San Clemente

If you stand in the parking lot of the Richard M. Nixon Memorabilia Museum and peer past El Camino Real toward the train tracks, palm trees and distant ocean, you can see the roof of Casa Pacifica, the Western White House of not so very long ago.

There is lots of room to stand in the parking lot because of the lack of cars.

Since it opened Jan. 23, there has been little interest in the museum and rumor says it will soon close. Pete Mitchell, the museum's 24-year-old manager, insists it is not closing, just moving.

Four Seasons Investment Co., which owns and operates the museum, sold the building last month. Not, Mitchell says, beause the museum was a losing proposition, but because "the investors found a better use for their land and their building and decided to take that route."

Mitchell, who worked as a busboy and waiter at the San Clemente Inn during the Nixon administration and remembers the former president and his aides as "real nice guys," is fond of the word "investor." He cannot say who bought the building; it would make the "investors' unhappy.

A woman who answered the phone at investment company said the building had been purchased by the San Clemente Inn.

However, Mitchell who is also manager of the San Clemente Inn says the inn is not owned by Four Seasons, and that his two jobs are not related.

It is probably too fine a point to bring up, but the two enterprises do share at least one investor. He is Laguna Beach businessman Roy Fraser, who owns part of the San Clemente Inn and has also invested heavily enough in Four Seasons Investment Co. to be its president.

Anyway, Mitchell says the museum is not going to close, just move to an undisclosed location at an undisclosed time.

Back, as they say, at the museum, the admission is $1. The main display room is smaller than the average living room and its bamboo wallpaper is nearly obliterated by photographs. There are pictures of Nixon with Pat, with Brezhnev, with Mao. And a big one of Nixon with John Wayne.

Lining the walls and running down the center of the room are wooden display cases, glass fronted and topped, where the real treasures rest under lock and key on beds on red felt. There is, for instance, an empty bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon that was drunk at a dinner in Orange County honoring then-president Nixon. There are some golf balls inscribed with the names of those who once batted at them: "Gen. Ike," "Dwight D. Eisenhower," "Dick Nixon," "Mr. President" and "Jerry Ford."

Lest you think this is a museum full of Nixon junk, there is an effort to make it not just Nixonian but presidential. There is, for instance, a Lyndon Johnson ashtray in the shape of a 10-gallon hat.

Just about everything else on display bears the presidential seal: Mrs. Nixon's luggage tags, matchbooks, lighters, cigarettes packages, paper napkins.

It seems only a week or so ago that the party accompanying President Reagan was lounging around the Century Plaza Hotel, less than 90 miles north of San Clemente, actually using things embellished with that same seal.