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New York Is Bush Country

The First Family’s Local Roots

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Illustration by John Hendrix.  

(1) Brown Brothers Harriman
140 Broadway
In 1919, George “Bert” Walker, the president’s great-grandfather, co-founded W.A. Harriman, which later became the prestigious Wall Street bank Brown Brothers Harriman. Bert’s ambitious son-in-law, Prescott “Pres” Bush, became a BBH partner in 1931 (though it would provide fodder for future conspiracy-theory blogs, a 1942 New York Herald Tribune article linking Pres to a Dutch bank with ties to the Nazi Party had no effect on his career). The first Bush to win elected office (in 1952, he won a U.S. Senate seat from Connecticut in a special election), W.’s grandfather served a largely unremarkable ten-year term. One of the Senate’s best golfers, he played regularly with President Eisenhower and Vice-President Richard Nixon.

(2) Waldorf Towers
50th Street and Park Avenue
George H.W. and Barbara Bush lived here, in apartment 42A, next door to the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, for two years in the early seventies while George was serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Nixon. H.W.’s tenure in the job was defined by his opposition to Red China. When Taiwan was expelled from the U.N., writes Peter Schweizer in The Bushes: A Dynasty, Bush cried on the floor of the General Assembly. Barbara decorated the five-bedroom, federally subsidized apartment with paintings by John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt on loan from the Met. She turned down two Monets.

(3) 453 Madison Avenue
W.’s great-grandparents Bert and Lucretia “Luli” Walker settled in this once-tony building behind Saint Patrick’s Cathedral after moving from St. Louis in 1920. Already a successful banker, Bert increased his fortune tenfold when he co-founded W.A. Harriman with fellow Skull & Bonesman Averell Harriman. Bert and Luli later moved to a townhouse at 1 Sutton Place, which became the Walker clan’s de facto Manhattan headquarters.

(4) Bungalow 8
515 West 27th Street
Late-night playpen of First Twins Jenna and Barbara and their posse of preppy Texans. Aspiring socialite and Bush buddy Fabian Basabe and model cousin Lauren are also regulars (see “Party Girls,”).

(5) Chelsea Piers
Hudson River at 23rd Street
Developed by Roland “Rollie” Betts, Bush’s close friend and former partner in the Texas Rangers major-league baseball franchise. When W. was chapter president of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Yale, Betts was rush chairman. A Democrat, Betts is nevertheless a Pioneer fund-raiser (he’s brought in more than $100,000 in contributions for the president). As a Pataki-appointed board member of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., he is also a central player in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.

(6) Mccall’s Corporation
230 Park Avenue
Barbara Bush’s father, Marvin Pierce, worked here as president of the then-publisher of supermarket-checkout staples Redbook and McCall’s. “He was,” said former McCall’s editor Robert Stein, “a nice man who had a tendency to hire executives who belonged to the same fraternity he was in.”

(7) Madison Square Garden
2 Penn Plaza
When W. takes the stage here on September 2, he’ll have a sort of home-court advantage: Bert Walker led the group that bankrolled the 1925 version of the Garden. Or maybe not: The Garden was named for President James Madison, co-founder of the Democratic Party.

(8) The Cotton Club
666 West 125th Street
Pres Bush, who sang second bass in Yale’s Whiffenpoofs, frequented the Harlem hot spot in the thirties to catch acts like the Merrimac Quartet and the Ink Spots. When The Music Man came to Madison Square Garden, Pres saw it six times. During the 2000 presidential campaign, his grandson told the New York Times’ Frank Bruni that his favorite musical was Cats.

(9) Shea Stadium
Flushing
The president’s great-uncle, George “Herby” Walker Jr., co-founded the New York Mets with an investor group led by Whitney heiress Joan Payson in 1960. The team’s second-largest shareholder, Herby introduced a young George W. to box seats, big-shot status, and the other joys of professional-sports-team ownership.

(10) Belmont Park Racetrack
Elmont, N.Y.
Bert Walker, the Bush family’s pony-loving patriarch, helped develop Belmont’s famed racetrack, and served as its president. In 1926, he partnered with Averell Harriman in a breeding stable of his own: Log Cabin Stud. The outfit produced no notable winners.

(11) Southampton
In 1922, Bert helped organize the first annual amateur golf match between the U.S. and Great Britain at the National Golf Links in Southampton. As thanks for donating the Tiffany trophy, club officials dubbed the match the Walker Cup. In 1929, the socially agile Bert acquired a “marble-floored palace” and two Rolls-Royces in Southampton, according to Richard Ben Cramer, the author of the 1988 presidential-campaign chronicle What It Takes. The money, Cramer says, came from profits gained from short selling in the months leading up to Black Tuesday.

(12) Westchester
Manhattan-born debutante Barbara Pierce grew up in Rye, New York, in a five-bedroom manse with two servants (twenty miles from Bill Clinton’s future quasi–bachelor pad in Chappaqua). In 1941, Pierce met an Andover senior named George Bush at a Christmas cotillion at the Round Hill Country Club in nearby Greenwich, Connecticut. Their marriage in 1945 produced six children. “Little George,” according to Bill Minutaglio, the author of the W. biography First Son, is Barbara’s favorite.

(13) Elite Models
111 East 22nd Street
Lauren Bush, W.’s 20-year-old niece, has had a contract with the A-list modeling agency since 1998. In 2001, shortly after her uncle became president, she landed her first magazine cover (Tatler) and booked campaigns for clients like Tommy Hilfiger and Abercrombie & Fitch. After interning with friend and designer Zac Posen this summer, Lauren zipped off to Australia for a semester abroad (cousin Barbara spent last summer interning in the studio of fashion upstarts Proenza Schouler). Elite recently signed Lauren’s 15-year-old sister, Ashley, as well.

(14) Ground Zero
W.’s September 14, 2001, debris-pile battle cry to a group of chanting rescue workers—“I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon”—was viewed as a masterstroke of political theater. Now that things have gotten more complicated, Bush plans to steer clear of the site on this visit.


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