President Bush will soon leave Washington, D.C., and return home to Texas, but not to live on the family ranch outside Waco. The first lady wanted to live in Dallas, in the same lovely neighborhood where the family lived before Bush became Texas governor 16 years ago: Preston Hollow.
On a beautiful Sunday afternoon recently, cars full of well-dressed Dallasites — fresh from church, with heads leaning out rolled-down windows — paraded past the Bushes' new home. But the parade will end soon. This little section of Preston Hollow is about to become a gated community, courtesy of the United States Secret Service.
"We're certainly annoyed by all the traffic and the gawkers, but we're very excited that the president and the first lady are moving back to Dallas and that they've chosen this neighborhood," said Preston Barry, who moved into a house three doors down from the Bushes' two weeks ago, only to find that he isn't the neighborhood's only new arrival.
Quite a few lawns have "Welcome Home George & Laura" signs, courtesy of a youngster in the neighborhood who had them printed up. There was some debate about whether the signs' familiar use of "George and Laura" might be a tad disrespectful, but in the end it was deemed to be acceptably Texan in style.
This neighborhood is full of Republicans, after all, according to Barry.
"It has been a tough eight years, but we're very proud of the president and the tough choices he's made and feel like he's been a wonderful president," he said.
The Bush house is a red-brick rambler with a slate tile roof. But its modest curb appeal hides its true size and luxurious appointments.
D Magazine reporter Candy Evans, whose blog is called "Dallas Dirt," broke the biggest story of her career when she scooped where George and Laura Bush are going to live. It was big news not only in Dallas but also nationwide — worldwide, even.
"It is 8,501 square feet, probably a his-and-her office, you have a couple of guest rooms," Evans said. "There are quarters above the garage, which can be developed into a guest house or security detail. 8,500 square feet — I know it sounds like a lot, but actually that's not a really huge home. When you start talking 15 and 20,000, those are the big mamas."
The Bushes' property backs up to the estate of one of Dallas' richest men, Tom Hicks, whose holdings include baseball's Texas Rangers, hockey's Dallas Stars and a European Premier League soccer team, Liverpool FC. Now that the Bushes will be there, the billionaire is rumored to be planning to build a helipad for their convenience.
While Bush works on the design and content of his presidential library at nearby Southern Methodist University, and no doubt travels around the country giving speeches to well-heeled conservative gatherings, he and Laura will live an extremely comfortable life.
Outside the Republican enclaves of Preston Hollow, the ranch in Crawford and his West Texas hometown of Midland, Texans' feelings about the president are considerably diverse.
"It depends on who you talk to. Certainly, the pundits who evaluate the president closely, and those in academics who do so, don't look with favor on this president and see it as something of a demerit against the state of origin," said Bruce Buchanan, a government professor at the University of Texas and an expert on presidential politics.
Bush left Texas eight years ago, brimming with confidence and determined to make a difference — a uniter, not a divider, he said. He returns to the Lone Star State the most unpopular president since Richard Nixon, Buchanan said.
"He wanted to be a difference maker as president," Buchanan said. "He wanted to be a transformational leader and not a steady-state or incremental leader, and by golly he threw a lot of long passes, although most of them were incomplete."
In Dallas, Bush will have a new presidential library to build and a controversial legacy to defend. But first, he and Laura will begin their new life by spending some quiet time in the familiar surroundings of their hill country ranch.