Thursday, October 9, 2014

The George W Bush Library

50% "W"  /   50% Oscar

Last week, while on a visit to Dallas, I visited the new George W. Bush Presidential Library on the campus of Southern Methodist University. The building, designed by Robert A.M. Stern (One of New England's Starchitect residence designers to the 1%), is a square brick block surrounding a square brick lantern that pops up in the middle. The Bush library blends well into the brick collegiate architecture of the SMU campus. 

Only after leaving did I realize I was underwhelmed enough to have neglected to capture a single photo of the exterior. 

The first thing a visitor will note is a frustrating lack of parking. We went on a weekday, in the off season, and still had to join other cars in a fee lot waiting with motors idling until someone came to depart. Cars were idling in the lot before we arrived and when we left 6-8 cars where in the lot lying in wait to pounce on spaces as they came open. A very lovely white Aston Martin waited patiently for me to leave. 

Once you enter the library grounds you are met with a modest plaza from which you may enter the cafe 43, enter the gift shop or enter the library.

Once inside you must purchase your ticket in the main rotunda space. 

The rotunda IMHO is the most successful space in the building with its spectacular continuously looping jumbo-tron digital presentation that brings the space to life. It presents a sentimental series of Texas scenery and culminates in washington DC with a twilight flyover of the DC mall beginning right over President Lincoln's head and ending at the Capital lighting up at dusk. I stood in awe, watching it loop through two or three times.

The Living Rotunda

A Truly Wonderful JumboTron

The second thing you'll notice is it is relatively expensive to visit and it offers no free days. Whereas Austin's LBJ library offers free parking and, after 30 years of being free finally instituted a $8 admission, LBJ still offers free admission 8 times throughout the year. The Bush Library admission is $16 (seniors tickets are $13). Admission includes a little I-pod that narrates the visit. All three of the visitors in my party quickly gave up on the I-pod as it was hard to synch with our movements in the display area. 

In comparison to the other presidential libraries I have visited the display area in the Bush library was kind of small and a bit disappointing.

While most presidential libraries seem to present balanced displays that describe the challenges, achievements, of each presidency while not glossing over mistakes, missteps and errors in judgement, this library presents the Bush Presidency with a series of "this is my side of the story" exhibits. The worst example was the exhibit entitled the "Decision Points Theater". Here visitors are presented with a series of difficult situations encountered during the Bush presidency. But then are offered very limited information and a small menu of options that are clearly designed to manipulate guests into arriving at prescribed conclusions.

What is presented at the Bush Library was, however, very professionally executed. I think most visitors favorite display was likely the replica of the oval office.

Experiencing W's Oval Office

 Twisted Steel From the Twin Towers

The September 11 Exhibit

The balance of the exhibit space (roughly equal in size to the presidential exhibit space) seemed out of place. Although it contains some fashions worn by first ladies, it is hard to square why half of the Bush Presidential library would be devoted to a quirky, yet lovely, infomercial for the House of De La Renta.

The Formal White House

Oscar Does Hillary

Oscar Does Nancy

There is a large gift shop offering up everything from mugs to really expensive presidential dog collars and leashes. 

Roadboy's summation is that the Bush library is a couple of hours well spent, but take this one in after you have already visited Dallas' many other fine museums.

Roadboy's Travels © 2014

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