Kristin Finn and daughter Ava give away cookies frosted with ‘41’ to honor the 41st President George H.W. Bush after he died. They live on George Bush Boulevard, the former Northeast Eighth Street renamed in 1989. Photos by Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star
By Ron Hayes
Late in the afternoon of Wednesday, Dec. 5, Air Force One flew high above these United States, somewhere between Washington, D.C., and Houston, Texas.
On this day, however, the great plane was not called Air Force One. That name is used only when a sitting president is aboard, and so for this somber, four-hour flight, Air Force One had been renamed Special Mission 41, in honor of George Herbert Walker Bush, the nation’s 41st president, whose coffin it was carrying home.
At the same time, in the Del-Ida Park Historic District of Delray Beach, a young girl named Ava Finn approached a car pausing at an intersection to offer the driver a small bag of sugar cookies.
“Would you like a cookie to honor the president?” she called through the window. “They’re free.”
“You’re giving away cookies to honor Donald Trump?” the puzzled driver replied.
From the sidewalk, a woman named Fran Finch called, “You’re on George Bush Boulevard!” and shook her head. “People don’t get it,” she sighed.
Ava Finn, 11, her mother, Kristin, and Fran Finch and her daughter, Juliette, 15, live here on George Bush Boulevard, and so they thought the cookies would be a nice gesture to honor both the late president and their street.
On the night before the funeral at the National Cathedral, they baked 150 sugar cookies and decorated each with the number “41” in red or blue frosting. Now, as “41” was being flown to his final resting place, these two mothers and daughters stood at the intersection of George Bush Boulevard and Northeast Second Avenue, offering the cookies to passing drivers.
This was their own, small Special Mission 41.
“I was going to make a sign that said ‘Honk for George Bush,’ ” Kristin Finn said, “but I didn’t think it would be appropriate. Did you see the eulogy? I cried like a baby.”
Instead, they set up a small folding table to hold the many bags of cookies and decorated the nearby 30-mph speed limit sign and a crossing pole with red, white and blue bunting.
Most of the people they approached were happy to take free cookies.
“Thank you very much,” the driver of a Lee Wilder Plumbing truck told Ava Finn. “We watched part of the funeral.”
“I wish I could [accept cookies],” another said, “but I’m on a diet.”
Some assumed she was selling the cookies for a school project.
“I don’t have money.”
“No, it’s free,” they assured passers-by more than once.
And some had to be told they were on George Bush Boulevard.
Maybe they thought this was Northeast Eighth Street.
Maybe they thought it was both.
For some in Delray Beach, this two-lane stretch between North Swinton Avenue and North Ocean Boulevard has honored President George Herbert Walker Bush for 30 years.
For others, it will always be Northeast Eighth Street, right there in between Northeast Seventh and Northeast Ninth, no matter what the city says.
The seeds of controversy were planted at 9 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 10, 1988, when President-elect Bush and his wife, Barbara, arrived at Palm Beach International Airport. He had defeated Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis two days earlier and wanted to relax with his longtime friend, fellow oilman and fellow multimillionaire William Stamps Farish III, the grandson of a co-founder of Humble Oil.
For Farish, a notably private man who also owned a 1,800-acre horse farm in Kentucky and a 402-acre ranch in Texas, the 1.9-acre home at 1777 N. Ocean Blvd. in Gulf Stream was among his most humble homes.
The president-elect didn’t do much while visiting. On Friday he played nine holes of golf and scored in the mid-40s. On Saturday, he went surf-casting and hooked only the sleeve of his white golf shirt. On Sunday, he traveled up to Jupiter Island to attend church with his mother. On Monday, he met the press briefly, promised to tackle the deficit, and by 8:45 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 15, he was gone.
But not forgotten.
Four months later, in March 1989, the city of Delray Beach announced an auction. The renaming rights to 15 streets would be put up for bid, with the hoped-for $100,000 raised going toward a $6.2 million transformation of the city’s former elementary and high schools into the Old School Square cultural center.
Northeast Eighth Street was not among the streets to be auctioned. And those who bid on it were not among the citizens of Delray Beach.
Shortly before the May 20 auction, the Gulf Stream Republican Club offered $25,000 to transform Northeast Eighth Street into George Bush Boulevard in honor of his uneventful, four-day visit to their town the year before.
“We believe George Bush will be coming down again to visit his friend,” the club’s treasurer, Douglas Raborn, told The Palm Beach Post at the time. “It would be nice when the motorcade goes down George Bush Boulevard over to Mr. Farish’s house.”
Within a week, 363 Delray Beach business owners had signed a petition opposing the name change.
“We were not consulted,” real estate agent Gabe Banfi complained to The Palm Beach Post.
Their opposition was more practical than political. A year before, the local area code had been changed from 305 to 407, and the business owners who had just paid to have their stationery and business cards reprinted weren’t eager to do it all over again.
The auction raised $73,800.
Local car dealer Bill Wallace paid $25,000 to have a stretch of Germantown Road renamed Wallace Drive.
Chiropractor Carol Krol spent $2,400 to see a bit of Southwest Fourth Street become Chiropractic Way and Northwest Third Street reborn as Dr. Carol Krol Way.
Democratic activist Andre Fladell paid $4,400 to rename several streets, including Andre Fladell’s Way, the former Avenue F, and Martin Fladell’s Boulevard, formerly Southwest Second Street, to honor his father.
“The reason I did it is so the people who like me would enjoy it,” he recalled recently, “and the people who didn’t like me would be annoyed by it.”
Under the plan, the auctioned streets would use both their old and new names for three to five years, after which the earlier names would be dropped, subject to approval by the City Commission.
The commission approved of George Bush Boulevard, and the $25,000.
“It’s Eighth Street,” Rick Janke insists. “It’s always been Eighth Street. It’s still Eighth Street.”
The Sail Inn opened in 1953, and for the first 36 of its 65 years, it served thirsty locals at 657 Eighth St.
Janke, a sous chef who worked at the Gulf Stream Golf Club during the season, started bartending off-season at his neighborhood pub in 1984, and bought it in 1989.
Almost three decades and a $100,000 remodeling later, Janke is still the owner, and he still has some of the T-shirts he and his girlfriend made back in 1989.
“Sail Inn,” they say, with “George Bush Blvd.” X’d out and “N.E. 8th Street” scrawled beneath it.
“I sold ’em, gave ’em away,” Janke says. “The local people got it. If they’d wanted to make it Obama Way, it would be the same thing.”
At the Sail Inn, regular customers have tweaked the new name into George “Busch” Boulevard, in honor of the popular beer.
And Janke has mellowed a bit in the past 30 years.
Checking a leak on the Sail Inn’s roof after Hurricane Frances passed through in September 2004, he found two green street signs that had blown over from the intersection across the way.
“George Bush Boulevard” and “NE 7th Avenue” now dangle peacefully over the bar.
“He wasn’t a bad guy,” Janke says, “even though he was head of the CIA. No doubt we’ve had worse.”
“But all the locals still call it Eighth Street.”
As Special Mission 41 was preparing for its descent to Houston’s Ellington Field, the sun was starting to set on George Bush Boulevard and the Finns and Finches began to think about heading home.
“The kids in the lunchroom [at school] were wondering why there was no basketball on TV,” Juliette Finch said, “and when I told them, they thought he’d died a long time ago. To be honest, I don’t really know who he is, but I know of him.”
There have been changes in the 30 years since Northeast Eighth Street was renamed.
The Gulf Stream Republican Club has disbanded, its members dispersing to other area clubs.
In 1998, the area code changed again, from 407 to 561.
William Farish III no longer lives in Gulf Stream.
In March 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Farish to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. When he resigned in 2004, Christopher Meyer, who had served as the British ambassador to Washington at the time, said of Farish: “As ambassador, he proved as agreeable as he was invisible.”
Troy, Ill., has a George Bush Boulevard, too, and Texas has three George Bush Drives.
But George H.W. Bush, the 41st president, never came back to Gulf Stream to enjoy a ride along his boulevard.
Even before leaving town, he told the press a return visit to Gulf Stream was unlikely.
“I wouldn’t want to impose on my hosts,” he said then.
On Google Maps, Northeast Eighth Street in Delray Beach doesn’t exist anymore.
But the Sail Inn is still there, and the owner isn’t concerned.
“Half my billing addresses still say Eighth Street, and half say George Bush Boulevard,” Janke said with a shrug. “One or the other.”