One of the greatest gems at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is the “Situation Room Experience,” where visitors can look at a perfect reconstruction of the secure facility that housed national security meetings for more than four decades, and reflect on the weighty decisions that were made here, through the Vietnam War, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the response to 9/11.
In 2006, the White House underwent long-needed renovations, and the Situation Room was completely gutted down to its concrete slabs. The furniture, decorations, ceilings, flooring and walls were all crated up, destined for a future in National Park Service storage obscurity. Luckily for the public, Duke Blackwood, the executive director of the Reagan Library, had a bold plan to put this historic gem to further use.
Blackwood described how, after learning about the crates, “I called up my counterpart on the Bush 43 Library team and asked ‘What are you going to do with this? Because I’ve got an idea.’” It was decided a recreation of both the main conference room and command room—collectively known as “the Situation Room”—would be installed at the Bush and Reagan presidential libraries. The two rooms are identical except for the fact that one has video chat.
Blackwood’s plans for the Situation Room went beyond a simple museum exhibit. Working with the Reagan Library staff he devised a complex immersive war game for students to learn hands-on about White House decision-making. Students can play the roles of senior White House officials and members of the media as they deal with a fictional scenario of an international crisis.
The exhibit is a great bit of living history and a creative example of opening up government archives to the public. According to Blackwood everything in the room is authentic to the White House except for the chairs, which “we didn’t want the kids damaging.” The chairs are kept in storage and wheeled out on special occasions.