Nosy Questions for David Bush

David Bush has been executive director of Preservation Houston since 2015. Founded in 1978, Preservation Houston is the only citywide, public service, historic preservation organization in Houston.* It is best known for a its lush architectural books, walking tours of historic neighborhoods and the annual Good Brick Awards program that honors Houstonians who restore and/or repurpose the city’s historic buildings. We caught up with David recently to ask a few nosy questions.

What was your earliest ambition? 

When I was kid in New Orleans, there was a historic building on one of the corners opposite Jackson Square that fascinated me. It had great details, but the owners were letting it fall down. Whenever anybody asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I’d say, “Fix up old buildings,” and that was the building I was thinking about. Then they’d tell me I’d never make living at it. So now I help other people with their projects.

Tell us about your education. University or straight into work?

I have a master’s degree in historic preservation from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. At the time it was pretty small. My parents helped me move, and when we got there my mom said, “Oh my God, you’re moving to Mayberry.” Now it’s suburban Nashville.

Galveston Historical Foundation offered me a job during my last semester in grad school. Final exams were in May, and I started work in June. I’ve been working ever since.

What drew you to preservation work? 

I grew up in suburban New Orleans in a typical house in a typical subdivision. Everything interesting was in the city. The big department stores and movie theaters … the French Quarter, the streetcars, the good Mardi Gras parades.

My grandparents lived in a big Victorian shotgun with pocket doors, mantelpieces and plaster molding. We had holidays there, and it was a couple of blocks off the parade routes. I guess I grew up associating good things with historic buildings.

Before & after of a c. 1907 bungalow in First Ward that combines Victorian and Craftsman style design elements. This is a personal favorite of Bush.

What motivates you?  

Taking care of the staff is very important to me. Preservation Houston is a small organization, but we provide valuable public services and help a lot of people. I want to make sure the staff has the resources to do their jobs and to have good lives outside the office. It shouldn’t be a sacrifice to work here.

So, what do you actually do all day? 

It varies. On a good day I get to poke around old buildings. That’s the part I like best. Then there are meetings and Zoom calls. There’s a fair amount of administrative work: insurance, bills, budgets. Not crazy about that part. Lots of email. We never know what’s going to come in from one day to the next, so priorities can change quickly.

What’s the biggest mistake people make restoring a vintage home? 

Ripping out everything that gives a vintage home its character.

Before & after of a c. 1873 Folk Victorian house in the Old Sixth Ward Historic District. This house is required a significant amount of work to restore its 19th-century appearance.

Your favorite collectibles? 

I collect Christmas ornaments shaped like historic houses and buildings. (Notice a theme?) I have too many to fit on the tree, so now I only buy ornaments of buildings I’ve gone inside.

What do you envision for Preservation Houston in five years?

I’m not good at the whole visioning thing. Life is unpredictable; you have to be prepared for what comes at you.

The best thing about your job?

Lately we’ve been helping other nonprofits with their historic buildings. It’s very satisfying, plus it has that poking-around-old-buildings component.

Your favorite Houston building?

Traditional historic: Isabella Court. It’s a Spanish-style building from 1929 with retail on the first floor, apartments on the top floors and a beautiful courtyard. It’s more Hollywood than Houston. There used to be blocks of buildings like it on Main Street in Midtown. Isabella Court is the only one that has survived intact.

More modern: TC Energy Center on Louisiana downtown. Most people probably remember it as the Bank of America building. Red granite skyscraper with stepped gables inspired by Dutch architecture. In sixth grade we made shoebox dioramas of foreign countries. Mine was a canal scene in Amsterdam with stepped-gable houses. My taste in architecture has been set for a long time.

Isabella Court’s interior courtyard.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself that most people don’t know.   

I drove the monorail at the Louisiana World Exposition. The system was not automated, so the driver controlled the train, communicated with the stations and the other trains and gave a tour at the same time. It took a lot more skill than people gave us credit for.

Favorite food-and-drink pairing? 

Potato and egg taquito, no cheese, and a Diet Coke. I’m not a connoisseur, but I can tell you which Whataburger locations don’t fold their taquitos correctly.

What websites or apps do you always have open? 

The Guardian for world news, book reviews and travel, and Defector, which is primarily a sports website. I don’t really care about sports, but Defector covers other interesting topics, the writing is very good and a lot of it is funny. Plus they pay their staff a living wage. (Another theme.)

Your friend is coming to visit and has never been here before. What must he/she do while in Houston?   

I’d probably take them to Buc-ee’s just to see their reaction.

* To learn more about Preservation Houston, visit