was watching me as I left the beach to make sure I got in my car and left the premises. Feeling a little sweat on my upper lip, I turned and gave her the ‘Nixon victory sign’; I thought I saw her smile as she raised the Taser gun and motioned me to get in the car.