For a while it seemed that the FOR SALE sign was coming down on the California mountaintop retreat where Ronald Reagan entertained a queen, broke bread with a leader of “the Evil Empire” and ran the Western White House for much of the time from the saddle of a horse.
But the government’s plan to buy the property for $5 million and turn it into a state park may have fallen apart this week, in the face of a duststorm of local opposition.
The financing was to be tucked into the massive compromise spending bill for the Interior Department for 1998, apparently without the knowledge of local officials or residents or even Rep. Walter H. Capps, the Democrat who represents the Santa Barbara district where the ranch is located.
“I’ve only been in Congress since January, so my first response was that, well they didn’t know who to contact about this,” Capps said. “Then I found out that this was something that was just slipped in,” Capps said, “with no deliberate process.”
The 688-acre spread known as Rancho del Cielo (ranch of the sky) is situated about 30 miles north of Santa Barbara, and offers a panoramic view of the ocean.
The main house is a small 122-year-old adobe with Western decor. Reagan remodeled it himself after he and his wife, Nancy, bought it in 1974 for $480,000.
But the real appeal of the place is not only that President Reagan slept there, but so did Queen Elizabeth II and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Despite that, the Reagan Ranch has, so far, proved to be a “white elephant.” Access to the ranch requires a seven-mile drive up a narrow and twisting county road that locals say is prone to washouts. And real estate agents have said that property in the area at twice the size is selling at or below the $6.5 million asking price for the Reagan ranch.
But the only prospective buyer recently has been the federal government, under plans devised by Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, and California Gov. Pete Wilson. Under their plan, $5 million would be given to California to buy the ranch and make it part of the state park system.
Wilson proposed raising $3 million to $4 million more, much of it through donations, to cover operating costs.