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Originally published Wednesday, October 19, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Bush rental home becoming museum

Monticello, Mount Vernon, Hyde Park, east Bakersfield. That last one might be short on pillars and porticoes, but it's good for twice as...

Los Angeles Times

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 back yard. "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.

A real-estate broker on her way to work, Fernandez glanced wistfully at the long-vacant, chain-link-enclosed cottage that played a bit part in the pageant of U.S. history. "My kids have gone over to play in that yard I don't know how many times," she said. "Last July Fourth, we put on a little fireworks show over there."

When it opens as a museum in 2007, the Bush home will welcome busloads of students gazing at furnishings of the late 1940s and walking in the footsteps of the presidents known to insiders as 41 and 43. 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 — one shows a beaming 3-year-old W. on a wooden horse with a cowboy gun — as well as items from the oil fields that made Bakersfield boom.

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.

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