President Nixon's Western White House (1970-1972)

San Clemente, California
The Western White House at San Clemente within Orange County, California

Coordinates:                                      33°26′16″N 11°37′13″W  
 United States
 208 ft. (71 m)

June 1970 to June 1972 La Casa Pacifica San Clemente California

San Clemente is a city in Orange CountyCalifornia. As of 2005, the city population was 65,900. Located six miles (10 km) south of San Juan Capistrano at the southern tip of the county, it is roughly, equidistant from San Diego and Los Angeles.

In 1969, an event occurred which accelerated the growth and reputation of San Clemente. In that year President Richard Nixon purchased a Spanish mansion in the southern part of town that Hamilton Cotton had built in 1927. This "Western White House" became the site of numerous historical meetings.

In 1969 President Richard Nixon bought the H. H. Cotton estate, one of the original homes built by one of Hanson's partners. Nixon called it "La Casa Pacifica”, (Spanish for "The Pacific House"; translated also as "The House of Peace") is a mansion located on the beaches of San ClementeCalifornia, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  The home is known as President Richard Nixon's Western White House, used while working away from the official presidential residence, the White House.   During Nixon's tenure it was visited by many world leaders, including Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, Mexican President Gustavo Diaz OrdazPrime Minister of Japan Eisaku Sato, Vietnam president Nguyen Van Thieu (arrival) (departure) and Henry Kissinger, as well as businessman Bebe Rebozo.

President Richard and first lady Pat Nixon
                      First Lady Pat Nixon with Trisha Nixon                         
Upon purchasing the estate, Nixon soon made a number of alterations, both for personal preference and needs of the Secret Service. The tennis court was replaced with a swimming pool and much of the estate was wrapped by a 1500-foot C-shaped wall.

The property fronts on the Pacific Ocean to the west and includes approximately eight acres of beach. A railroad line owned by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad runs along the western edge of the compound.  Ajoining the southern boundary of the estate is occupied by the navigational facilities of a U. S. Coast Guard Station and is the site of the "Western White House" administration buildings containing offices for the President and his staff, White House dining hall and Press offices a Secret Service command post, and White House Communications Agency (WHCA) facilities at the Western White House.

Entrance to La Casa Pacifica from the Compound
Courtyard at the Western White House
Following the President's resignation, Richard and Pat Nixon retired to San Clemente, where the President wrote his memoirsThe home is currently a private residence and closed to the public; however, its legacy as a presidential retreat is still used as a calling card for the city of San Clemente. The road adjacent to Interstate 5 in the area is called Avandia Del Presidente (Avenue of the President).

An exterior view of the San Clemente main residense
Security post on the beach at San Clemente
An Annotated view of the Western White House Compound at San Clemente (1970)
The White House Communications Agency was tasked with providing and installing the Communications at this facility. Most of the major work at San Clemente was carried out under severe time pressure during July 1969 in order to ready the estate for a month-long Presidential visit that began in early August. Working closely with Pac Tel, installation began on a three position switchboard, a Comm. Center able to deliver secure voice and secure TTY, also establish an FM radio network with a radio control console to capable of supporting the White House Staff and the Secret Service while the President visited southern California.    
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After completing radio surveys of the surrounding areas and knowing the specific locations that the staff and other support personnel would be staying the radio network was designed.  Three primary sites were selected, first was a highpoint in San Clemente, then Santiago Peak (Elevation 5,689 ft.) a mountain located in Orange County with coverage from Los Angles to Oceanside CA including all of the arrivals and departures of Air Force One at El Toro MCAS, and finally Catalina Island to cover the all of coast highway and beach areas where the staff would stay.  FM base stations were installed with the frequencies commonly used on all trips. “Baker” for the Secret Service Field Office, ”Charlie” for the motorcade and Secret Service CP, “Sierra for the Staff”; finally, “Yankee/Zulu” for Air Force One.

FM Radio System

FM Radio locations covering the Western White House
These three primary sites were selected:
1.     Santiago Peak (Elevation 5,689 ft.) a mountain located in Orange County with coverage from Los Angles to Oceanside CA including all of the arrivals and departures of Air Force One at El Toro MCAS

Santiago Peak in Orange County
2.     A high-point in San Clemente to cover the Western White House Compound and all local activities that would take place in and around San Clemente.

San Clemente Radio Site
 3.     Blackjack Mt on Santa Catalina Island to cover the all of coast highway and beach areas where the staff and the Press would stay. Newport Beach to Laguna Beach along Highway 101.

Santa Catalina Island Radio Site on Blackjack Mt.

 I was assigned to The Western White House in San Clemente CA in June of 1970. During the next two years I would support many visits to the west coast including President Nixon’s historic trip to China in 1972.

Being assigned to the Western White House did have many perks for all of us that were on the staff.  The White House Press Corp did obtain some passes to sporting events in San Diego. I was able to take Don and Bob with me to a San Diego Chargers football game, but in Jan. the 1971 NBA All-star game was held at the San Diego Sports Arena. We found out that some of us had Press Passes and our seats were on the floor under one of the baskets! Any thoughts of basketball as being a non-contact sport soon was replaced after I saw the activity that took place under the basket, pushing, shoving , elbows and most of all when Billy Cunningham drove to the basket he met with Wilt Chamberlain’s finger in his left eye. It was a great game and with only 48 seconds left to play, Milwaukee's Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) scored on a 5-foot jumper and converted a free throw to give the West a 108-107 victory over the East. MVP honors, however, went to Seattle Supersonics’ player-coach Lenny Wilkens, the leading scorer with 21 points!

Over the years the CCT was deployed to many locations worldwide.  It not only supported the President, First Family, White House Sr. Staff including the Press corps and the Secret Service Protection Details on the extended visits to the Western White House, but the CCT also handled many side trips to Los Angles, San Francisco, Santa Rosa, San Diego, Loma Linda CA., as well as Hilo Hawaii, Agana Guam and several trips to Palm Springs.

The CCT was designed to be a quick response highly mobile unit.  We were deployed on several occasions to Palm Springs CA with the President.  The CCT also provided the Vice President communications support on west coast trips. In a two year period the VP traveled to Phoenix twice, Tucson, New Orleans twice, Los Angles, Newport Beach, San Diego, and Palm Springs four times to play golf. The VP stayed with either Bob Hope or Frank Sinatra houses while golfing. Vice President Agnew participated in the Bob Hope desert Classic in 1971.

The President and Mrs. Nixon went to Palm Springs in July 1971 to play some golf and get away from the press for a couple of days. We received short notice about the planned trip and loaded our equipment in a rental truck and headed for Palm Springs. We contacted the telephone company to start the installation of the circuits for the radios at Edom Mountain and to the estate for the CP.  The president arrived a few hours later and although we had the switchboard and radio equipment ready to go, there was still no circuits installed at the Annenberg estate. We finished up at about 4AM and left.  We departed Palm Springs the next afternoon for El Toro. The one thing that I learned during that trip was that I could actually get a few minutes sleep on the back of a golf cart.

Annenberg estate (Sunnylands)
President Nixon would always stay at the estate of Walter Annenberg the owner of TV Guide, Seventeen and many other publications and was the ambassador to England. The Annenberg estate known as Sunnylands came with everything including an 18 hole golf course situated on about 240 acres in Rancho Mirage.

The San Clemente Communications Detachment 's annual picnic (1972)
The San Clemente Communications Detachment was scaled back when President Nixon resigned from office in 1974; however a small group remained to support the Secret Service until the Nixon’s moved to New Jersey in 1980.  The CCT was eventually moved back to the east coast to be redeployed.  

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