Whether you love him, like him, despise him, or blame him for everything that went wrong in America in the 1960s and ‘70s, Richard Nixon was one of the most powerful and controversial politicians to ever spring forth from the suburbia of Southern California. This sparkling new pictorial does two astounding things at once. First, it captures the entire life and career of Richard Milhous Nixon on one sheet, and second, it places Whittier at the center of the action (the only map I’ve come across that does so). There are two areas of focus: the lower roads, which trace Dick’s boyhood, and the much more well-known “Richard Nixon’s Political Road,” which begins in 1948 and roars on until 1974.
Here we see a small farmhouse in Yorba Linda, a little agricultural community that grew citrus fruits and received their post office the same year Nixon was born (1912). It is well known the family joined a Quaker congregation when the First Friends church opened. Dick was just four. The very bright young man attended Yorba Linda Elementary, sometimes walking to the nearby school barefoot, and was not only a superior student but spent much of his free time in the local library. There is an apocryphal tale about young Nixon: while other kids got toys at Christmas, he was given a briefcase—and he loved it.
Unfortunately the family farm fizzled, and the elder Nixon, Frank, moved the family to the big city of Whittier. There he opened a gas station and a grocery store, which eventually thrived. Dick, who by then had transitioned to Richard, breezed through Whittier High; he stayed close to home and graduated from Whittier College, the state institution with my favorite mascot (The Poets). Even though Durham, North Carolina is a bit off the map, it was Nixon’s next stop. Even though he dove head-first into law school at Duke University, it wasn’t all books. He met his future wife, Thelma Catherine “Pat” Ryan, while trying out for a play in 1938. By 1940, they were hitched for what was to be 53 years. In those honeymoon years, the Nixons lived off the modest law practice he maintained in downtown Whittier as well as some dabbling in the business world at Citrix-Frost Company3.
In World War II, Richard Nixon set the stage for his long political career by joining the U.S. Navy (leaving for duty from L.A.’s Union Station) and reaching the rank of Commander in the Naval Reserve. The political road seen here is wide and far less straightforward than the career of this cunning politician. Starting in January of 1947 he captured the 12th congressional district, the one ironically represented by Nancy Pelosi at the present time. He wasted little time on the GOP ladder after garnering attention in the Alger Hiss case, vaulting up to U.S. Senator in 1950 and receiving the nod for Vice Presidential nominee by Dwight Eisenhower, who won twice in a breeze. The Nixon express sputtered a bit after defeats in the 1960 presidential election and what appeared to be a career ending loss to Pat Brown in the 1962 gubernatorial race for California. Even so, an undeterred Nixon returned with a vengeance—he became the 37th president in one of the most heated races ever as the Vietnam War raged on and domestic unrest peaked with Kent State and the protest movement. Nixon won in a huge landslide against peace candidate George McGovern in 1972, and the rest is…history.
Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week.