Bush rental has future as a museum

Owner also plans reading center at presidents' former Calif. home

October 23, 2005|By STEVE CHAWKINS

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- Monticello, Mount Vernon, Hyde Park, east Bakersfield.

That last one might be short on pillars and porticoes, but it's good for twice as many presidents as each of the others.

For about three months in 1949, an oil-field equipment salesman named George Bush lived on a quiet street in east Bakersfield with his pregnant wife, Barbara, and their 3-year-old son, also named George. Last month, Kern County officials approved the transformation of the family's modest rental - a two-bedroom white frame house in a neighborhood now heavily Latino - into a museum.

"We thought it was important that the house do some good," said its owner, Republican political consultant Mark Abernathy, who plans to build a reading center for neighborhood children in the museum's backyard. "It's almost like a duty."

In a town where the biggest luminaries have been the likes of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, the fleeting, long-ago sojourn of the Bush family left barely a point of light.

At the Greater Bakersfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, officials said they hadn't heard about any Bush museum.

Across from the erstwhile Bush place at 2101 Monterey St., Lupe Fernandez was incredulous when she learned that the Bushes had lived in the neighborhood: "Yeah, right - you're dreaming!" she said.

Fernandez glanced wistfully at the long-vacant, chain-link-enclosed cottage.

"My kids have gone over to play in that yard I don't know how many times," she said.

When it opens as a museum in 2007, the Bush home will welcome busloads of students. At 950 square feet, the Bush house is bigger than Abe Lincoln's log cabin but still on the smallish side. Three houses its size could easily fit into the East Room of the White House.

Guiding a visitor through the property, Abernathy pointed out the coved ceilings, the scrollwork on shelves and cabinets, the original tile on the bathroom and kitchen counters, and the hardwood floors mostly covered by green shag carpeting.

"Our goal is to restore it to exactly the way it was when they were here in 1949," said Abernathy, adding that help will be provided by the Bush family, the Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, and the Kern County Museum. There will be Bush family photos as well as items from the oil fields that made Bakersfield boom.

"The living room will look just like their living room," said Abernathy, a longtime adviser to California Rep. Bill Thomas. "You might even see toys scattered around on the floor."

In the backyard, a new building will house four classrooms for after-school reading groups.

Aware of the Bush home's historic value, Abernathy bought it from its longtime owners in 2000 for $65,000. He said its restoration and the classroom addition will cost about $500,000, funded from private donations.

Steve Chawkins writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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