Jerry & Betty Ford’s Desert House & Other Homes

Former President Jerry Ford, former First Lady Betty Ford and their dog Happy, in their Rancho Mirage Desert Home dining-room.

With recent news that the family home of President John F. Kennedy will be preserved as an historic site, the fate of President Gerald R. Ford‘s equally important one, is less certain.

Colleagues in Congress, Kennedy and Ford both served as President for less than three years each, but they bookend a ten-year period marked by both progressive and destructive forces that permanently altered the way the world perceived the U.S. and the way the U.S. perceived its leaders.

Kennedy’s assassination and LBJ’s succession in 1963 and Nixon’s resignation and Ford’s succession in 1974.

The sense of a hopeful future being lost when Kennedy was assassinated didn’t spring from sentimentalism alone. Within months, the U.S. escalated its military presence in Vietnam, with massive numbers of ground troops, chemical weaponry, and unrelenting bombings. Every night at dinnertime, Americans saw the carnage for themselves in the evening news broadcast on color T.V. sets. The nation splintered bitterly between those protesting the war and those who felt such a reaction was unpatriotic.  It bred the hateful mistrust which undermined and degraded the consecutive presidencies of Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon, the immediate successor of  Kennedy and the immediate predecessor of Ford, respectively.

President Kennedy’s daughter Caroline shakes hands with President Ford during an April 19 1975 Bicentennial event in New Hampshire. (AP)

The end of Kennedy’s presidency marked the beginning of this era and the beginning of Ford’s marked the end of it. Under Ford, the Vietnam War finally drew to a close. With liberation now more an aspect of liberty, Ford’s 1976 Bicentennial Commission fostered a more inclusive telling of the national story, crediting women, immigrants, former slaves, and working-class white men whose contributions had been previously ignored. The naively optimistic trust of government’s best intentions prevalent in Kennedy’s era might not return, but the honest integrity of Jerry Ford’s intentions lifted the America of his time into recovery and renewal.

Senator Edward kennedy presents 2001 Profiles in Courage Award to former President Ford.

Striving to become President, Kennedy shaped his personality into an irresistible media persona. Ford, on the other hand, had never pursued his long career in Congress with any intention of ending up President. His Midwestern middle-class background may have provided the reassurance of solid trust so necessary after Watergate but his inculcated modesty inhibited Ford from widely disseminating in the media the reasoning for his controversial pardon of Nixon. In fact, when President Kennedy’s brother, Senator Edward Kennedy presented the 2001 Profiles in Courage Award to former President Ford, he remarked:

At a time of national turmoil, America was fortunate that it was Gerald Ford who took the helm of the storm-tossed ship of state. Unlike many of us at the time, President Ford recognized that the nation had to move forward, and could not do so if there was a continuing effort to prosecute former President Nixon. So President Ford made a courageous decision, one that historians now say cost him his office, and he pardoned Richard Nixon. I was one of those who spoke out against his action then. But time has a way of clarifying past events, and now we see that President Ford was right. His courage and dedication to our country made it possible for us to begin the process of healing and put the tragedy of Watergate behind us. He eminently deserves this award, and we are proud of his achievement.

Starting with disclosure of her breast cancer and past consultation with a pyschologist, to consideration of marijuana use, reproductive rights, gender equity, gay rights, couples living together before marriage, Betty Ford led a national dialogue on the societal changes facing American families.

As much as any policy, what lingers in the general public’s mind about his presidency, from August 9, 1974 to January 20, 1977, is how vitally First Lady Betty Ford engaged the nation in a candid dialogue on the sweeping societal changes challenging average American families in that era and thus helping define the character of it for history.  With the now-immediate recognition of the name “Betty Ford,”  however,  Jerry Ford’s wife made her most enduring contribution to his presidential legacy.

Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Betty Ford met again after many years at a 1976 Kennedy Center event.

Jackie Kennedy worked as a former First Lady in her Cape Cod home to intentionally ensure her husband’s legacy (see the previous article:,  Betty Ford’s work as a former First Lady in her desert home unintentionally did the same for her husband. Her mission was helping to save thousands, if not millions of lives mired in alcoholism and drug addiction, well beyond those who sought treatment in the nearby facility with her name carved over its door, “The Betty Ford Center.”

Mrs. Ford 1990, at the recovery center bearing her name..

For one-third of a century, from the moment she disclosed she was seeking treatment for her own struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction in 1978 until her death last July, Betty Ford dedicated her life to recovery treatment,  whether by granting thousands of media interviews in which she often corrected misconceptions about addiction, addressing crowds from college campuses to women’s prisons, reviewing new research on the disease,  studying proposed changes in methodology, or responding to tens of thousands of letters from those relying on her emotional inspiration and practical guidance as a role model. With a commitment running so deep and long, Betty Ford helped forge a permanent societal change which, however chronologically recent it may seem, is ultimately historic.  Equally historic is the place from which she did all this, the so-called “Ford Desert House,”  in Rancho Mirage, California, where she lived with her husband longer than any other place.  It is historic not just for being the home of a former U.S. President, but as a symbolic birthplace of the modern addiction recovery movement resulting from his wife’s work.

Among all former Presidents of the United States, only Zachary Taylor and Gerald R. Ford lack an historic site where the public can learn how they lived, be it birthplace, childhood home, summer White House or retirement retreat.

Not only did the “Ford Desert House”  go on public sale two weeks ago but all of its original furnishings remain in place there and available for purchase with it, offering an unprecedented but fleeting chance for its historic preservation. In light of the possibility that it will not be saved, here at least is a glimpse inside its rooms, with photos from the real estate websites and the Desert News. Also here is a photo essay on  “The Temporary Ford White House,” the family’s suburban Virginia house which served as the official presidential residence for ten days in August 1974, and a briefer entry on the Fords’ “Summer Mountain Home”  in Colorado, with photos from the National Park Service, Gerald Ford Library, and Associated Press.


“The Temporary Ford White House”

The Jerry Fords of Grand Rapids freshly arrived in Washington, days before Harry Truman’s January 20 1949 Inauguration took place on the stands being built there.

Jerry and Betty Ford at their Alexandria, Virginia garden apartment in 1952.

When the President and Mrs. Ford moved to Rancho Mirage, California in January 1977 from the White House, following his defeat by Jimmy Carter for the presidency, they left behind a life in Washington of nearly thirty years, all but two and a half of them spent as a congressional couple.

Except for their first six years in Washington when they lived in the suburban Virginia “Park Fairfax” garden apartment complex (where, coincidentally enough Congressman Richard Nixon and his wife Pat Nixon had been fellow residents), and their last two and a half years, in the White House, the Fords called a modest brick house on Crown View Drive, in suburban Alexandria their home.  Built by an architect from Ford’s Grand Rapid, Michigan district on a plot of land they bought in a housing development, they took possession of it in 1955.

1955. The Ford house in Alexandria shortly after it was completed.

1960. Mrs. Ford with her children playing in the backyard.

1959. The Congressman mows the lawn.

1960. The Ford children at Christmas.

Early 70s. When he was home, House Minority Leader Ford loaded the dishwasher. (CORRECTION: THIS IS ACTUALLY PRESIDENT FORD IN THE HOME OF HIS DAUGHTER SUSAN FORD IN 1975)


Early 70s. The Ford family in their Alexandria house.

Early 70s. Stepping out for a costume party.

The Fords washing and drying dishes (perhaps the washer was broken) in their Alexandria home, the walls in knotty pine wood from their home district of Grand Rapids.

The suburban Ford home in the period when it served as a presidential residence in 1974.

Eventually, the Fords converted the garage into more needed room,  not anticipating their second two children after having their first two. They raised their four children in the Alexandria home – or rather, Betty Ford did, mostly, she later admitted.  As a congressional leader, Jerry Ford spent more days of the year out on the road campaigning for colleagues than he did at home with his family and it was his wife who often had to play the role of both parents for them. This was in addition to the social and charitable duties expected of congressional wives. It created great stress, and she later admitted that alcohol offered temporary relief at times. While raising a kitchen window there one day in 1965, she pinched a neck nerve that left her not only severely impaired but in chronic pain; doctors readily prescribed strong pain medication for it.

In October 1973,  following Vice President Spiro Agnew’s resignation amid growing scandal, President Nixon named Ford, by then the House Minority Leader, as his new Vice President. The Fords began making plans to move across the Potomac River to become the first family to occupy Admiralty House on the grounds of the Naval Observatory, a Victorian mansion that had recently been designated as the first official residence of the Vice President. Rather than Admiralty House, however, the family’s next home proved to be the White House.  With less than a week’s notice, Nixon’s impending resignation from office on August 9, 1974 found the Fords making hasty arrangements to vacate their Crown View Drive home.  For the first ten days following the new President’s inauguration, however, the family still lived there, making it the temporary Ford White House.

Morning coffee in hand, still in her housecoat, Betty Ford and daughter Susan chat with neighbor Pete Abbruzzese just hours before her husband was sworn in as President.

Later that day, a more solemn Betty Ford and her husband, the new President, walk from the East Room podium where he took the oath of office, passing their son Jack in the aisle.

The new President leaves his suburban home for the commute to his Oval Office in the city.

The Fords packing up personal items, like his old Navy cap, to take from their private home to the White House.

Betty Ford packing some final items to take with her from the suburbs to the White House.

The new President posed with local police who helped facilitate his functioning as President while still living in his suburban house.

Once the Fords moved into the White House, their Alexandria house was left empty but guarded.  Soon after, it was bought by a neighbor after the Ford presidency ended. Used as a rental property for nearly thirty years it had a neighborhood reputation for loud parties as groups of   post-college young adults leased it.  No effort was made to purchase it for use as a house museum, an admittedly difficult prospect in a quiet, residential neighborhood.  Finally, in 2009, Tim and Helen Lloyd bought the Crown View Drive home to make their own, and the latter has written a lively, personal and accurately-detailed account of their effort to retain elements of the Ford occupancy:

As it looks today: the suburban Virginia home of Jerry and Betty Ford.

The Ford family at the White House: son Mike and his wife Gayle, at left, the President and First Lady, son Jack, daughter Susan and son Steve.

The fulfillment of having her own opinions affect positive change as First Lady, and the large White House staff no longer necessitating many of her previous chores converged to temporarily reduce some of the stress Betty Ford had endured beforehand. Despite his 1976 election loss, as a former President and First Lady, both Fords would find their activities and interests still garnered media attention, an important factor as their story continued to unfold in the post-presidential years.


 “The Summer Mountain Home”

The Fords on their Colorado property and one of the rooms in their home there. (PBS)

Summer Mountain Home

Summer Mountain Home, Exterior rear.

Summer Mountain Home, Pool

Summer Mountain Home Billiards Room

Having always spent winter holidays skiing and summer months enjoying the alpine setting of Vail, Colorado, the former President and First Lady would purchase a home in Beaver Creek, Colorado to escape their California desert home in the extreme heat of summer. Actively engaged in the community, a park of alpine gardens was even created and dedicated to the former First Lady there. Typically, they spent the late spring, summer and early autumn there.  The house itself is large and richly-appointed. It was often busy with political and personal friends, their children and children-in-law, and growing circle of grandchildren. It was sold for $6.65 million in 2007 by the Ford family and has since been on the market again for a figure twice that.


 “The Ford Desert House”

With the former President’s grand obsession of golf, however the Fords had decided to make their primary home base in the Palm Springs, California area, long a bastion of legendary figures, mostly moderate Republicans, of the generation just previous to their own, with famous residents including Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Ginger Rodgers, George Burns and Jane Wyman (the first wife of Ronald Reagan).  Settling on a 1.37 acre parcel  which they purchased from former ambassador and tire heir Leonard Firestone in the town of Rancho Mirage, it sits on the 13th fairway of the Thunderbird Country Club.

The Jerry and Betty Ford House.

For what they had in mind as a living and work space compatible with the view of nearby sandy mountains and desert flaura and fauna, and the emerald golf greensward that would be just outside their window, the Fords commissioned the famous mid-century modern Los Angeles architectural firm of the late Welton Becket to design a home based on a 6,316-square-foot single-story floor plan.

The Becket firm created a five-bedroom, six-bath house for the Fords, with a flat-planed rouge-colored roof and generous window taking advantage of its southern exposure and mountain views. It placed guest rooms on one side of the building, with the family rooms on the other. In the center, a courtyard of sorts, is a large pool, with a flowing fountain to the side, designed and built to the former President’s specifications, since he swam there twice daily. The other structures on the compound include a 5,284-square-foot staff office and ceremonial one where the former President welcomed prominent guests, and a Secret Service guard “shack,” the converted former home of Ginger Rodgers, both buildings on the same road leading to the Ford Desert House.

The large glazed brick entrance plaza.

The President’s pool, where he swam twice daily well into his 90s.

A hall between the pool and the house.

A view of the Thunderbird Country Club golf fairway and sculpture.

Landscaping with indigenous plantings, the Ford House.

Unlike their crowded Alexandria, Virginia home and the grand sylvan mountain retreat at Beaver Creek, Colorado, the Ford Desert House was a durable sanctuary, tasteful and bright but quiet and peaceful. Except for the eye-popping green shades here and there, the entire tone is one of pale and subtle sand, orange and pink, attuned to with the desert land and sky. The tiling and white-brick walls, some detached from the ceiling, provide coolness. It is in marked contrast to the showplace of nearby Sunnylands, the recently-restored home of former Ambassador and publisher Walter Annennberg and his wife Lee, just opened as a house museum to the public.

The long light-filled entrance foyer of the Ford desert house.

The main hall of the Ford House.

The Ford House living room, Mrs. Ford’s portrait from the White House years.

Another view of the living room, door at left leading to study.

Study, Ford House.

Ford’s famous, worn blue leather chair was with him from the suburbs to the desert – and in the White House private quarters, as his wife showed Barbara Walters in the inset picture.

Books in the President’s study.

The Ford House dining room, which looks out on one side to the pool.

Late Seventies recessed lighting in one hallway.

The kitchen – where a former neighbor recalled that the former First Lady still liked serving budget-wise 70s casseroles.

The headboard of the Fords’ Rancho Mirage bed looks similar to – but is not the couple’s White House bed, which photographers snapped as it was carried in. Asked how often she would sleep with the President, the First Lady had quipped at that time, “As often as possible.”

Another view of the master bedroom.

Mrs. Ford’s walk-in closet.

Some of Mrs. Ford’s books.

Mrs. Ford’s lavatory.

The President’s lavatory.

Susan Ford’s room.

Steve Ford’s room.

Mrs. Ford in the late 1980s.. She returned to testify before Congress in 1994 to advocate for mental health coverage in any potential federal health insurance program which might be initiated.

The Betty Ford Center.

By the time the Fords had settled into their new desert life, however, the combination of drugs and alcohol was taking a heavier toll on Betty Ford.  She slurred her words, her perception so altered that she did not recognize her Secret Service agent and introduced herself to him. In fact, her life was at risk. Her family, led by daughter Susan who initially lived with her parents in Rancho Mirage, became alarmed at the growing change in her and organized an intervention. From there, the former First Lady sought “rehab,” or more precisely, recovery from her addictions. While at Long Beach Naval Medical Hospital, she decided to go public with it in hopes of reducing the stigma attached to the disease.  She made the case that if a former First Lady could be alcoholic and addicted to drugs, publicly admit it and then recover perhaps it could encourage others struggling with the issues to do likewise and, further, help alleviate some of the secondary emotional shame usually felt over it.

Once she had processed some time in her own recovery, she teamed with friend and neighbor Leonard Firestone to create the recovery center at nearby Eisenhower Medical Center which now bears her name, The Betty Ford Center.  She didn’t stop there

One of Mrs. Ford’s books examined problems uniquely faced by women with addiction.

All through her 70s and 80s, the former First Lady continued to write books, including an explicit account of her own addictions, Glad Awakening,  grant interviews on the subject, develop specialized treatment programs for women addicts and others addressing the repercussions on family members of those with addictions, and prepare speeches she gave on the subject around the country. All of this unfolded behind the gates of the refreshing Ford Desert House, where the shifting daily light played on the mint green furnishings through a multitude of skylights, light-wells, a glass-walled living room and the sparkling pool fountain.

The Fords in 2000.

It was also from this house that the former President began to learn about the issues of addiction and to work with his wife in her post-White House career as a pioneering leader of the recovery movement, becoming an informed proponent on the issue in his own right.  The widespread cultural shift from hiding addiction as a secret to honestly embracing it with the goal of recovery gained its global currency as a direct result of Betty Ford’s high visibility. Despite the misconception that she just lent her name to it, the former First Lady also continued to work on a smaller scale, going daily to the Betty Ford Center not just for business meetings but to counsel patients, introducing herself by Alcoholics Anonymous protocol, “Hello, my name is Betty and I’m an alcoholic…”

The late Mrs. Ford’s home office.

Evoking the independence of her lobbying as First Lady for the Equal Rights Amendment, however, Mrs. Ford wanted equal his-and-her offices for herself and her husband, and here she did her paperwork and correspondence.

What can practically be done to preserve this site , significant as both a presidential home and symbol of the recovery movement?

Since it was a built with security and privacy as priorities, it is isolated enough from nearby private residences and with a large enough entrance drive to accommodate more than a modest and limited stream of daily visitors. With tourism being the greater Palm Springs area’s primary draw, anchoring it with an historic home of this magnitude would only help the local economy.

The author and Betty Ford during an interview in her Rancho Mirage living room 2001

A joint portrait of the couple.

It would seem ideal for the fully-furnished historic home to become the property of the nearby Betty Ford Center, perhaps along the lines of what the Edward M. Kennedy Institute intends for the Joe and Rose Kennedy House in Hyannis Port, as both a study center and museum. A foundation related to other issues Betty Ford worked in, like breast cancer or gender equity might also make use of the property as one group has done in purchasing the Reagan Ranch in Santa Barbara with its furnishings intact. Certainly there is enough wealth in the region so that a consortium of interested locals could purchase it, if even to just buy time to consider preserving it as an historic site before a private buyer could then rightfully alter it as their own home.  Even agent Nelda Linsk of H.K. Lane Real Estate who is handling the property’s potential sale at the asking price of  $1.7 million (comparatively modest to nearby properties), with the furnishings also available, expressed the hope that the town might buy it to preserve it as an historic site:


The Truman house kitchen.

It might be hard for those in 2012 to think of a house built and furnished in the late 70s as anything but “modern.”  In short time, however,  it will go from “dated” to “period,” and then (if it can dodge the wrecker’s ball), “historic.”  When Harry Truman’s Missouri home first opened to the public in the late 80s, the father of young children laughed as he pointed out an old toaster “just like the one in grandpa’s house.” Those kids can now point it out to their kids, like the one in great-grandpa’s house.

Categories: Betty Ford, First Families, Jimmy Carter, Presidents, Regionality

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23 replies »

  1. Phenomenal Woman

    Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
    I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
    But when I start to tell them,
    They think I’m telling lies.
    I say,
    It’s in the reach of my arms,
    The span of my hips,
    The stride of my step,
    The curl of my lips.
    I’m a woman
    Phenomenal woman,
    That’s me.

    I walk into a room
    Just as cool as you please,
    And to a man,
    The fellows stand or
    Fall down on their knees.
    Then they swarm around me,
    A hive of honey bees.
    I say,
    It’s the fire in my eyes,
    And the flash of my teeth,
    The swing in my waist,
    And the joy in my feet.
    I’m a woman

    Phenomenal woman,
    That’s me.

    Men themselves have wondered
    What they see in me.
    They try so much
    But they can’t touch
    My inner mystery.
    When I try to show them,
    They say they still can’t see.
    I say,
    It’s in the arch of my back,
    The sun of my smile,
    The ride of my breasts,
    The grace of my style.
    I’m a woman
    Phenomenal woman,
    That’s me.

    Now you understand
    Just why my head’s not bowed.
    I don’t shout or jump about
    Or have to talk real loud.
    When you see me passing,
    It ought to make you proud.
    I say,
    It’s in the click of my heels,
    The bend of my hair,
    the palm of my hand,
    The need for my care.
    ’Cause I’m a woman
    Phenomenal woman,
    That’s me.

    Maya Angelou, “Phenomenal Woman” from And Still I Rise (1978).

    • Didn’t even know about that poem – did Angelou write it about Mrs. Ford I wonder, being that it was from 1978? Regardless, thanks for that Geraldo…it surely fits…

      • The minute I started reading this astonishing post I remembered this lecture of yours, and watching it again, I thought to myself: What a phenomenal woman! And then the poem came to my mind. The first time I’ve ever heard it, was when Oprah Winfrey recited it at the Wellesley College Commencement, back in 1997. And guess where I watched this ceremony? Nowhere else but on C-SPAN, one of my favorite TV channels ever! Do you remember that I told you that I first heard of your work on C-SPAN? Some cosmic convergence here, huh? 🙂

        • Oh those C-Span videos! I’m always a bit leery of them after speeches because sometimes they keep the mike on and all sorts of people wanting books signed often engage you in some specific line of questioning, and you’re trying to focus on all the other people behind them….a couple of times I’ve sort of thought, I’m not C-Span primetime ready….but so the fact that my work came to your attention through there most definitely makes up for any blunders I’ve blurted during book-signings….I also watch it frequently, but usually to follow the tedium of House activity.

  2. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful work Carl!

    The opening, drawing the parallel lines from the Kennedy administration to the Ford, is brilliant and so thoughtful. Both administrations brief; both administrations transformational.

    Delving into the history of the house on Crown View Drive is also important; I’ve always felt that it’s not only significant because of its role as temporary White House in August, 1974, but also anything about the Ford Family and the Ford Presidency can not be completely understood without considering this home. That they were plucked from a prototypical suburban subdivision house–with a converted garage–into the trappings and splendor of the White House is almost unimaginable. No other recent First Family came from such a modest dwelling directly to the White House. When I’ve visited Crown View Drive, my astonishment at the simple but noble way the Ford’s handled their transition only made me admire them more.

    And now the Desert House. Yes you are so right that it’s civic and historic importance needs to be preserved, if only for the sake of being a snapshot of a house museum circa 1980. But the evolution of the Ford post-presidency–very much including Mrs. Ford’s life-saving work–is also important enough to document and preserve.

    Sadly, given the current rift between the Ford family and the Betty Ford Center, I don’t suppose there is much chance that BFC of the Eisenhower Medical Center will step up. What a shame (for so many reasons). With the adjoining Firestone House and the house where the Secret Service were quartered, the compound could become an active and vibrant retreat center. While not nearly as grand as the nearby Sunnylands estate–about to launch a similiar mixed use retreat center/museum–I wonder if Wallis Annenberg and the Sunnylands administrators at USC would be interested in also acquiring the Ford complex as a satellite to it’s main Sunnylands campus. Just over a mile separates them and USC has big plans for Sunnylands to be sued for very high-level domestic and international summits.

    Anything I can do on the ground here Carl, please let me know. I’ve a friend on the the Rancho Mirage city council who I will be seeing this weekend and I will certainly sound him out on the city’s thoughts. I also intend to widely circulate this piece around the valley so some buzz gets started. And as ever, many thanks for so much great work!


    • Nick – I am hopeful with your response that others in Rancho Mirage may also see this chance to preserve history. And thank you for your reaction to the writing – it took far too long to turn this out, but it did end up as I hoped it would. I need a good break for blogging but I do enjoy it. If only I could monetize it.

      Also, you make an excellent point overlooked in the piece – about the symbolism of the Fords coming from a suburban lifestyle that was so familiar and reassuring to the American public at the time.

      I am going to pass this article on to the real estate agent handling it, who also expresses in the CNN video clip at the end, her own hope that it be preserved – I think she’s extraordinary for saying that on air. I didn’t know about any breach between the family and Betty Ford Center – perhaps this can be some bridge, perhaps. Please widely circulate this to those in the community who may be helpful.

  3. Yes, quite sadly in her last days, Mrs. Ford was very hurt by the actions of the BFC CEO and the board. While still alive, Mrs. Ford had selected Susan to succeed her as Chair of the board and then Susan was very unceremoniously ousted shortly after. Mrs. Ford’s will was changed to leave less to the BFC and John Shwarzlose, who had been CEO of the center almost since its inception was cut as a eulogist and seated in the very back of the church, per Mrs. Ford’s wishes. I was personally outraged that Eisenhower Medical Center chose not to lower any of their flags to half-staff. When I enquired with the hospital’s office of public affairs, they said it was an internal decision and couldn’t comment further.

    It’s a very hot topic here in the valley with our local Desert Sun paper doing some good coverage (for the Desert Sun, that is). There was some talk of Steve Ford assuming a role, but at this time, there is no Ford Family member involved with BFC and it is causing them to lose donors. It’s all too sad.

    Here’s a story from the Daily Beast:

  4. Carl–I don’t think this is exactly what you meant. Loved the article, but thought you might want to fix this one sentence.
    It makes “The Jerry and Betty Ford Desert House” more than the private home of a pubic figure, but the symbolic birthplace of a modern movement.

    • It read clearly to me but then again – I wrote it! I might have left it a bit abstract so I clarified it further – hope it make better sense now. Thanks though Eric – I always need editing – so don’t hesitate if you read anything in later posts that don’t read clearly.

  5. Carl,

    So enjoying this mini-series on the presidential homes. It’s obviously a huge amount of work, especially when you consider that much of what I’ve read I didn’t know about before and I’ve read a lot! So, bravo for that.

    There’s also a foresight here that can’t be ignored. The idea that the Ford home is historic might be lost on some people. Your comments about it going from “dated” to “historic” are important and true. Our country needs a collective kick in the pants when it comes to such things.

    One of the things I’ve always loved about your work is the ability to take the story to new levels. You don’t just stop at the obvious points, but you take us beyond that. The post-presidential years, especially of such long-lived people as the Fords, represent a significant part of their life and accomplishments, and I firmly believe that showcasing that highlights one of the most interesting aspects of the American presidency… The continued contribution of former presidents after the White House. This is unique, with the exceptions of Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair in the UK and Nelson Mandela in South Africa, in the world.

    And let’s face it, the slightly “zany” (or dated) look of this house (that guest bedroom with the zigzagged bedding! The light fixture!) isn’t one that we’re likely to see in any other presidential home. This place shouts Jerry and Betty Ford and their particular time in history.

    Now… take a break! You’ve earned it! And, when you figure out how to make a blog pay, will you let me in on the secret?

    All the best,


    • Thank you Jake – I have committed myself to continuing on until next January’s Inauguration – so trying not to quit just yet, but the time is definitely taking away from other types of writing….though it does keep one’s mind exercised and reminds me of the days I worked at George Magazine, conceiving new story concepts, researching and executing…I just need to figure a way to make it pay! One interesting observation, perhaps for you too as the writer, photographer and editor of your own website – sizing, ordering, and captioning the pictures took such an enormous amount of time. Writing and editing the text, by comparison, seems far smoother.

  6. I just completed my tour of your wonderful article on Pres. Ford’s homes. The last hour or so I spent reading about the Ford’s and looking at the spectacular pictures of their homes was truly one of the most engaging times I’ve spent in cyber-space.

    Thank You so much. I’m glad your blog and all these projects are still free; but if you should start charging, it would definately be worth it! I’ve read lots of material on “soft” Presidential history, and what I’ve read in your “blog” and web site is far superior to the magazine articles and coffee table bks I’ve purchased. (with the exception of your book on Kennedy WH which I love). There is something about looking at this photography in cyber space that is superior to a book. Virtual reality it is! Lots of fun.

    Some folks may find the Ford home in desert to be a bit “dated”; but I thought it was beautiful (with exception of Susan Ford’s & her brother’s bedrooms, which were interesting, just the same). I loved the fountain & pool areas. I plan to go back & look at their mountain home again.

    I hate to be a crass “princess” Carl, but I was surprised they had the $$$$ to build these beautiful homes. The desert home would be worth much more than $2M in today’s market. I never thought of the Fords as uber rich, congressmen were not well paid back in 1950’s-70’s. The Ford’s also had to put up some of their own monies for campaigning as well as raising a family of 4. Was Pres. Ford from a wealthy family? I don’t recall reading anything about the Fords in terms of personal wealth. I loved the use of color in the Desert Home, so soft and light. This experience a perfect 10 Carl.
    With lots of gratitude for your hard efforts,

    • As is true with most of the recent former Presidents, most of the wealth they earn comes from the post-White House years – from books, mostly.

      I can say that having been to the Ford Desert House in mornings and late afternoons while working with Mrs. Ford in that beautiful, fresh green living room that the light really changed the colors there during the course of the day. But her warmth and humor – she was just so appealing as a person – is where the energy came from, not the sun.

      I agree with you about photography being best seen online rather than the printed page. I found some of the pictures I just uploaded with the Alice Roosevelt Longworth story to almost illuminate on the screen, with more detail revealed than might be the case in a book.

      Thanks again for your always-thoughtful observations. And do share the story links and website with people – the greater the number of “followers” who sign up the greater the chance of monetizing it.

  7. Carl,

    The photo of President Gerald Ford unloading the dishwasher was taken at Susan Ford’s residence, 1908 Woodley Arlington, VA on September 28, 1976. (Whiite House Photo B1682-03A)

    Audiovisual Archivist
    Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library
    1000 Beal Avenue
    Ann Arbor, MI 48109
    Tel. 734-205-0568
    Tel. 734-205-0569 (AV Reference Desk)
    Fax 734-205-0571
    To keep up-to-date on research news and events follow the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library on Facebook:

  8. Carl — I thoroughly enjoyed this! Just fascinating (as was your entry about the Kennedy Compound)… It’s such a rare and unique opportunity (that it’s being sold furnished), it would be a shame for this to not be preserved and maintained. As exciting as the Kennedy Sotheby auctions were, you knew that their home in the Compound had been dismantled and could never be recreated. I do hope that the Kennedys — as well as someone for the Ford property — will maintain the house as it is and make it available for public viewing and not just for those there on EMK Institute business. I can’t imagine a more thrilling or surreal experience than to take in the view of the Sound from the fabled front porch of the Kennedy home.

    • Glad you liked it Lynn. Unfortunately, I found out this weekend that the Ford House was sold and so it will never be seen by the public as it was lived in. Frankly, I consider that to be a damn horrible shame – and I’m usually pretty philosophical about the loss of history but I believe the Fords were such people of integrity and could become examples to not only kids but adults – but, that’s how it goes. And Monticello and Mount Vernon underwent the same process and were saved and restored some several decades later. I think it is also easy for all of us who see these places as historic homes to forget that to the families it is home – personal and private and full of their own memories. One problem I think it may have faced which I think they are perhaps seeking to ascertain with the Joe and Rose Kennedy House is how to make it publicly accessible while respecting the privacy of residents on adjoining properties. In any event, I greatly appreciate your writing.

  9. Wonderful, thoughtful post. The Fords were certainly among the most appealing presidential couple–they had an approachable charisma. But I wonder if it is wise to preserve too many presidential homes. Gerald Ford, as you so well argued, is an underrated president. But his tenure was brief like JFK’s, but, unlike JFK, the last year was dominated by a campaign that is now remembered as Reagan’s noble defeat and Carter’s come from nowhere win.

    The Nixon birthplace, the Truman Independence and Eisenhower Gettysburg houses are all relatively small in comparison to the Ford home you profile and are either within a museum site or very close to one. But, perhaps, the Ford home, as you suggest, could find synergy as an adjunct to the Betty Ford Center.

    “An Arundel Tomb”, a poem by Philip Larkin, is an interesting meditation on historical memory and the efforts taken to preserve it. The subject of the poem is a 14th century tomb in Chichester Cathedral in Sussex, England. The poet notes that the ducal couple entombed there are hardly recalled by visitors to the Cathedral. In fact, early in their “tenancy” they had already been forgotten. But, it hardly matters, he concludes, because “[w]hat will survive of us is love.” This poem considers the unpredictability of reputation and the ephemeral nature of fame. In any event, it’s a beautiful poem..

    • Thank you. I think sometimes Presidents represent more than their Administration – they symbolize a period of time, a slice or a chunk, which also encapsulates the people and the culture during their tenure. Apparently, the point is moot now – it was sold to private individuals. But more importantly is your bringing attention to “An Arundel Tomb” – I will look it up immediately, but you really elegantly conveyed the sentiment and tone of it already. Thank you.

  10. Thank you for your great article. I am currently working on the renovation of the Ford Estate, although some changes are being made, extreme care is being taken by the new owners to retain the character of the home as it was when Ford’s lived there. Even the beautiful hand painted mural in the dining room is being preserved. Be rest assured the home is in very good hands.

    • Thank you for writing. It is unfortunate that there will be no presidential home to represent the Fords where the public can visit but that may not have been their wish and it should be respected. It’s especially good to know that elements are being preserved – after all, those who did purchase it should feel the right to ensure that it is their home and not a museum, so retaining some aspects is fantastic. And appreciate your taking the time to write.


  1. A President’s Residence Saved: The Kennedy Family Compound with Rare Photos of their Real Life There « Carl Anthony Online: Presidential Pop Culture, Holiday & Food Americana, Myths & Old Dogs
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