Reporting Bud Gillett
AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM) – A would-be arsonist’s Molotov cocktail couldn’t burn it down; the Texas Governor’s Mansion reopened Wednesday with special tours for reporters and dignitaries.
“Welcome to the Texas governor’s mansion,” said Gov. Rick Perry, whose greeting was four years and nearly $25 million in the making.
There are the parlors where presidents and British royalty were entertained. The stair rail still bears holes from where one frustrated governor drove nails to stop his children from sliding down it. Stephen F. Austin’s own desk still graces the library. All is now reopened to visitors.
“A building that was a site to historic moments,” the governor intoned, “a building that was host to world leaders.”
An arsonist nearly burned the mansion to the ground four years ago. Despite a ghostly image captured on security cameras, no arrests have been made. A Molotov cocktail was thrown at its front door.
Firefighters found the door completely in flames when they arrived. The Perrys were on a trade mission to Sweden at the time. First Lady Anita Perry remembers watching an Internet feed of the fire as it happened.
“I think I was in shock,” she told a group that she escorted on one tour, “emotional shock for about 24 hours. I cried frequently.”
Fortunately, the mansion’s furnishings were already in storage, in preparation for installing a fire suppression system.
“It was a bit eerie to walk back into the mansion,” the governor said after reviewing its renovation, “because it looked exactly as it looked that day we walked out to lead that trade mission.”
Wednesday’s reopening was especially memorable to Maegan Collins, honored for helping generate private donations along with fellow middle school students in Nederland.
“We did little cans,” said Collins, who was a middle school student at the time, “and we just put them in every teacher’s room and said, ‘Please donate.’ And kids would put extra lunch money in and we ended up raising over $500 with that.”
Maegan and her family were among dignitaries given special tours.
“The historical magnitude is just amazing, it’s an awesome experience,” her mother Angela Collins said.
In the end, a mix of public and private funds put the house back together. Crews replaced the roof and installed a new “green” heating and cooling system. Even the architect’s signature “X-and-stick” ornaments on porch railings are back.
“What they saved was a genuine Texas treasure,” Gov. Perry said.
He also defended the money spent on the home during an economic downturn.
“As the Bible tells us, ‘The poor will always be with us,’” he said, adding, “There will always be people in need in this state. And I think Texas does a remarkable job of being able to balance the needs of those, who by no fault of their own, find themselves in great need. And also be able to create an economic where we lead the nation in jobs and economic prosperity.”
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