What U.S. city contains a house in which 2 presidents, 2 governors, a Chinese Ambassador, a CIA director, and a first lady lived? Midland, Texas. The family’s surname is Bush.
The 1,400 square feet residence at 1412 West Ohio Street was the 2nd home that George Herbert Walker and Barbara Bush owned. They lived here from 1951 to 1955 (6?), and their humble house has become a presidential site worth visiting. The restored home opened in 2006 and has had over 40,000 visitors. It’s a 5 Compass experience, for now.
What makes it so memorable is the fact that many of the current volunteers have some connection to the Bushes who, by the way, now hold the record for longest-married presidential couple (67 years). As the project grows-a 4,000 square feet Visitor Center and Exhibit Gallery has been proposed–some of that familiarity and resulting intimacy might be lost.
In our case, the volunteer was Leann Brenner, a 5th grade teacher in Midland for 30 years. She told Ruth & me many stories about what “Tall City” was like during the 1950s and has clearly been around during the home’s restoration.
According to Leann, the house was in bad condition. Asbestos had to be removed, a subsequent owner had added a bathroom, etc. Authentically restoring George & Barbara’s first son’s bedroom was the biggest challenge requiring Barbara’s input since no photos existed. Leann told us that new wallpaper was easier to duplicate thanks to available family pictures.
The Bushes moved to Odessa, Texas, in 1948 and lived in 6 other area houses, 3 there and 3 in Midland, before moving to Houston in 1959. Between 1975 and 87, they resided in 4 more Midland houses for a total of 11. Barbara Bush, surely the correct verb is endured, 28 moves as her husband moved up.
Spending time in the Bush’s 1950s replated kitchen is like watching a re-run of Leave it to Beaver. However, the Cleavers, first seen in 1957, were a bit more affluent than the Bush family. Born in 1946, future President George did have his own bedroom, and the chest he used is one of 3 original house features actually used by or due to the Bush family. For example, they added the bathroom tiles.
The master bedroom has been turned into an exhibit area as has the bedroom that served the Bush’s other sons–Jeb, Neil, & Marvin. It’s now the baseball room. Leann talked about the death of Bush daughter Robin in 1953 from leukemia and its impact on the family. Dorothy Bush Koch, their 2nd daughter, was born in 1959.
As we stood in the dining room, which was actually meant to be a knotty pine living room, Leann vividly described Barbara Bush sitting at the rather-too-large-for-the-space table and helping to found the Midland-Odessa Symphony Orchestra.
The Bush house gets no money from the federal government. Private donations, entry fees, and the gift shop fund it. I asked if any of the many other Texas residences had plans to become Presidential Childhood Home Sites and was told this would be the only one.
The George Herbert Walker Bush Presidential Library opened in College Station, Texas, in 1997. The George W. Bush Presidential Center opens on the campus of SMU in Dallas in spring, 2013.