MIDLAND - 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 $1.8 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 began the dedication of the George W. Bush Childhood Home by walking out the front door and addressing about 700 people, including childhood friends of the president, other people who have lived in the house 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."
It was the second home the Bushes had owned and one of 27 the family would eventually call home. The elder Bush worked in the oil fields when they lived in the Ohio Avenue home.
"You know George doesn't like to think of his childhood home as historic yet," Laura Bush said. The president turns 60 this year.
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.
Welch attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony as did Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, and Texas Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo.
Organizers used family photos from the elder Bush's presidential library and museum at Texas A&M University and photos from subsequent owners 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 family photos - will be moved into a museum scheduled to be built across the street.
Members of two families who lived in the home after the Bushes attended the event. Ralph Truly, now of Eagle Lake, bought the house in 1959 for $13,500 and his family lived there until 1964. Ron Truly, who traveled from Fresno, Calif., for the opening, said his bedroom was where the 41st president played and slept.
"It was perfect to know that they lived there because their family values and our family values are mirrored," Ron Truly said. The house, he said, "looks so much like the way it was when we lived there. It's a little shinier inside than it was when we lived there."
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 in. President Bush, the oldest child, was about 5, and Bush's little sister, Robin, was about 2. She died of leukemia about two years later.
After Jeb, now the governor of Florida, and Neil were born, the Bushes decided they needed a bigger home and 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.
The restoration project 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.