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Make a Presidential Plan

Three presidential libraries provide historic and elegant meeting environments

By Amy Durham

George W. Bush Center - Forum on Leadership
Forum on Leadership event at the George W. Bush Presidential Center featuring former President George W. Bush || Photo by Grant Miller, courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Center

Two United States presidents were born in Texas: Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson. Since the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955, the papers, records, and historical artifacts of most presidents’ terms have been gathered in a facility run by the National Archives and Records Administration. Eisenhower’s library is in Kansas, where he grew up. But Texas is still home to not one, but three of these institutions, thanks, in part, to the Bush family’s love for the state.

A presidential library is, as you would expect, a space with gravitas. Meeting planners might think it’s too serious or too solemn a place for many events, but we invite you to think again. The libraries and presidential centers in Texas are informative, thought-provoking, and inspirational places for people to meet. You will find a surprising amount of sunlight and green spaces, too.

The libraries are in or near cities large enough to offer plenty of hotel options, and transportation is easy to come by. Planners will find presidential center staff who are ready to serve before, during, and after events, but professional planning is essential given the nature of the facilities.

“I was lucky enough to work at the George W. Bush Presidential Center for almost five years,” says Sarabeth Quattlebaum, CPCE, who served as catering and events manager of Culinaire International at the Bush Center and is now founder of Sarabeth Events in Dallas. “Hiring a professional planner to handle the logistical challenges of working at a federal property is critical.”

Because all three sites are on university campuses, event planners may have access to prominent speakers, including, for example, former ambassadors, CIA agents, and legislators. Take a closer look at these unique spaces for your next event.

George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, College Station

In May 1997, the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library complex was dedicated on the west campus of Texas A&M University. This expansive site spans 90 acres and includes the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Presidential Conference Center (APCC), and The Bush School of Government
and Public Service.

The library and museum feature displays and artifacts that provide insight into the life of the president, his tenure as CIA director, and his time as vice president and then president of the U.S. Popular exhibits include a restored 1944 TBM Avenger, which is an exact replica of the aircraft President Bush piloted during his service in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Visitors to the museum can also see a segment of the Berlin Wall, as well as replicas of the Oval Office and the iconic White House Situation Room.

For events, the APCC houses two auditoriums. The larger of the two, the Frymire Auditorium, features 600 seats and a 1,165-square-foot stage, suitable for speakers, panel discussions, and awards ceremonies. Two flexible event spaces with audiovisual capabilities range from 1,600 to a combined 4,800 square feet and can accommodate banquet, lecture, and workshop setups. The 3,363-square-foot, light-filled lobby with a mural of an American flag is an elegant setting for receptions or registration areas.

For upscale ambience, the Rania and Jamal Daniel Presidential Dining Room boasts 1,500 square feet and is equipped with advanced audiovisual capabilities. This event space, with wood-paneled walls and historical artifacts in glass cases, provides a memorable environment for receptions and banquets. The APCC welcomes most external catering services, and facility staff can assist with vendor coordination, event management, audiovisual support, and marketing. They can also lead tours of the library complex for attendees and organize tours of the university at-large.

Event attendees can stay at the Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center, conveniently located on campus, or book luxury accommodations nearby at The George or Calvary Court hotels.

George W. Bush Presidential Center, Dallas

The George W. Bush Presidential Center comprises three venues situated on a 15-acre park on the Southern Methodist University (SMU) campus in Dallas. In 2022, ownership of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum was transferred to the George W. Bush Foundation, but it maintains NARA input and designated spaces.

The library and museum provides public access to papers, records, and artifacts from the historical time period during President Bush’s tenure. The George W. Bush Institute, a nonpartisan institution, serves as the public policy arm of the Bush Center. And Cafe 43, named in honor of Bush, the 43rd president of the U.S., serves brunch and lunch to the public, opening in the evenings for private events.

The center was dedicated in 2013, when it also earned the prestigious LEED Platinum green building certification, signifying the highest level of sustainable design and construction. Among the sustainable features, the center has a vegetative bioswale to manage stormwater and reduce flooding impact on the surrounding environment. The park where the center is located incorporates more than 90 native Texas plant species—
900 native trees were planted to preserve the local ecosystem.

Rental opportunities at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum include the museum’s main lobby with a large sculpture of the presidential seal, the impressive 67-foot-long Freedom Hall, and the outdoor tented Ceremonial Courtyard. The museum can accommodate up to 300 guests for a seated dinner or some 500 guests for a reception.

“The George W. Bush Presidential Center allows every guest to feel like a VIP, with a meeting package that includes access to the Presidential Museum and can also include photos of each guest in the Oval Office,” Quattlebaum says. “It also has one of the best auditoriums—with the highest-quality [audiovisual technology]—and team in Texas.”

The state-of-the-art auditorium is in the Bush Institute and can accommodate up to 300 attendees. Also in the George W. Bush Institute, the Hall of State is an elegant space with floor-to-ceiling windows and White House-inspired design elements like airy walkways and high, paneled ceilings. The lower floor is closed to the general public, but these spaces are available for private events.

Culinaire International is the exclusive on-site caterer at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, led by Executive Chef John Maas. The menu changes seasonally with locally sourced, farm-to-table comfort cuisine based on Texas favorites. “Everyone always feels presidential after they experience the impeccable catering team at the Bush Center,” Quattlebaum says.

Maas creates the menu for Cafe 43, as well. With seating for 120, the restaurant offers indoor and outdoor space and boasts decor by local artists, including a painting by President George W. Bush himself. “Cafe 43 allows natural light from almost every angle and is perfect for an intimate corporate cocktail gathering or evening meeting,” Quattlebaum says.

Event attendees can take advantage of accommodations at the midcentury modern Lumen Hotel across the street from SMU or nearby at the chic and pet-friendly Beeman Hotel.

LBJ Library Exterior photo by Jay Godwin courtesy of Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum
The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum || Photo by Jay Godwin

The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, Austin

Located within the University of Texas at Austin campus, the The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum has an extensive collection of 45 million pages of historical documents, 650,000 photographs, and 5,000 hours of recordings. The iconic 10-story building sits on a 30-acre site. The permanent exhibits chronicle the life and career of President Johnson. Popular attractions include an animatronic LBJ that tells some of the president’s favorite stories and jokes, a replica of the Oval Office, and an up-close look at the president’s limousine.

While the library itself is closed to the public for events, another building on the same site, the Joe C. Thompson Conference Center (TCC), offers three different venues to planners. The Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium can accommodate 967 attendees for award ceremonies, lectures, and keynote speeches, offering audiovisual services and two lobbies suitable for large receptions.

Under the Oaks Cafe, with its floor-to-ceiling windows shaded by the university’s century-old oak trees, is a picturesque setting for cocktail hours or seated dinners. This dining and event space can be rented alone or with other room reservations at TCC. The in-house caterer provides all services, including meeting refreshments, buffet setups, and seated meals for up to 150 attendees.

Event coordinators are available to help with reservations, programming, and staffing needs. The TCC also offers packages for both virtual and hybrid events with support staff. Event attendees will find rooms at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center on campus or just blocks away at The Otis Hotel Austin, one of Marriott’s Autograph Collection properties.

All three presidential libraries offer opportunities to capture the grandeur and history of the setting and create memorable meetings and events in Texas.