It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, so they say. In the midst of an economic recession in the mid 1980s, the tale of the Wortham Theater Center wasn't born out of an era of wisdom. It emerged from the independent vision of a coterie of locals who thought — who knew — the city could and should do better.
The Houston Endowment had bequeathed Jones Hall to the Bayou City 20 years earlier, but the growing demands for a home suitable for the Houston Ballet and the Houston Grand Opera could no longer be passed over.
Amid a crumbling economy dependent on the energy sector and instability in the real estate market, a community of boldface types like Harris Masterson, Cooper Industries CEO Robert Cizik, Shell Oil vice president of marketing Eugene Loveland, George Brown, Allen Carruth of the Wortham Foundation and Searcy Bracewell, founder of the law firm Bracewell & Patterson (Now Bracewell & Giuliani), among others, donated millions and raised millions for a development project that would alter life downtown.
Twenty-five years ago this month Wortham Theater Center welcomed the public for the first time, and Thursday's Houston Ballet "Made in America" opening night honored that accomplishment.
"This is a time to celebrate what it took to completely privately fund this facility. We were facing loss of business and loss of homes, but Houstonians dug deep to make Wortham happen."
While the corps of dancers were warming up to perform Mark Morris' Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes and premiere Nicolo Fonte's See(k) Mayor Annise Parker addressed the audience and reminded art supporters of this momentous milestone.
"This is a time to celebrate what it took to completely privately fund this facility," Parker said to the audience while recalling the city's ethos in the mid-1980s, a time when she worked in the oil industry. "We were facing loss of business and loss of homes, but Houstonians dug deep to make Wortham happen."
Those 3,500 residents, whose contributions ranged from $100 on up, ushered the venture through its 10-year process, coming in at $66 million, finishing four months ahead of schedule and $5 million under budget.
One of Parker's happiest memories is when she was inaugurated as mayor on the Wortham stage in 2010, she told CultureMap with a beaming smile. But she also remembers a Houston Ballet Academy end-of-year show when a blackout ensued. As this was the students' last presentation on stage, a spotlight was made to work somehow and viewers stayed to support the young dancers in spite of rising indoor temperatures — a mirror of the get-it-done spirit of Houstonians.
For the joyous 25th anniversary gathering, balletomanes were treated to an endless spread of cupcakes in the lobby.
Hosted by Houston Ballet Ambassadors, including Pauline Bolton, wife of the late Preston Bolton, who was one of the founders of Houston Ballet, and Tripp Carter, Anne and Albert Chao, Kathy Galt and Jerry Ann Woodfin, a reception in the Masterson Green Room toasted those present and departed who took a risk and invested in Houston's future. Cuisine was provided by Elegant Events and Catering by Michael.
Paying tribute to Wortham were first lady Kathy Hubbard, Ann and Karl Stern, Sidney Faust, Jay Jones, Lynn Wyatt, Sharon Adams, Kristen and Andy Andreasen, Shawn Stephens, Margaret Alkek Williams, Jean May, Diane and Phil Bazelides, Karen J. Harnett and George S. Gayle, Nick and Shannon Swyka and Margaret Putnam alongside ballet representatives Jim Nelson, C.C. Conner and Stanton Welch.