MIDLAND, Texas – First lady Laura Bush joined her in-laws Tuesday as the couple returned to the small Midland home where their eldest child, President Bush, spent part of his youth.
Time and about $1.5 million have restored the one-story, three-bedroom house to look as it did in the early 1950s, when George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara lived there. The house, replete with toys and furnishings from the era, was home to two future presidents, two future governors and a future first lady.
The Bushes started the ceremony to officially dedicate the George W. Bush Childhood Home by walking out the front door and addressing about 700 people in attendance, including childhood friends of the president, people who lived in the house after the Bushes and politicians.
Barbara Bush recalled thinking the house was enormous when they bought it.
"You all look at it as a little house," she said. "It was a terrific house to live in. We loved it here."
Laura Bush referred to husband, who turns 60 this year, and his take on the house:
"You know George doesn't like to think of his childhood home as historic yet," she said. "This home has known a lot of laughter and love."
The restoration included removing siding from the exterior, redoing all the windows and stripping layers of white paint from the original knotty pine walls and ceilings that now shine with varnish. Hardwood floors were redone and cover most of the house. Vintage appliances, light fixtures, and toys and books decorate the rooms. Even period wallpaper was found to use on some of the walls.
Laura Bush's mother, Jenna Welch, who is in her 80s and still lives in Midland, donated a 1955 teal General Electric refrigerator from her home.
Organizers used family photos from the elder Bush's presidential library and museum at Texas A&M University to research the colors of the home's exterior and interior, as well as wall decorations and furniture.
The group was able to match the paint, but the family's furniture is long gone, so organizers procured similar vintage pieces. Research and family photos helped in the efforts, and some of the pictures are part of three exhibits that occupy three of the home's seven small rooms.
The exhibits — on baseball's place in President's Bush's childhood, the oil industry in the 1950s and one family photos — will be moved into a museum scheduled to be built across the street.
Window coverings were replicated from original drapes made by Barbara Bush, and a sofa and chair in a small room off the living room are covered with fabric from the 1950s. A vintage Boy Scout uniform is a bed in what was the president's bedroom.
In July 2004, the Bush home was added to the National Register of Historic Places, which is overseen by the park service. Other presidents whose childhood homes are on the register include Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan and George Washington.
Built in 1939, the tiny house had a couple of additions by November 1951, when the Bushes moved to 1412 W. Ohio Ave.
President Bush, the oldest child, was about 5 when his parents moved to the home in late 1951, and Bush's little sister, Robin, was about 2. She died of leukemia about two years later.
After Jeb and Neil were born, the Bushes decided they needed a bigger home for their growing family, so they moved to another Midland house at the end of 1955 before Marvin was born the next year. The youngest Bush sibling, Dorothy, was born three years later after the family moved to Houston, where the elder Bush went to work for an offshore drilling company.
Restoration on the vacant home began in 2001 after organizers bought the home from a Dallas man who had rented the property for several years. Most of the money came from donors within the region, with a few contributions from charitable foundations in Texas.
The museum and the visitor and education centers will be completed within about five years and will cost another $2.5 million.