My Assault on the Old Western White House

by Bob Sparrow

Nixon goodbye     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!”


Nixon looking for change

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.


My welcome at the Cypress Shores guard house

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.


Drone made to look like a seagull

Nixon disguise

Channeling Richard Nixon




A supposed ‘fishing troller’!

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.

out of ocean

Not a Navy Seal

Western White House

I’m sooo close!

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.


My escorted exit

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.




The Sparrow Returns to Capistrano

by Bob Sparrow

DSC01097     I lived in San Clemente for several years and made more than a few trips into neighboring San Juan Capistrano or SJC as it’s colloquially known, so this week I thought I would return to Capistrano to see the returning of the swallows.  Unfortunately I was about 8 months late or 4 months early, depending on your perspective; either way I missed their annual spring landing date by a good margin.  They leave Capistrano in October, so I managed to miss them completely.  My unceremonious arrival in SJC was in stark juxtaposition to the celebration the swallows get when they arrive every year exactly on March 19th  – St. Joseph’s Day, the city’s biggest celebration of the year. Actually there are a few ‘scout swallows’ that arrive a few days early, probably to dust off furniture, turn on the utilities and things like that.  The cliff swallows must arrive exhausted as they’ve come from Goya, Argentina, where they’ve spent the winter.  The round trip the swallows make every year is an astonishing 12,000 miles!  I tried to find out how long it takes them, to no avail – I guess it depends of whether their connecting flight goes through Dallas or Mexico City.

     Once the birds arrive, then they just mostly crap on everything, so they lose quite a bit of their charm, however the Mission at San Juan DSC01100Capistrano does not.  It is the oldest building in California with construction starting in 1776, however a major earthquake leveled most of it in 1812.  The grounds are beautiful and its history is fascinating, for which you can be thankful I won’t go into great detail here.  But I will give you the short version: The Spanish claimed the land from the Acjachemen Indians, descendants from Asians who came over from Russia and first called dibs on California about 15,000 years ago – I’m guessing the traffic and smog wasn’t that big a problem back then.  The Spanish moved them out and colonized California, in part with ‘Missions’ which held the paradoxical position of being both religious centers and military outposts.  In all there were 21 missions dotting the coast of California from San Diego to Sonoma, built to be ‘a day’s walk apart’.

Mex-Amer War  Ultimately Spain was too far away to control the territory; so when neighboring Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821 they moved in while Spain wasn’t looking.  America won the ‘pink slip’ to California after the Mexican-American War concluded in 1848 and subsequently the white folks rushed to California looking for gold – statehood followed in 1850.  The mission is filled with details of these stories and many more, along with a good many artifacts.  It was a great learning experience, and while I think California History is a require subject in all California elementary schools, what I mostly learned was that I was NOT smarter than a 5th grader.

     While in SJC I wanted to return to an old haunt, the ‘El Adobe’, a famous Mexican restaurant just down the street from the mission.  This is theDSC01113 restaurant frequented numerous times and made famous by President Richard Nixon, when he was working at the ‘Western White House’ in San Clemente.  There is a picture of Nixon and the chef hanging in the foyer of the restaurant where I imaged the conversation between them went like this:

Chef: “Mr. President, would you like to come back to the kitchen and create your own tamales?”

Nixon: (jowls flapping) “I’m not a cook”


I had one more stop before I left town, ‘The Vintage’, a bar and restaurant, created from real train cars, just across the street from the mission.  It used to be called ‘The Depot’, as it’s where Amtrak makes its SJC stop.  I went into the bar and had a beer and toasted to the time Linda, my best friend, Don and I sang on stage there in 1981, which seems like 12,000 miles ago.

   It was a memorable return to Capistrano.