Sneak peek at Governor's Mansion


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist JOHN FISHER

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

Posted on June 21, 2012 at 8:11 AM

Updated Sunday, Nov 3 at 8:46 AM

AUSTIN -- The Texas Governor's Mansion is almost ready to re-open.

It's been more than four years since an arsonist was caught on surveillance video setting fire to the historic building in June 2008. A Molotov cocktail set off a roiling inferno that wrecked the mansion and prompted a defiant pledge from Governor Rick Perry.

"We'll rebuild this magnificent structure so that future generations can stand where we stand today in awe of an extraordinary history," Perry told media shortly after the fire.

Just one year later, frustration was already sinking in.

"I never thought it would take this long," said First Lady Anita Perry in an interview with KVUE in June 2009.

Now four years since the arsonist's attack, the finish line is finally in sight.

"We're very pleased that we effectively can tell the first lady and the governor that they will get to live here. I'm sure they were wondering," project director Dealey Herndon with the State Preservation Board said Wednesday, as media were invited for the first look inside the 150-year-old mansion in months.

"There's a lot of history in here," said Paul Westlund, co-owner of Professional Workroom of Design, whose crew was busy installing draperies Wednesday afternoon. "We're making sure everything's adjusted and everything's set right to give the nicest finish."

With the first moving vans scheduled to arrive Thursday, Herndon says crews are working hard down the final stretch to ensure the First Family is able to move in by the end of July.

"The move will take probably six weeks," said Herndon. "It's very complicated; there are a lot of details that have to go into it."

Herndon says the project is set to finish on schedule and within its $25 million budget, $3 million of which comes from private donations. According to public records obtained by KVUE, that budget includes $1.2 million for security initiatives, $319,000 charged since September 2009 for a rental home during renovation and more than $40,000 a year for mansion item storage.

Four years later, the man behind the mess has yet to be caught.

The Texas Department of Public Safety released a sketch of the person caught on a security camera walking away from the mansion shortly after the fire was started. At a press conference in November 2011, DPS told media the suspect was likely involved with a local anarchist group.

For those working on the project, it's been a long four years. Now as the finishing touches are made, the building that has housed every Texas governor since 1856 will soon shed its scaffolding and daily armada of construction vehicles and return to the use for which it was intended.

It will once more be a home.