One of Orange County, California’s most famous landmarks didn’t start out that way when it was built more than 100 years ago.
In fact, the unassuming farmhouse was built in 1912 from a kit Frank Nixon likely bought at a lumber yard not far from his property along what is now Yorba Linda Boulevard.
But just a few months after it was put together, the house saw the birth of a boy who would become the nation’s 37th president. Today, it is one of the centerpieces of the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum, attracting thousands of visitors each year.
There were just 31 residents in the berg called Yorba Linda in 1910. It was Yorba Linda’s climate that pulled Frank Nixon from Whittier in 1912 to try his hand at growing oranges and lemons. Nixon researchers haven’t been able to determine exact month when the Nixon home was built, though they do know it was in 1912. The Janss Investment Co., which subdivided the land that would become Yorba Linda, promised agricultural land that was “frost free.”
On Jan. 9, 1913, just months after the 900-square-foot farmhouse was built, Richard Milhous Nixon became the only one of the five Nixon boys to be born at the home. The Nixons grew up knowing the hard work that comes with farming for a living, helping their father with chores as they became older.
On warm afternoons, the boys often stirred their father’s wrath by swimming in the irrigation canal that ran past the house. Today, that canal has been filled in and is a public walkway that runs behind the museum. When the boys weren’t working, Frank and Hannah Nixon encouraged them to read. Richard Nixon took to training on the family’s piano, but also learned to play the clarinet and the violin. In his spare time, he devoured issues of National Geographic lent to him by his uncle.
The family lived a scant existence, with Frank Nixon having a difficult time coaxing his citrus to grow. The area’s heavy clay soil contributed to that, along with Frank Nixon’s apparent complete trust in Mother Nature rather than fertilizers.
After about a decade in Yorba Linda, another cold winter ravaged Frank Nixon’s citrus trees. He sold the western portion of his 8-acre plot to the Yorba Linda Elementary School District, and the eastern portion – including the house – to private buyers. By the time they left the small community to return to Whittier in 1922, there were only 46 residents. Though the Nixons left, the house has remained in place where it was first built.
The house went through six different owners through 1946. The local school district purchased it to use as a residence for the custodian/school bus driver. In the 1950s, with Richard Nixon serving as Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president, the school board and the city declared the house a historic landmark, and the district held on to it for years.
In the meantime, Clara Jane Nixon had stored away much of the family’s furniture. In the 1980s, when the Nixon Foundation began planning a library and museum at the site, she began contacting relatives to gather pieces that had been taken by different branches of the family.
Today, 70 percent of the items in the house were used by Frank and Hannah Nixon and their sons. Others are period pieces added to the home to show how it would have looked during the years Richard Nixon lived there. While things inside the house have changed only moderately, the Nixons’ former land is another matter. Of the trees growing on the farm then, only a scattering of palm and pepper trees remain. The grounds are vastly different as well. Instead of orchards, a museum sits to the west, and to the south, the Sea King helicopter Richard Nixon traveled in during his presidency.
Lastly, just to the northwest, lies the president himself, in his grave next to his wife, Pat.