State Journal-Register

March 09, 2001

Page: 1

Congress urged not to rush into buying Reagan home


WASHINGTON - The Bush administration Thursday urged Congress to move slowly on a proposal to acquire and preserve former President Ronald Reagan's boyhood home  in Dixon as a national historic site.

Citing an existing backlog of projects, the National Park Service wants first to  study the site to determine whether it meets the criteria set by Congress in  1998 for such designations.

"In most cases, we are seeking a temporary moratorium on new park designations  or new studies on potential designations, so that we can focus existing  resources on taking care of what we now own," Richard Ring, the National Park  Service's associate director for park operations and education, told a House  resources subcommittee.

"In this case, however, we recognize the potential significance of this site and  would support an authorization for a new study," Ring said.

If approved, the Dixon house would be only the second such national historic  site in Illinois. Lincoln's Home in Springfield is the other.

On Reagan's 90th birthday last month, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois  Republican, introduced a bill that would require the federal government to buy  the Reagan boyhood home from the foundation that currently runs it. No cost  estimates were available.

"Many of us believe that Reagan's success as president stems in no small part  from his upbringing in Illinois. And while his path to greatness took him to  many places, I believe what he learned growing up in Illinois never left him,"  Hastert said in a written statement.

He had to cancel his scheduled appearance before the subcommittee because  President Bush's tax-cut package was up for a House floor vote.

Reagan was born in Tampico, where a park is named after him. His family moved  often before settling in 1920 in Dixon, in the northwestern part of the state,  which Reagan considers his hometown. He lived in the house at 816 Hennepin Ave.  for four years.

It's a mail-order home built about 1890. The foundation bought it for about $30,000 and spent about $450,000 restoring it, according to Norm Wymbs, who  chairs the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home Foundation. About 20,000 people a year  tour the residence.

House Democrats questioned the historical significance of the Dixon home.

"It is unclear what role this home had in Ronald Reagan's life," said Delegate  Donna Christensen, a Democrat and the Virgin Island's non-voting representative  in the House.

"They considered this particular house in Dixon as their home," Wymbs said.

He also denied news reports that the home displays a life-size portrait of Reagan made out of jellybeans, saying that unusual tourist attraction is housed  elsewhere in town.

"The federal government will not be buying a bunch of Jelly Bellys," Wymbs assured the panel.

While the Dixon site isn't being threatened by developers or other harm that  would require an urgent response by the federal government, Wymbs said  foundation members are concerned that they're getting older and would like to  see the home's future settled.

The historic designation is only a small part of a wave of proposals nationwide  to honor Reagan.

An airport, a federal office building and most recently an aircraft carrier have  already been named for the 40th president.

Now, the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project wants Congress to approve the construction  of a Reagan memorial on the National Mall.