It took a year to heal and restore, but the Wortham Center has now opened its doors once more to artists and audiences, welcoming Houston back to its performing arts home.
When 270 million gallons of water from Hurricane Harvey flooded the underground garages and tunnel connected to the Wortham and then pushed its way into the building — rising 12 feet in the basement — that might have been the end to one of the city’s most iconic performing arts venue, but Houstonians pull together and rebuild.
The mammoth undertaking to restore and return the space to its former glory, while taking measures for flood mitigation in the future, cost an estimate $100 million. Pumping out all the water and preserving the integrity of building was only the first step in those initial recovery months in 2017.
With one-third of 60 air-handling units damaged, and extensive destruction to much of the basement levels mechanical equipment, electrical and plumbing systems, the replacement and reconstruction took time.
Now, with the majority of the repairs complete — including the rebuilding of the Brown Theater stage — the Wortham will once again become a beacon for the performing arts in Houston.
But before audiences pour into the theaters, Houston First Corporation, which manages and operates the Wortham Center, recently threw a homecoming reception of appreciation in the Cullen Theater to congratulate the many people responsible for the Wortham’s reemergence as a vital part of the Theater District and downtown.
Attended by Mayor Sylvester Turner and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, city officials and representatives of many of the major performing arts organizations that call the Wortham home, the event gave those most familiar with the inner workings of the venue a chance to celebrate.
“Not getting back for this season, simply was not an option,” says Mayor Turner. “We knew we would be back and be ready for this season because that’s just who we are. We believe in one another.”
Mayor Turner’s remarks made clear that the Wortham Center’s restoration can represent the city’s perseverance and resilience.
“What happens on this stage is just a small piece of what takes place within the 640 square miles of the city of Houston,” Turner says. “Everyday the show goes on. People perform and everyday some child in our city sees us all do our best. The art that exists in our city is a reflection of who we are.”
As an illustration the Wortham’s impact on so many Houstonian’s lives and how many people it takes ensure the show goes on, Brenda Bazan, Houston First, president and CEO called upon the stage representatives of the many people who call the space home, the dancers, singers, ushers, box office staff, administrators, caterers, maintenance crews, costume and set designers. Together they’ll ensure the performing arts will once again flourish within the Wortham.
As the stage lights go up this week, they’ll first illuminate one of the world’s greatest opera singers, Plácido Domingo, for a special concert with Houston Grand Opera on September 26, but that’s just the beginning of all triumphant returns to the Cullen and Brown stages from HGO, Society for the Performing Arts, Mercury, DaCamera, and of course the Houston Ballet bringing the beloved Nutcracker back to its snow-dusted home in November.
“Through these performances,” says Turner, “it infuses hope, aspiration, and inspiration into the people of the city of Houston.”