Clinton's Presidential Library
Provides Tourism Sparkle
A big draw for visitors touring the Clinton Library is a full-scale replica of the White House's Oval Office.*
By Susan J. Young
Interested in Presidential history? Whatever your political persuasion, the U.S. has 12 Presidential Libraries you may visit, including several in the South.
Among libraries for “living” presidents, the George (H.W.) Bush Presidential Library and Museum (979-691-4000 or http://bushlibrary.tamu.edu) is open in College Station, TX. It boasts 38 million pages of papers, 1 million photographs, 2,500 hours of videotape and 70,000 museum objects.
Similarly, the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum (404-865-7100 or www.jimmycarterlibrary.org) in Atlanta, GA, houses millions of documents and thousands of artifacts. The highlight? Visitors enjoy viewing Carter’s 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.
But the latest star on the Presidential museum scene is clearly the sparkling $160 million Clinton Presidential Library and Park along the Arkansas River in downtown Little Rock. More than 400,000 people visited the 20,000-square foot Clinton library its first year, far more than projected.
Located within a new 30-acre city park in the River Market District, the library has revitalized Little Rock's downtown. The site was a former industrial area filled with old warehouses. So the museum and surrounding park are a nice improvement on the “eye candy” side.
Another plus is the distinctive building design, created by world-renowned architects James Polshek and Richard Olcott.
Inside, exhibits with sweeping, clean lines and a sense of drama were designed by Ralph Appelbaum and Associates of New York, the same architects that created Washington D.C.’s distinctive Holocaust Museum exhibits.
The Clinton Library's dramatic architecture enhances downtown Little Rock's tourism appeal. *
The center building symbolically reflects a theme that President Clinton used during his administration -- "Building a Bridge to the 21st Century." Cantilevered over the Arkansas River, the main library building appears to form a glass-enclosed bridge over the water.
So what’s niftiest about the new library and museum? Visitors love exploring the full-scale, authentic replicas of both the White House’s Oval Office and the Cabinet Room. The Oval Office is the only full-sized replica at any of the Presidential museums.
This Oval Office is furnished as it was during the Clinton Adminstration. The artifacts on the desk are those President Clinton used regularly as he worked. So if you’ll never get to be President, you can imagine you are.
As libraries go, this one is humongous. It contains the largest collection of Presidential papers and artifacts in U.S. history. So if you want to delve into the mechanics of Presidential political life, foreign policy or executive decision making, this place provides the research materials to do so.
The library also features Clinton's personal artifacts, including a Tour de France shirt and bicycle provided to him by Lance Armstrong (items are shown at left*).
Another artifact on display is the 1993 Cadillac imousine that President Clinton used throughout his Presidency. It's part of an exhibit on the role of the Secret Service in the Presidency. The limousine features an armored body and armored glass. It traveled the world with President Clinton.
Also located on the library site is the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, located in the renovated 1899 Choctaw (train) Station. Future plans for the area include renovating the abandoned Rock Island Railroad Bridge to construct a pedestrian crossing over the Arkansas River.
Arkansas oozes political history, no matter your party. Visitors might stand where Kennedy spoke in Texarkana, stay where Reagan slept in Little Rock or follow in the footsteps of the Roosevelts, Bushes, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon and Carter across the Ozarks and to the Delta.
To learn more about Presidential sites in the Natural State, head for the Arkansas Department of Parks & Recreation’s home page at www.arkansas.com/in-the-spotlight/clinton-library.asp. Hit download for a 1.76 MB “Presidential Pathways in Arkansas” PDF guide. It outlines sites visited throughout the years by America’s Commanders in Chief.
Clinton Library Packages
Many Little Rock hotels offer packages that include tickets to the Clinton Library, shown above.*
For lodging options, start at the Arkansas Department of Parks and Recreation's home page at www.arkansas.com; many area hotels have a Clinton Library package.
*All photos above are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of the Clinton Foundation; some photos by Timothy Hursley for the Clinton Foundation.