Work at Governor's Mansion moves forward

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image none"><span>none</span></div><span class="caption-text">View of the Texas Governor&#39;s Mansion, second floor hallway ceiling, looking east.  &#40;Courtesy, Texas governor&#39;s office&#41; (Governor&#39;s Office)</span></div>
June 8, 2009 5:59:42 PM PDT
A year after an arson fire gutted the 153-year-old Texas Governor's Mansion, investigators have no suspects, but the state does have nearly $26 million for restoration from private donations and the Legislature. "We're ready to go," Dealey Herndon, the State Preservation Board's project manager for the restoration, told the Austin American-Statesman. Herndon also oversaw the restoration of the Capitol more than a decade ago.

Officials hope this week to post the request for proposals in their search for an architect to plan the 24- to 30-month rebuilding of the mansion, the newspaper reported Monday.

The Greek Revival landmark was burned in June 2008. Despite a $50,000 reward, there have been no arrests.

The mansion was completed in 1856, just 12 years after Texas became a state.

Before the Civil War, Texas legend Sam Houston, elected governor in 1859, paced the mansion's hallways as he worried about seceding from the Union.

Miriam "Ma" Ferguson, the first woman to be governor of Texas, built a chicken coop in the backyard. Colorful Gov. Wilbert Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel served barbecue on the grounds to 20,000 of his supporters in 1941 to celebrate his re-election.

Gov. John Connally recuperated there from a gunshot wound suffered in the attack on President John F. Kennedy's motorcade in Dallas. Gov. Ann Richards hosted England's Queen Elizabeth II at the mansion in the early 1990s.

In the weeks to come, specialists will begin repairing the walls that will hold up the new roof -- a copper one just like the mansion originally had, according to officials.

"We found a piece of the copper roof hanging off the front and have saved it," Herndon said. "It was pretty crumpled from the fire."

Most of the original interior was damaged by smoke. The furniture and other interior details were in storage at the time of the fire, as part of a renovation that was under way to upgrade mechanical systems, including fire alarms and sprinkler systems, plumbing and wiring.

Plans also call for installation of fiber-optic communications cables and energy efficiencies.

Once the walls and roof are finished, the interior restoration will begin of the fire-charred tall wooden columns that graced the front porch; of the shiny Bastrop-pine floors and the decorative plaster trim in the high-ceilinged rooms; and of the landmark wooden staircase that flowed between floors in a graceful arch.

Most of these features were salvaged from the fire and will be repaired and replaced.

Windows that were in storage at the time of the fire will also be reinstalled. The front door was destroyed and will be rebuilt from drawings and detailed photos.

Herndon said many interior surfaces were damaged by smoke or charred by flames. They will be cleaned and repaired, lead paint will be removed, and they will be restored to their original appearance.

A two-story addition will be built at the rear of the mansion to make it wheelchair-accessible, with the installation of an elevator to provide access to the second floor.

It will be only the second addition. In 1914, a detached kitchen was connected to the mansion, and additional living space was added.

The mansion was undergoing a $10 million renovation that was about half-finished at the time of the fire. Gov. Rick Perry and first lady Anita Perry were living in a $9,000-a-month rented home, where they remain.

State officials have thoroughly cleaned and dried the interior of the mansion, which was drenched by firefighters' hoses, and installed a temporary roof and an air-conditioning system to stop the spread of mold. But until funding was secured, restoration had not been able to move forward.

Lawmakers included $11 million for the project in a supplemental appropriations bill, and $11 million more will come in the new two-year state budget taking effect in September.

In addition, a private fundraising drive has brought in $3.4 million in cash and pledges that will be used to supplement the state funding, said Melanie Spencer, press secretary to the first lady.

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