By MONIQUE SUGIMOTO and DENNIS PIOTROWSKI
Richard Nixon wasn’t the only former president with long-standing ties to the Palos Verdes Peninsula. In this installment, we focus on former president Ronald Wilson Reagan whose ties to the area date from the Great Depression.
Reagan first visited Southern California in the mid-1930s. According to his autobiography, he wanted to escape the “frigid Iowa winter” and created a plan to travel to Catalina Island to learn about the Chicago Cubs baseball team who he covered as a sports announcer for WHO Radio.
During these visits, Reagan also visited Hollywood where he was screen-tested and thereafter started his movie career.
World War II brought Reagan to Fort MacArthur in San Pedro a number of times. One of his early visits was for his physical exam for military service. With his severe nearsightedness, he was ultimately assigned to the Army Air Forces 1st Motion Picture Unit in Culver City.
He later returned to Fort MacArthur to play the leading role in the movie, “This is the Army.” Reagan separated from the service at Fort MacArthur in 1945.
In the early 1950s, after Reagan and first wife actress Jane Wyman divorced, their children Maureen and Michael were sent as boarding students to the Chadwick School.
Although Reagan was reportedly upset at this, Maureen defended her mother’s decision to send them there, stating that her acting contract required her to work six days a week from early in the morning and well into the night.
Reagan’s visits to the area continued as his political star was rising in the early 1960s. In February 1961, Reagan addressed more than 200 Republican women at the Palos Verdes Country Club, warning about the growing size of the federal government and the perils of communism.
On September 27, 1962, Reagan drove alone from his home in Pacific Palisades and delivered a speech to over 300 members of the Harbor Young Republicans Club at the Hacienda Hotel in San Pedro.
Reagan’s speech, entitled “What’s at Stake,” highlighted what he saw as the failures of his political adversaries’ “high-level indecision” for the worsening crises in Cuba and East Berlin.
The Berlin Wall was erected a year earlier in 1961 by the East German communist government and the Cuban missile crisis erupted shortly after Reagan’s timely speech.
Reagan attended an informal reception at a home in the Eastview section of what is now Rancho Palos Verdes just prior to his speech. He remarked that he used to drive around the Peninsula with his family when the area was less crowded, but now the main attraction for them was Marineland.
In January 1965, just a few months after he delivered his famous “A Time for Choosing” speech in support of Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, Reagan addressed a crowd of 400 enthusiastic Republicans at the Los Verdes Country Club.
During this period, Reagan was frequently mentioned as a GOP candidate for governor. He didn’t disappoint the partisan crowd, railing against government bureaucracy and warning that the country was “in a war between communism and capitalism, and that the prize is freedom.”
During his gubernatorial campaign in 1966, Reagan campaigned vigorously throughout the South Bay, including stops at the well-known Fishermen’s Fiesta and Ports of Call Restaurant, both in San Pedro.
Heavy Republican turnout on the Palos Verdes Peninsula helped Reagan become governor. When he was elected President 14 years later, Palos Verdes was described as “Ronald Reagan country,” where Republicans then outnumbered Democrats 3-2.
Dennis Piotrowski and Monique Sugimoto are Adult Services Librarians at the Palos Verdes Library district.