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Guess who's moving to town?

The Baltimore Sun

The painter, prepping to apply a couple of coats of linen white in advance of the new residents moving in? He didn't know. A neighbor? No clue. Even the seller didn't realize who had bought his South Baltimore rowhouse.

The first time Daddy visits, though, any lingering mystery will vanish, right around the time the serious-looking, earpiece-wearing Secret Service agents show up: First daughter Jenna Bush and her by-then husband, Henry Hager, are moving into a two-story, 128-year-old rowhouse in a lively neighborhood south of downtown. (For reasons including the desire not to incur the wrath of those guys with the earpieces, The Sun isn't revealing the address or street.)

The White House, as is its practice when it comes to the Bush family's private doings, wouldn't comment on the kids' new digs. Real estate and property tax documents, though, confirm that Hager bought the house last month for $440,000. He turned over power of attorney to Jenna for the purpose of signing purchasing and financing documents in his name -- including an affidavit that stated this would be Hager's principal residence.

It's unclear when Jenna -- the blonde half of President and Mrs. Bush's 26-year-old twin daughters -- and Hager, a former aide to Karl Rove, will move in. The couple is scheduled to marry at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, on May 10, and Hager, 29, is due to receive an MBA degree at the University of Virginia about a week later. Then there's been talk of a weeks-long honeymoon, in Europe.

But after that, imagine the possibilities of future sightings in the neighborhood: There's Rub, the barbecue restaurant whose menu tips its (cowboy) hat to Ruby's, a beloved restaurant just off the campus of Jenna's alma mater, the University of Texas in Austin; and Ropewalk, the watering hole that serves as something of a Republican oasis in an overwhelmingly Democratic neighborhood and city.

Roger Sandau, a lawyer and insurance broker who had lived in the house for a year before selling it, said neither Hager nor Jenna Bush was at the closing, having signed the necessary documents earlier and leaving the actual settlement to their agent.

"I had no idea that's who bought it," he said. "I heard it was a relocation for Constellation."

It is: Hager reportedly has been hired by the energy conglomerate, which is the parent company of BGE and has its headquarters on Pratt Street -- a longish walk, but not unbearably so, from his new house.

Told who Hager and his fiancee are, Sandau wasn't overly impressed -- he works in the entertainment business and has a client list that he says includes "many" celebrities -- but delighted nonetheless.

"I thoroughly enjoyed the house," said Sandau, who moved here from Beverly Hills and now lives in Cockeysville. "I enjoyed being down there. There's a real sort of heartbeat in that neighborhood. Their ability to walk to restaurants and bars will make it wonderful for them."

If you take away the presidential link, the newlyweds would be just another couple of young professionals who have chosen the neighborhood for their first house. Close to the stadiums, nightlife and, increasingly, trendy boutiques, it has a younger vibe than nearby Federal Hill, and with more remnants of a less gentrified, Formstone-clad past.

Neighbors say the circa-1880 red brick rowhouse with a wood-framed storefront window is believed to have been a dry cleaners and a candy shop in previous incarnations. It's spacious, by rowhouse standards, at nearly 2,000 square feet, and has -- a peek through the first-floor windows reveals -- exposed brick walls, a fireplace and hardwood floors.

But the prime piece of this real estate is in back -- an attached garage.

"I would say that when it snows," Sandau said, "they will smile with glee every time they pull into it."

Perhaps in part because of the guaranteed space in a neighborhood where parking is at a premium, the house generated a lot of buyer interest despite an otherwise down market, Sandau said. In fact, Sandau said he had two other buyers ready to buy if Hager changed his mind.

"I would move in yesterday," said neighbor Jen Kearney, who pronounced the house in "fantastic shape." She was tickled to learn who had bought the house, welcoming them -- and whatever fringe benefits they bring.

"I'll love having her security," Kearney said of the Secret Service detail that guards members of the president's family.

Kearney, a nurse at Hopkins Hospital's organ transplant unit, said the neighborhood is stable, with a mix of longtime residents and more recent arrivals such as herself, a six-year veteran.

In a city where people often define themselves by their neighborhood, the couple's pick is an intriguing one. You would imagine the scions of such monied families (Hager's father is a former lieutenant governor of Virginia and from a prominent Richmond lineage) would have been drawn to a pricier, more protected neighborhood, say one of those loft condos in Inner Harbor East. Instead, they opted for the kind of Baltimore neighborhood you might see in a Barry Levinson movie, say Tin Men.

Not much was known about Hager before his engagement -- oddly, given his job with Constellation, Jenna told Diane Sawyer that he was "trying to find a job where he can support the environment" -- while the lives of Jenna and her sister, Barbara, have been much chronicled by the media over the years, often to their parents' chagrin.

There were citations for underage drinking, when Jenna and Barbara were in college, respectively, at Texas and Yale. (Ironically it was Barbara who once was caught trying to pawn off a fake I.D. that listed a fictitious Baltimore address.) Jenna comes off as the bubblier twin, said to be the more irrepressible one, more similar to her good-timing father than her book-loving mother. (She's the one whose gown experienced a wardrobe malfunction as she danced with the president during his first inauguration.)

Now of legal drinking age, the occasional twin spottings at various D.C. bars merit gossip items rather than news stories. Jenna, for her part, is more often in the news, having written a book for teens, Ana's Story, that she has promoted with book signings and interviews. In them, she comes off as young and spirited -- there was a particularly charming incident when she allowed producers of the Ellen DeGeneres show to dial up her father on his private line at the White House: Jenna, belatedly, burbled worriedly that she would get in trouble for calling him out of the blue and putting him on national TV, but Bush reassured the audience he loved her and was proud of her.

Maybe he'll come visit once she settles in. If so, Sandau, the home's previous owner, recommends the Ropewalk, the bar that every year celebrates the birthday of a previous Republican president, Ronald Reagan.

"That was always the last stop before going home," he said. "If he should come visit, that would be an appropriate place for them to take him."

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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