washingtonpost.com  > Politics > Special Reports > Ronald Reagan 1911-2004

In California, Flowers for a Famous Neighbor

By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 7, 2004; Page C01

LOS ANGELES, June 6 -- Sunday morning is quiet in the hills of Bel-Air, so drowsy one can hear the sprinklers whisper shush behind the tall walls of ficus hedge and the wrought-iron gates mounted with cameras and intercoms.

The police and Secret Service decided to close Saint Cloud Road up above Copa de Oro. Down on Sunset Boulevard a film crew is shooting scenes for a movie unrelated to the current event, and the winding street is lined with lamppost banners advertising a retrospective for photographer Diane Arbus at the Los Angles County Museum of Art; the banner shows a young man in makeup and curlers.


Christina Antaky of Los Angeles shows her son Luke, 1, the makeshift memorial outside the Santa Monica mortuary holding Reagan's remains. (Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

___ Ronald Reagan ___


___ Narrated Photo Galleries ___
Personal Life: A remembrance, as told by Reagan biographer and Post reporter Lou Cannon.
Lou Cannon on Political Career

___ More Photos ___
A Nation Grieves Reagan's Passing

___ Multimedia ___
Video: President Bush comments
Audio: Cannon on Berlin Speech

___ Timeline ___
Ronald Reagan's Life: 1911-2004


___ Washington Post Coverage ___
Ronald Reagan Dies
Actor, Governor, President, Icon
LBJ's Service to Be Funeral Model

___ Nation, World Reaction ___
Nation and World Pay Tribute
In Illinois, Heartland Town Mourns
Remembering in California
Preparations in Washington
Conflicted in Former 'Evil Empire'
In Europe, Appreciation Grew
Reagan's Optimism Hailed
In Calif., Admirers Gather
Europe, Latin America React

___ Political Legacy ___
Sagging GOP Rebuilt in His Image
Reagan Lives On
'More Than Just a Man'
Shales: Actor on the World Stage
Kurtz: Remaking of a President

___ Global Legacy ___
Hastening an End to the Cold War

___ Economic Legacy ___
Historic Tax Code Changes Eroded

Policy's Nickname: Reaganomics

___ An American Legend ___
Reagan Took Normandy by Storm
His Fellow Americans
Flags Lowered, Memories Raised
Reagan in Hollywood, Warming Up
The Leading Man
A Reagan Filmography
Washington in the '80s
Reagan Had Passion for Sports

___ Opinion ___
Broder: The Great Persuader
Post Editorial
Will: An Optimist's Legacy

The crowds of mourners and gawkers are being kept away from the Reagan estate. A minivan drives by, windows down, someone inside rolling a video camera; a federal agent sitting in his Crown Victoria looks up from his Smarty Jones sports pages and waves them away.

"They're taking some down time today," says Joanne Drake, Ronald Reagan's chief of staff, of the family. "We're encouraging them to take some rest."

Drake says Nancy and the children will face "a hard six days" ahead, as the former president's remains are moved from the mortuary in Santa Monica to his library in the Simi Valley, then by plane and procession to Washington, to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, then to the Washington National Cathedral, and finally back home to California, to be placed in his last spot, beneath coastal live oaks.

Drake says Nancy and the family have been taking calls of condolence; the phone never stops ringing, from President Bush and his father, from Margaret Thatcher, George Shultz, Bill Clinton, Colin Powell, Charlton Heston. She tells the press that one of his pallbearers will be old family friend Merv Griffin.

A few miles away, down in Santa Monica, it is still cool and sea-foggy this morning, the weather pattern known to locals as the June Gloom.

The Gates Kingsley & Gates funeral home isn't much to look at; the style of the beige building and chapel is hodge-podgey, a kind of Spanish Tudor. It is surrounded by television news vans shooting standups and moments when someone comes by to lay a bundle of carnations at a makeshift shrine, beside a handwritten note, "God Bless the Gipper."

Santa Monica is one of the most liberal, and wealthy, cities in America, where the mayor pro tem belongs to the Green Party, a village long ago dubbed "the People's Republic by the Sea."

"I'll be honest with you," says Paul Herman, 66, a retired investment manager and lifelong Democrat. "I never liked him when he was president."

So, "funny, huh?" Herman says, that he felt compelled to come by, to pay his respects. "You get older, you forgive and forget, you realize that things are more complicated, you know? You learn to see what history sees. I was listening to the radio and they were talking about Reagan's optimism, and I'm thinking, yeah, that was Reagan and that's something special."

A plump and florid man in a blue blazer comes by with a poster for one of Reagan's movies, "Hellcats of the Navy," and gives an interview to one of the TV people. Incredibly fit joggers tread by; a family of three snaps a picture; a lady tugs her dog up to the shrine on the lawn. Herman says, almost an aside, "He was a better man than I am," and walks away.

An hour's drive away, at the Reagan Library in the drought-brown hills of the Simi Valley, the chaparral is looking ready to ignite. The library is closed, preparing for the crowds on Monday's viewing, but people still come to lay more flowers at the gates.

Roy Harrison and wife Terri drove all the way from the Sacramento suburbs, leaving at dawn, to try to get into a memorial service for Reagan. Roy is 70. "I didn't fight in World War II, but I wanted to," he says. Reagan, for him, represents another time, another generation. "It was straight, good and evil, right and wrong," Harrison says. Terri pats his shoulder. "We loved that man," he says. "Just have us saying that."

At week's end, Reagan will return to a hilltop beside his library, a place of rest, with a view, they say, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. It's smoggy this Sunday afternoon, and hot, and you can't see very far, just haze and the waves of heat.


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