The $25 million project to restore the historic Texas Governor’s Mansion is almost complete, four years after the building was nearly destroyed in a fire started by an unknown arsonist.
Gov. Rick Perry’s office said Wednesday that pieces of the mansion’s historic furniture collection are being moved back into the building. Perry and his family are expected to return in late July.
Located a block from the state Capitol grounds in downtown Austin, the two-story Greek-revival mansion has been the home of every Texas governor, including Sam Houston and George W. Bush, since it was completed in 1856.
Perry moved in when he took office in late 2000, and he and his family moved out in 2007 for a $10 million renovation project to upgrade mechanical systems, including fire alarms, sprinkler systems, plumbing and wiring. The mansion was severely damaged in June 2008 when police say a person threw a Molotov cocktail that landed near the front door and ignited the building. Parts of the roof collapsed, and the majestic columns at the front of the mansion were charred. No one was injured.
Most of the original interior was damaged by smoke. But the historic furniture collection, including the bed used by Houston and Stephen F. Austin’s writing desk, were not damaged because they had already been removed.
The collection is owned by the non-profit Friends of the Governor’s Mansion. Historic chandeliers were installed on the first floor last week, Perry’s office said.
Authorities have made no arrests in the case despite a $50,000 reward offered by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Investigators have released surveillance video and a sketch of the person they believe started the blaze.
Part of the restoration project focused on enhancing security, including installing a new surveillance system, reinforced perimeter walls and new gates and guardhouses.
Perry and his wife Anita have been living in a $10,000-a-month leased home away from the downtown area during the restoration project. Anita Perry has been leading the effort to raise nearly $3.5 million in private money for the restoration project.
The mansion “has been a symbol of Texas pride and resilience for decades,” Anita Perry said.
Before the Civil War, Houston paced the 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. And 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 at the mansion 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 there in the early 1990s.