To the sounds of old nails being removed and splintering wood, floorboards started coming up on the Bush House front porch. Inside, ripping up commercial carpet has revealed surprisingly well-preserved heart pine floors just waiting for a sander and refinishing.
Since Dec. 28, the sound of workers’ hammers, saws and prybars has resounded through the 1926 South Wilson Street home. The renovation work is funded by a state grant and Community Redevelopment Agency money. When work is finished, the house will become a long-anticipated Crestview historical museum.
Workers have torn out ductwork that probably dates from the 1970s and was so cumbersome in size that city staff joked someone could drive a Subaru through it. Several downstairs heating and A/C units have been removed, with another slated for removal upstairs.
Removing the units has made the rooms in which they were housed look bigger and more spacious and has provided added display space for artifacts and historic write-ups that will help tell Crestview’s rich and colorful history.
As work has progressed, long lost doorways have been revealed and fragments of wallpaper will help restore some of the rooms to their 1920s grandeur to reflect the home of an upper middle class Crestview family in the ‘20s and ‘30s.
The work’s planned start date was pushed back a couple weeks while the city assisted Okaloosa County staff in moving Elder Services from the Bush House to the Tri-County Building behind the house on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
But that allowed a visit from a special guest before the workers moved in.
On Dec. 27, Tonya Nunes, the great, great granddaughter of the home’s builders, Lorenza and Laura Bush, paid a visit and shared with contractor Rick Rausch and city staff her memories of playing in the house as a little girl.
Not having blueprints or interior photos to work from, Ms. Nunes’ visit filled in some gaps in Cultural Services’ knowledge of the home. For example, what was correctly assumed to be the home’s dining room was, in fact, only half the dining room.
Feeding the unfortunate was high on Mrs. Bush’s priority list, a benevolence that came full circle when the house also served in recent years as a distribution center for Meals on Wheels and similar food programs. As a generous woman of means, Laura Bush’s spacious kitchen — which actually ran along most of the back of the house — fed folks in her equally big dining room, which partially encompassed today’s kitchen
“She fed anybody who needed it,” Ms. Nunes said. “They (the Bush’s) had money.”
Being the time of the Great Depression, Mrs. Bush helped provide work for the unemployed by having improvements and changes done to the house, which partially explains its interesting floor plan and surprise revelations as work progresses.
“She had men working on it all the time,” Ms. Nunes said. “Most of the men worked for free and she’d feed them.”
People would also queue up at the back porch door where they would receive food to take home to their families. Today that porch has been partially closed off for storage but will be restored during the renovation.
A delightful breeze wafted through the house during Ms. Nunes’s visit, demonstrating the value of the Bush House’s many windows and three — possibly four — covered porches in an era when residential air conditioning was unheard of.
“They always had the windows open,” Ms. Nunes said. “The porches were where you visited on a hot day, or where you sat and shelled pecans from the trees out back.”
Today, while the front porch remains in all its spacious glory, the south porch has been enclosed and is now part of the former kitchen. In addition to the back kitchen porch that will be restored, there was possibly a smaller north porch that today is part of the current kitchen, Ms. Nunes said.
As renovation work proceeds, aiming for completion in mid- to late-April, members of the Crestview Historic Preservation Board will be working with Cultural Services to create exhibits and determine what parts of the county seat’s heritage to focus on.
As a member of the Bush family, Tanya Nunes is eagerly looking froward to following the renovation progress and maybe reliving some memories from her childhood, such as swinging in the front porch swing.
“I remember we used to swing so high we’d go out over the bushes” behind them, she recalled.
WANT TO HELP?
The Crestview Cultural Services Division and the Historic Preservation Board are seeking vintage photos that include the Bush House, especially interior views. Photos will be scanned and returned. Vintage 1930s or ‘40s kitchen appliances in good or restored condition (range or oven, refrigerator, twin-compartment porcelain sink, etc.) would be welcome to remake the current kitchen in the style of the house’s origins. For information, contact Cultural Services Specialist Brian Hughes, email@example.com, or call 850.398.5459.