Four years after an arsonist nearly burned down the Texas Governor’s Mansion, Gov. Rick Perry and his wife, Anita, stood a few feet from its iconic front porch and announced recently that a painstaking restoration of the 156-year-old structure is complete.
The governor flashed a broad smile when he walked up to the microphone on the hot July morning, telling reporters he had been looking forward to this day.
“I get to say the six words I’ve been waiting a very long time to say,” Perry said. “Welcome to the Texas Governor’s Mansion.”
Standing behind Perry were three of the 100 or so firefighters who responded to the blaze in 2008, and Perry paid tribute to their bravery. He said they rescued the mansion from a “near-death experience” after an unknown arsonist tossed a Molotov cocktail on the porch on June 8, 2008.
A few more minutes of burning, he said, and all that history would have been lost.
Remarkably, most of it was saved from the embers. Though the roof and front windows were destroyed during the blaze, most of the building — including the elaborate ceiling cornices and pine wood subflooring — survived. All of the furnishings, light fixtures and historic artwork were saved, too.
Those items had been removed before the fire in anticipation of a makeover — in part designed to install a fire suppression system. The Perrys were out of the country, in Scandinavia, when the fire struck the emptied-out building.
The governor said he found it “eerie” to walk back into the immaculately restored mansion — as if it hadn’t been engulfed in flames four years ago.
Anita Perry gave reporters a tour of the mansion, showing off Stephen F. Austin’s writing desk, antique chandeliers and the gruesome painting depicting the final moments of Texas’ most famous battle, “The Fall of the Alamo” by Robert Onderdonk. The massive painting hangs once again in the mansion’s entry hall.
In the Stephen F. Austin library, the first lady pointed to a portrait of Alamo hero Davy Crockett and said, “He’s happy he’s here.”
Afterward, the first lady said she looked forward to moving back in — around the end of the month — and letting her dogs loose on the expansive green lawn.
“I can’t wait until First Dog Lucy Perry gets to show her cousin Rory the squirrels on this ground and all their hiding places,” she said.