Elephant Walk

A Republican’s tour of Houston.

The star-spangled blizzard of GOP faithful descending upon Houston this month will arrive with the confidence that they’re in George Bush Country. But how certain will they be of this when they leave? They won’t find any houses in the city owned by Bush, any buildings bearing his name, or for that matter, anything in Houston to suggest that he has left behind something resembling a political legacy.

Of course, none of this has ever stopped Houstonians from plainly regarding Bush as one of their own, from displaying a why-there’s-ol’-George affection for the president that is obviously mutually felt. He moves easily through the city, buying his suits at Norton Ditto on Post Oak, reliving his days as the ambassador to China at Hunan, chomping on pork ribs and links at Otto’s Barbecue, and outrunning his Secret Service agents on the Memorial Park jogging trail.

These and other signs of Bush’s attachment to the city are fairly well known. But Bush-watchers tend to overlook the numerous inconspicuous landmarks scattered throughout Houston, each bespeaking the time-tested bonds between the Bayou City and the Bush Republicans. Ranging from the trivial to the monumental, these landmarks serve as proof of Bush’s Houston roots. They also recall moments in Republican history that conventioneers seeking inspiration might do well to hunt down.

Early Inroads

811 Rusk
On the fifteenth through seventeenth fl;oors of the Houston Club Building, 35-year-old president Bush—the president of Zapata Off-Shore Company, that is—conducted his oil operations in Houston after relocating from Midland in 1959. Seven years later, Bush sold off all his interest in Zapata to run for the U.S. House of Representatives.

3200 Audley Drive
Bush’s lack of political ambition dismayed his father, U.S. senator Prescott Bush. But a year after Prescott retired from the Senate in 1962, George formally entered the field of politics, taking over as Harris County Republican party chairman. The headquarters had been on Audley but soon moved to more spacious digs on Waugh Drive.

7th Congressional District
After losing virtually all of the black vote in his failed 1964 bid for the U.S. Senate, Bush in 1965 participated in redistricting plans that resulted in the creation of this heavily Republican lily-white West Houston district. A year later, in 1966, Bush ran for the 7th District U.S. House office and won his first job as an elected official.

Early Connections

1216 Bissonnet
Behind craggy, ivy-covered walls stands the childhood home of Secretary of State James Addison Baker III, whose grandfather, Captain James Baker, was one of Rice University’s original trustees. (Rice’s first dormitory, Baker College, is named for the Captain and houses his portrait.) Granddad once admonished young James: “Work hard, study, and keep out of politics.” In 1970 Baker, following his wife’s death, decided to ignore the Captain’s advice and instead was persuaded by Bush to run the Harris County division of Bush’s campaign for the U.S. Senate. As a way of overcoming his grief, the hitherto nonpolitical Baker joined the operations at the Bush for Senate Campaign Headquarters, at 4151 Southwest Freeway. Since that time, Baker’s political career has generated mounds of memorabilia, and appropriately enough, he has donated thirty boxes of material to Rice. Stored in the Woodson Research Center of the Fondren Library, the James A. Baker III Public Service Archives include old speeches Baker gave during his unsuccessful campaign against Mark White for Texas attorney general in 1978, strategy memos relating to the Reagan and Bush campaigns he spearheaded, and a Gerald R. Ford tie clip.

2204 Dorrington
In 1948, New York—born Robert Mosbacher, having recently graduated from Washington and Lee College in Virginia, packed up his worldly goods, bade farewell to his family’s mansion and yacht, and drove with his first wife to Houston. Bush’s eventual Secretary of Commerce purchased the Dorrington home (which is now Z’s Greek Taverna) and set up his first oil operations.

One Potomac
On the tennis courts of the Houston Country Club, Bush, Baker, and Mosbacher met each other for the first time during the early sixties. Bush and Baker were thrown together as doubles partners and won two tournaments during the mid-sixties. Neither, however, could best the athletic Mosbacher in a singles match.

Claims To the City

5525 Briar Drive
When Bush arrived in Houston in 1959, the oil entrepreneur had his first house built in the quiet, unpretentious yet prestigious neighborhood of Tanglewood. It was here that local Republican leaders came to Bush in 1962 and begged him to take over the Harris County party chairmanship. After selling the house (which has since been torn down) and moving to Washington, D.C., in 1966, Bush returned to Texas in 1977 and purchased another Tanglewood home, at 5838 Indian Trail. Bush remained there for the rest of the decade, maintaining his political ties through backyard barbecues.

111 N. Post Oak Lane
Since returning to Washington as vice president, Bush has called Suite 271 of the Houstonian Hotel and Conference Center his local residence. This rather tenuous bond to Texas inspired local Democrats to rent Bush’s $515-a-night suite during the 1988 presidential campaign and to stage a variety of smirky media events. The Houstonian was also the site in 1982 where vice president Bush ill-advisedly denied having termed Ronald Reagan’s economic vision “voodoo economics” during the 1980 presidential primaries. “I never said it,” he told the press at the Houstonian, adding, “I challenge anyone to find it.” A few days later NBC Nightly News aired the damning videoclip.

9 S. West Oak Drive
In fact, Bush does own property in Houston—a vacant lot. It measures 33 feet wide and 160 feet long, and while presently it doesn’t do much for the vision thing, the possibilities for a new order are endless.

Bush the Education President…

Rice University, Herman Brown Building, Room 227
In this small lecture hall in 1977, Bush—suddenly out of a job after President Carter did not retain him as CIA director—served a semester as adjunct professor of the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School

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