COMPTON, CALIF., AUG. 20 -- Let us now count George Bush's houses.
There are the White House and the 26-room "cottage" at Walker's Point in Kennebunkport, Maine. Before that, there were homes in the River Oaks section of Houston and on Palisades Lane in Northwest Washington. And, of course, there is his current voting residence from which he observed his renomination this week -- Suite 271 at the plush but bankrupt Houstonian Hotel.
Bush has moved 29 times in his adult life, and of all the Bush homesteads past and present, perhaps the least celebrated is Apt. A at 624 S. Santa Fe Ave., in a dilapidated complex in this gritty suburb on the southern edge of Los Angeles.
Compton Mayor Walter R. Tucker III (D) wants to change that by making a city landmark of the building where Bush, then out of Yale University less than a year and an oil-bit salesman for Dresser Industries, lived for six months in 1949.
Then, Compton was a city of about 47,000 people along the fringes of developed Los Angeles, and Santa Fe Gardens was a well-kept, middle-class apartment complex. Now, urban sprawl has swallowed Compton's more than 90,000 residents, and the complex is a place where "No Trespassing" signs are more common than unbroken window panes, where squatters occupy boarded-up apartments and, residents say, where crack cocaine, prostitution and late-night gunfire are common.
Built during World War II, the maze of 15 dirty, brown-painted, two-story stucco buildings lining each side of a block of South Santa Fe Avenue looks as if it has been through a war.
"Why would you want to make a monument to somebody out of something like this?" asked Lorraine Cervantes, a resident since 1971 and president of a tenant group, as she walked along sidewalks littered with trash and broken glass. "It's nothing but a haven for prostitutes, dope addicts and dope dealers."
There is no lock on the rusting iron gate in the front of 624 S. Santa Fe Ave. At the doorway of Apt. A, Ann Williams, roused from her bed by the four young children who answered the door one day this week, said she did not care that George and Barbara Bush had slept there.
"Why should it mean something that he lived here?" she said impatiently, swinging the door shut. "It's not like it was when he lived here."
The landing of the stairs to the second floor is littered with trash and fouled with feces. Later in the day, city housing inspectors would arrive to oust a bewildered, shirtless man from an abandoned apartment upstairs.
Of the 148 apartments, only about 30 are occupied legally, according to Cervantes, who wore a "Perot for President" T-shirt. But many more serve as homes to squatters who use, sell and buy drugs and sex, according to residents.
Next door, three men and a woman huddled in the shade of the back stairway. One of the men, who said his name is Lawrence, staggered into the sunlight to greet a visitor. Eyes bleary, speech slurred, he clutched a bottle in a brown paper bag.
"They can put a monument wherever they want to," he said. "I could care less. George Bush done nothing for me."
The months Bush spent in Compton appear to have had little impact on him. He barely mentions them in his 1987 memoirs, "Looking Forward," other than to note that his first daughter, Robin, was born here. She died of leukemia at age 4.
"Barbara and young George couldn't wait to get back," Bush wrote of his move from Compton to Midland, Tex. "Neither could I."
The five-member City Council has offered little support for Tucker's proposal to use an example of urban blight in a predominantly black city to commemmorate a president accused of ignoring the problems of blacks and inner cities.
"It all needs to be torn down," said Jane Dickison Robbins, the council's lone Republican who has lived within a block of the complex all of her 73 years.
Council member Omar Bradley said he "just can't see any genuine purpose for it. It's a crime-infested area -- prostitution, drug dealing, you name it."
Some critics said they believe that the plan has more to do with Tucker's candidacy for the House. After winning a five-way primary with 39 percent of the vote, he is heavily favored to win against an independent candidate. No Republican filed for the seat.
"Some undue press is being generated from an issue that has been created and did not rise on its own," Bradley noted. Robbins suggested that Tucker wanted to curry favor with Bush should both win election this fall.
Tucker did not return repeated telephone calls.
Tucker told the Los Angeles Times that politics has nothing to do with it, that it is just a point of civic pride. "This is a gesture that goes beyond partisan politics," the newspaper quoted him as saying. "I don't think many people know that a president lived in Compton, and we should be proud of that."
Tucker is the candidate who, in his primary race, parodied an opponent's slogan -- "A Name You Can Depend On" -- by adding the phrase: "To Do Nothing."