SMU Landed the Bush Library, But a Group of Former Condo Owners Still Want the World to Know At What Price

Even though Leslie Davenport is not a party to the litigation, nothing can keep her away from the Dallas County district court next October. That's when Southern Methodist University is scheduled to defend its reputation for what Davenport claims was the unconscionable treatment her mother and others suffered at the hands of a school willing to intimidate and deceive in its plan to grab land for the George W. Bush Presidential Library. 

The lawsuit features two plaintiffs, attorney Gary Vodicka and dentist Robert Tafel, who, though unyielding, do not appear to be acting out of any lofty political principle—no hot stick in the eye for an unpopular ex-president. Their complaint is more pragmatic. They allege that as former residents of what was once the 350-unit University Gardens Condominiums (where Davenport's mother also lived), they were subjected to a protracted scorched-earth strategy orchestrated by the university to defraud them of their homes.

The complex has been flattened now and reduced to rubble, its residents long gone, but that doesn't erase the memories that Davenport has of the place where her mother, Pat, moved in 1986 and planned on spending the rest of her life. Davenport recalls how nicely her mom fixed up her two-story townhouse, carefully hanging pictures of her children on its off-white walls. She felt safe in the Park Cities, her home bordering SMU's stately tree-lined streets and red-brick Georgian Revival buildings. 

The empty site in front of the SMU campus is where the University Gardens Condominiums sat for nearly 40 years until being demolished to make room for the 25-acre George W. Bush Presidential Center.
Mark Graham
The empty site in front of the SMU campus is where the University Gardens Condominiums sat for nearly 40 years until being demolished to make room for the 25-acre George W. Bush Presidential Center.
On its Web site, the George W. Bush Foundation, whose primary purpose is the development of the Bush library, posted this 2008 site plan of the future home of the library campus, which included the land upon which University Gardens once stood.
Mark Graham
On its Web site, the George W. Bush Foundation, whose primary purpose is the development of the Bush library, posted this 2008 site plan of the future home of the library campus, which included the land upon which University Gardens once stood.

But by April 1999, SMU began gobbling up condos at University Gardens, purchasing 10 percent of the units within months, filling them with students, some of them acting rude to the residents, most of whom were elderly. The school's general counsel, Leon Bennett, who remains involved with the case but could not be reached for comment, met with anxious residents in August of that year to assure them SMU wasn't up to anything nefarious. He told them the university just wanted to make sure the complex didn't fall into the hands of a developer, who might raze the complex and erect a high-rise that would be a towering eyesore to the colonial-style campus.

Bush, then in his second term as governor, had only two months earlier announced that he was joining a crowded field of candidates for the Republican nomination for president. So the idea of a Bush presidential library located on their 12-acre complex never crossed the minds of the residents; on the contrary, Bennett told them that SMU had no immediate interest in the complex, though in 15 years or so, it might consider the site for student housing or an intramural field. 

But at the meeting, many of the residents were convinced that the only developer from whom they needed protection was SMU. Their fears were exacerbated by 2002 when the university continued to purchase units even though, under the bylaws of the complex, SMU owned enough of a stake (26 percent) to prevent any grasping developer from taking over the property. Although SMU made no secret of the fact that it was interested in housing the Bush library, the school remained vague about its exact location.

In 2002, after SMU began buying units at a furious clip, Pat grew frightened. SMU wanted to buy her and other residents out, offering them an extremely low price, Pat thought, for her home and a nearby unit she owned and rented out. Pat spent many nights on the phone with her daughter, worrying about her home and her finances. She owned both units outright—they were security for her retirement—but if she accepted the university's lowball offer, she couldn't maintain her quality of life. If she didn't agree to it, the university said, it would take the offer off the table. And with SMU rapidly acquiring a controlling interest in the complex, no other buyer would purchase her home.

All these negotiations seemed far too sophisticated for her; she finally gave in and sold both units in 2003. But before selling she wanted to give the university a piece of her mind and handed SMU's representatives a two-page letter, writing that she was selling her home "totally against my wishes," and that "quite frankly, I'm terrified about how I'm going to be able to take care of myself during my remaining years."

After the sale, Pat moved into a Lake Highlands townhome but couldn't make ends meet without the assistance of her ex-husband. Within months of the move, she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, and in May 2007, she died from the disease. 

Although no one blames SMU for her death, Leslie is convinced that her mother's condition was aggravated by the pitched fight over her home. "All the doctors we went to asked if she had been under a lot of stress," Leslie says. "It's very sad to know that the last years of my mother's life were filled with such trauma and turmoil."

The story of SMU's efforts to secure the George W. Bush Presidential Center has been reported as a story about a philosophical rift between SMU's administration and dissenting faculty and alumni who wanted no part of the proposed library's neo-conservative think tank, fearful it would strap an ideological straitjacket on an institution dedicated to higher learning. But that partisan conflict, while of national interest, was just an entertaining sideshow to the story of an aggressive real estate play on the part of SMU and its powerful alumni, spearheaded by Dallas oilman Ray Hunt, to secure land for the Bush library to its east, the only direction in which the otherwise landlocked university could grow. 

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History is here and now and it does not bode well for George W Bush the 43rd President of USA with a library or witout one!

1) GEORGE W. BUSH oversaw the suffering of millions in New Orleans in KATRINA disaster and did little in a timely fashion resulting in the death of thousands! 

2) GEORGE W. BUSH increased our deficit by fighting TWO wars on the credit card, implementing the Medicare DRUG Plan on the credit card and two BIG TAX CUTS on the credit card. 

3) GEORGE W. BUSH presided over the greatest economic meltdown of the American economy since the Great Depression.

4) GEORGE W. BUSH presided over the greatest terrorist attack on the US soil since Pearl Harbor which was responsible for more than 3000 deaths. 

5) GEORGE W. BUSH's IRAQ war was responsible for nearly 5000 American soldier deaths and 3000+ American contractors. 

6) GEORGE W. BUSH had Osama Bin Laden in his sights in Tora Bora in Afghanistan but he let him escape by not providing enough troops to capture Osama Bin Laden. 

7) GEORGE W. BUSH shifted focus from a legitimate war in Afganistan to an unnecessary war in IRAQ. 

8) GEORGE W. BUSH's Administration has been conclusively linked by a 576-page report from a task force of the bipartisan Constitution Project to have used torture.

9) GEORGE W. BUSH turned a surplus nation into a debtor nation by advocating for so much deficit budgeting.

10) GEORGE W. BUSH's Administration had a GDP growth adjusted for inflation at 2.2% with a ranking of 9th in 13 recent Presidents.

11) GEORGE W. BUSH's Administration had a 0.3% increase in jobs with a ranking of 11th in 11 recent Presidents.

12) GEORGE W. BUSH's Administration had a inflation-adjusted changes in worker per capita income of 1.3% with a ranking of 8th in 11 recent Presidents.

13) GEORGE W. BUSH's Administration had a increase in national debt of 88% during his Presidency with a ranking of 3rd HIGHEST in 12 recent Presidents.

14) GEORGE W. BUSH's Administration had a Dow Jones Average’s annual change of -2.0% with a ranking of 11th in 13 recent Presidents.

15) GEORGE W. BUSH's Administration had a final job approval rating of 27% with a ranking of 11th in 12 recent Presidents just above Nixon.

16) GEORGE W. BUSH's Administration had a lowest job approval rating of 19% with a ranking of FIRST in 12 recent Presidents i.e. the LOWEST among all 12 recent Presidents. 

Ajay Jain

Twitter Handle @ajain31.

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50 Reasons We Despised George W. Bush's Presidency: A Reminder on the Day of His Presidential Library Dedication

1. He stole the presidency in 2000. People may forget that Republicans in Florida purged more than 50,000 African-American voters before Election Day, and then went to the Supreme Court where the GOP-appointed majority stopped a recount that would have awarded the presidency to Vice-President Al Gore if all votes were counted. National news organizations verified that outcome long after Bush had been sworn in.

2. Bush’s lies started in that race. Bush ran for office claiming he was a “uniter, not a divider.” Even though he received fewer popular votes than Gore, he quickly claimed he had the mandate from the American public to push his right-wing agenda.  

3. He covered up his past. He was a party boy, the scion of a powerful political family who got away with being a deserter during the Vietnam War. He was reportedly AWOL for over a year from his assigned unit, the Texas Air National Guard, which other military outfits called the "Champagne Division.”

4. He loved the death penalty. As Texas governor from 1995-2000, he signed the most execution orders of any governor in U.S. history—152 people, including the mentally ill and women who were domestic abuse victims. He spared one man’s life, a serial killer.

5. He was a corporate shill from Day 1. Bush locked up the GOP nomination by raising more campaign money from corporate boardrooms than anyone at that time. He lunched with CEOs who would jet into Austin to "educate" him about their political wish lists.

6. He gutted global political progress. He pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol which set requirements for 38 nations to lower greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change, saying that abiding by the agreement would “harm our economy and hurt our workers.”

7. He embraced global isolationism. He withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, over Russia’s protest, taking the U.S. in a direction not seen since World War I. 

8. He ignored warnings about Osama bin Laden. He ignored the Aug. 6, 2001 White House intelligence briefing titled, “Bin Laden determined to strike in the U.S.” Meanwhile, his chief anti-terrorism advisor, Richard Clarke, and first Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, testified in Congress that he was intent on invading Iraq within days of becoming president.

9. Ramped up war on drugs, not terrorists. The Bush administration had twice as many FBI agents assigned to the war on drugs than fighting terrorism before 9/11, and kept thousands in that role after the terror attacks. 


Truly shameful. SMU and the Methodists detested the Bush2 administrations' botched Iraq invasion. I can't think of a worse place to try and polish the turd that is the Bush2 presidential legacy; a Bush2 "think tank" isn't going to do it.

That SMU treated these good people in such a way, many alumni, is truly disgraceful. There is a cloud already over the Bush2 Libarary.