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tmariar

Former Prudential Life Building Scheduled for Demolition

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Excerpt from a recent Houston Chronicle article:

The wrecking ball is not a subtle art critic, but its opinion counts. And when it razes M.D. Anderson Cancer Center's 18-story administration tower next year, it will give a big thumbs down to Peter Hurd's 16-by-47-foot mural depicting life on a West Texas farm.

For 56 years, visitors to the building at 1100 Holcombe have been greeted by the mural's colorful array of galloping horses, mounds of produce and hard-working farm folk bursting with good health. For five years, a New Mexico gallery owned by the artist's son desperately - but unsuccessfully - has looked for someone to save the painting.

The painting is free. But the cost of removing it from the curved wall in the building's foyer, restoring it and installing it elsewhere likely would exceed $500,000.

"We are working with several universities and private individuals," said Ann Hale, director of the Hurd La Rinconada Gallery in San Patricio, N.M., "but so far there are no real solid prospects. People do want the mural. They'd be delighted to have it, but they would have to take on the responsibility of moving it. ... We have until about this August to find a new home for it."

Hale placed the mural's value at more than $3 million.

The fate of Hurd's work, which was painted in the early 1950s in the lobby of what then was the Prudential Life Insurance building, is the latest controversy facing M.D. Anderson in its quest to tear the structure down.

Local and state preservationists have protested the demolition, noting the tower, designed by Houston architect Kenneth Franzheim, was the first corporate high-rise erected outside downtown Houston.

1961 photo of the building.

GHPA mention of the building as endangered.

Some prior HAIF discussion of the building comes up in this thread and other threads - but I didn't see one devoted to the subject.

Edited by tmariar

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Hope someone saves the large bronze statues out front? They seem copper or bronze. Can't remember if they are part of that nice fountain or free standing. Pretty sure they are part of this property. :)

The building is really outdated and seems out of place amongst the neighboring modern buildings. Another icon going away.

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Hope someone saves the large bronze statues out front? They seem copper or bronze. Can't remember if they are part of that nice fountain or free standing. Pretty sure they are part of this property. :)

The building is really outdated and seems out of place amongst the neighboring modern buildings. Another icon going away.

not sure i'd agree with the outdated. just a different style. unfortunately the fish that sprayed water in the fountain were gone when i skated by there sunday.

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I can't believe this is happening. Or maybe I can.

M.D. Anderson should be ashamed - first bad stewards of the building, now Hurd's mural.

<_<

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This building looked much better with the signage on it. Now, it just looks like an unfinished, blank space. If the building is falling apart, I guess it'll have to come down. It's right on the banks of Brays Bayou and I'm sure the ground is unstable. I'm sure they now take this into consideration regarding the engineering of foundations.

Years ago there was a swimming pool on the ground level.

Prudential must have moved over to the West Loop in the 70's (@ Bellaire). This building on the West Loop was subsequently occupied by SBC after Prudential's departure from Houston.

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I've been in the building many times, and definitely think it needs to be taken down... that piece of property is prime real estate for the TMC.

MD Anderson's point about the mural having African-Americans working the hay bales while the white people are having leisure time is interesting... I had never considered it previously. Still, the mural should be preserved somewhere.

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Years ago there was a swimming pool on the ground level.

I was wondering about the pool, which was referenced in the GHPA write-up:

"This finely detailed 18-story skyscraper was the first high-rise office building constructed outside downtown Houston. Architect Kenneth Franzheim designed the building as regional headquarters for the Prudential Insurance Co. At the time, Prudential introduced a high level of amenities for its employees including convenient parking, generous landscaped grounds, public art, tennis courts and a tropically planted swimming pool court (the pool has been filled). The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has owned and occupied the building since 1975. The Prudential Building is scheduled to be demolished and replaced by a new facility within the next four years. GHPA has been in contact with M.D. Anderson, but the institution's administration is not interested in preserving the building."

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How disappointing...can't say I am surprised though. :angry: Consider myself lucky to have been in the building. My dad's employer, Unocal had offices in the Prudential bldg. when I was young. Remember looking out the window at the swimming pool. Was very far down. Too bad some of the materials can't at least be reused somewhere. I like the bronze look of the details. And the use of landscape in the original plan. :( At least someone has the fountain somewhere.

Can someone please take some pics!!!

Edited by NenaE

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Does anyone know the demolition date?

A quote from the AIA Architecturlal Guide (Stephen Fox) edition, "Since acquiring the building in 1975 the University of Texas has maintained it with the consideration that it deserves". What happened? :(

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i was talking to my aunt who worked there in the 50's and 60's. she said she had some fond memories of the building. she said the pool was monstrous. my mom said that she got her tickets to go swim there but my aunt didn't remember. she also said the food in the cafeteria was wonderful.

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I know some folks that work at MDACC and they know less than we do :(

I'll keep asking around, though.

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I can't believe this is happening. Or maybe I can.

M.D. Anderson should be ashamed - first bad stewards of the building, now Hurd's mural.

<_<

i agree.

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How disappointing...can't say I am surprised though. :angry: Consider myself lucky to have been in the building. My dad's employer, Unocal had offices in the Prudential bldg. when I was young. Remember looking out the window at the swimming pool. Was very far down. Too bad some of the materials can't at least be reused somewhere. I like the bronze look of the details. And the use of landscape in the original plan. :( At least someone has the fountain somewhere.

My Dad worked there also for UnoCal. Went there a lot in the late 50’s early 60’s when I was a kid. I use to sometimes hang with the receptionist/operator. (I think her name was LaVeda) This was back when she had to plug wires into a console to redirect a call. She would let me help her.

I worked for a while in the building in the late 80's when I was with UTHSC. It was pretty cool but definitely outdated even then.

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Hope someone saves the large bronze statues out front? They seem copper or bronze. Can't remember if they are part of that nice fountain or free standing. Pretty sure they are part of this property. :)

The building is really outdated and seems out of place amongst the neighboring modern buildings. Another icon going away.

It sounds like "a piece of the Rock" will soon be "pieces of rock."

post-5880-1208382833.jpg

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I've been in the building many times, and definitely think it needs to be taken down... that piece of property is prime real estate for the TMC.

MD Anderson's point about the mural having African-Americans working the hay bales while the white people are having leisure time is interesting... I had never considered it previously. Still, the mural should be preserved somewhere.

Someone said the Prudential building was on Holcombe. Does anyone know the address number?

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Someone said the Prudential building was on Holcombe. Does anyone know the address number?

1100 Holcombe - near the southeast corner of the Holcombe-Fannin intersection

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Bro works there for UTTV ( UT/ Med center in-house productions) and they have already moved to the TB Pickens Tower. I had a friend whose Dad worked for Prudential back in the 60s and I had many opportunities to go to the pool at the building. It was quite a sight and place for splashing around. Great locker facilities and underwater glass for looking into the pool if I recall correctly. Hope they salvage some of the granite from the building as well as the fountain. As said before, another icon will go up in a cloud of smoke and debris

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The Houston Main Building (HMB) closes Thursday, April 1, to prepare for its eventual demolition, most likely in Fiscal Year 2011.After April 1, the building will be surrounded by construction fencing, and pedestrian traffic through the building no longer will be permitted. Pedestrians must use the existing sidewalks to travel around the building. Follow the walkway to the Mays Clinic west lobby to access the Mays Clinic and the Cancer Prevention Building.Signs will be posted to guide pedestrians along the proper pathways. In the past few weeks, departments that had offices in HMB have been relocated. Group exercise classes have temporarily relocated to the Cancer Prevention Building, Floor 8 (CPB8.302) until their permanent location in the Pickens Academic Tower fitness and wellness center is available.

Quoted from MD Anderson. HMB being the old Prudential building. 

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Looks like it's time for pictures for a before, during, and after construction is due.

I elect Jax. He's closer than anyone else, and that corner is a pain to get to.

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What a huge loss this one will be, can't believe they can't or won't save that mural. Some of those details (fixtures) in that bldg. are magnificent. Not to mention the landscape architecture, it has always inspired me.

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I always held out hope that somehow this one would be saved. Oh well, we're the city that never seems to learn...

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What is the painting made of & how is it attached to the wall that makes it so costly to remove?

The mural isn't painted "on" the wall. The mural "is" the wall. It's a fresco, which means it was painted on the wall while the plaster was still wet and soft, before it dried and became solid. The paint is mixed with the plaster.

To save this mural, the entire wall has to be removed in small sections, very carefully, so the sections can be taken out the much smaller doors and put together again somewhere else.

Making the job even harder, the mural is painted on a corner in the lobby. Over about 40 feet, the mural curves around the corner and makes a 90 degree turn. Removing the mural, moving it, and storing it safely until a permanent home can be found is going to be very expensive. At least half a million dollars, according to those in the know.

The Hurd Museum in New Mexico has made every effort to find the money, with no success that I've heard of. They also haven't been able to find anybody interested in providing a permanent space for it.

Even the art world doesn't care much what happens to it. It's not just MD Anderson. They've worked with the Hurd Museum for more than five years on this, with no success. So don't blame MD Anderson.

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I once gave a proposal to replace the cooling towers and associated piping in the HMB building. The cooling towers are located on the high roof behind big architectural louvers. It was an elaborate plan envolving erecting a hoist over the side of the building. It was apparently too expensive though.

I also gave a proposal to convert the public toilets to ADA. I was amazed to find a full chase behind each toilet room that a maintenance man could walk into. You never see this type of space allowed for such things these days. I did get that job.

I also gave a proposal to remove the pool equipment and piping. It was behind the employee lockers on the ground floor and basement areas. I must have been too high on that bid though.

This was all around 1992 or 1993. MDACC was apparently looking longer term on this building back in those days.

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I once gave a proposal to replace the cooling towers and associated piping in the HMB building. The cooling towers are located on the high roof behind big architectural louvers. It was an elaborate plan envolving erecting a hoist over the side of the building. It was apparently too expensive though. I also gave a proposal to convert the public toilets to ADA. I was amazed to find a full chase behind each toilet room that a maintenance man could walk into. You never see this type of space allowed for such things these days. I did get that job. I also gave a proposal to remove the pool equipment and piping. It was behind the employee lockers on the ground floor and basement areas. I must have been too high on that bid though. This was all around 1992 or 1993. MDACC was apparently looking longer term on this building back in those days.

In a radio interview on KUHF back when all this started in 2008, Bill Daigneau of MDACC said the old building is slowly falling in on itself. There are visible cracks in ceilings and walls from top to bottom, including the lobby and in the mural itself. It's no longer safe for people to be in it, and repairing it would cost more than demolishing and building new. Also, let's face it. It's just a refitted office building that's not suited for what MD Anderson does. They want something built for medical research and hospital care.

Here's a link to audio and transcript of that story in KUHF's news archives in April of 2008. There also some interesting photos of Peter Hurd painting the mural back in 52.

http://app1.kuhf.org/houston_public_radio-news-display.php?articles_id=31046

For those who wonder why removing the mural is so difficult, here's some information about the "fresco" technique of painting.

"Fresco Painting is one done with earth colors, mixed with distilled water on a specially prepared plaster wall. There are several kinds of mural paintings: Oil paints are used on canvas and the canvas pasted to the wall, and a secco mural, which consists of letting the plaster dry and then painting on the wall tempera color. An example of this is Peter Hurd’s mural in the Prudential Life Insurance Building, Houston, Texas.

A Fresco Mural is one of the most lasting, the most expensive, and the most difficult types of mural decoration. Few artists will even attempt it. There are frescoes in Pompeii, Italy, which were covered with ashes and lava. After they were uncovered, the colors seemed just as brilliant as they were at the time they were painted. An example of another well-known fresco is the evocation of Genesis by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in St. Peter’s in Rome.

Fresco demands perfection in painting; mastering the art of making a perfect joining of one day’s work to the next is also the fresco painter’s goal. The cutting of the edge of the finished part to provide for the next day’s plastering was done before the painting was finished."

Edited by FilioScotia

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Ralph_Bivins_Main_Building_1100_Holcombe.263w_350h.jpg

photo by Ben Hill

Preservationists tried for years to save it. But retrofitting the old building is prohibitively expensive and more land is needed so more cancer patients can be treated in efficient new buildings. And now it’s time for the Prudential Building to go. The building is being fenced in, dismantled and will vanish forever in 2011.

http://culturemap.com/newsdetail/04-05-10-big-heads-and-busted-buildings-prudential-goes-astrodome/

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I'm not in the habit of defending the demolition of an architecturally and historically significant building, but this time I'll make an exception.

It's just not that great of a building. Its purpose has been served, and the time has come for a mercy killing.

Some years ago, medical necessity brought me to this building ( the cause escapes me.) All I remember is that I felt cheap and dirty just walking in the place. To be fair, the Moderne-Meets-International Style of the lobby has some charm. The exterior is attractive, in an unremarkable Gotham City sort of way. The fresco, too, has significance (but then, so do the covers of Collier's or Saturday Evening Post magazines of that era.)

For those unfamiliar with the fresco, it's a dreadful period piece of commercial art depicting emboldened young white men wielding blueprints, and contented Negroes picking cotton. Yes, it should be documented before its demolition if only as a prime example of unfortunate mid-20th Century attitudes. It's not exactly The Last Supper, and the art world can survive the loss even of a fresco.

The rest of the building...oh, how should I put it? Sucks. It sucks. Exit the slow, small elevator and enter a narrow, cramped hallway, leading to featureless, painfully dreary offices. Modern attitudes assert that a medical building should reflect some regard for the patients it serves, and for the people who treat them. Such is not the case here.The place is - how you say? - ratty. Just awful. Perhaps if one was to sink half a billion dollars into the Prudential Life, a sensitive re-adaption could make this facility useful and attractive. The scenario seems unlikely.

If this building deserves to be preserved, then so does Pergatory. It has the approximate charm and utility of a 1949 water heater, and is occupying land which can be - shall be - used for better purposes. The new facility may save lives. Isn't that more important?

Sorry to see it go, but not as sorry as I might be.

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Gotta agree with dbigtex56. That building probably has more personal sentimental value to me then anyone else on this site but having worked there a few years in the late 80's/early 90's it is definitely a building that's seen it's better days.  

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I'm not in the habit of defending the demolition of an architecturally and historically significant building, but this time I'll make an exception.

It's just not that great of a building. Its purpose has been served, and the time has come for a mercy killing.For those unfamiliar with the fresco, it's a dreadful period piece of commercial art depicting emboldened young white men wielding blueprints, and contented Negroes picking cotton.

I don't disagree with your assessment of the building, but I have to ask if we're talking about the same frescoe?

I've examined the frescoe at MD Anderson up close and in person, and nowhere on it will you find "emboldened young white men wielding blueprints, and contented Negroes picking cotton."

What you will see is a ranch, with people of various ethnicities spreading their harvested food out for what appears to be a picnic, children playing in the background, and some men of undeterminable ethnicity loading a hay wagon. Not a cotton field anywhere.

Personally, I think it's an important representation of life in the southwest, as seen through the eyes of an major artist of the 40s and 50s, and Peter Hurd was a major artist and muralist. It's a shame the art world doesn't appear to be interested in preserving it. At least not interested enough to raise the money needed to remove and move the mural somewhere else.

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Does anyone know what might take its place? (Hopefully, nothing beige or any other shade of brown.)

I was hoping/expecting something of at least the same size, wouldn't y'all think the same?

HCAD ownership history says it is owned by Univ. of Texas System Cancer Center, which doesn't give me much of a lead to find any kind of a rendering I don't think. And if demolition is coming up soon, I would think they might have some renderings somewhere already.

My guess is something with a mix of glass and brown stone.

hcad: http://www.hcad.org/records/details.asp?crypt=%94%9A%B0%94%BFg%84%91%83zqj%8El%87tXwXW%9E%99%A2%D3%89%95%C2e%7CU%8A%7C%86%C0%AB%A8%AD%86%5E&bld=1&tab=2

Edited by lockmat

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Does anyone know what might take its place? (Hopefully, nothing beige or any other shade of brown.)

Ah, but we live in the age of beige.

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I'm not in the habit of defending the demolition of an architecturally and historically significant building, but this time I'll make an exception.

It's just not that great of a building. Its purpose has been served, and the time has come for a mercy killing.

Some years ago, medical necessity brought me to this building ( the cause escapes me.) All I remember is that I felt cheap and dirty just walking in the place. To be fair, the Moderne-Meets-International Style of the lobby has some charm. The exterior is attractive, in an unremarkable Gotham City sort of way. The fresco, too, has significance (but then, so do the covers of Collier's or Saturday Evening Post magazines of that era.)

For those unfamiliar with the fresco, it's a dreadful period piece of commercial art depicting emboldened young white men wielding blueprints, and contented Negroes picking cotton. Yes, it should be documented before its demolition if only as a prime example of unfortunate mid-20th Century attitudes. It's not exactly The Last Supper, and the art world can survive the loss even of a fresco.

The rest of the building...oh, how should I put it? Sucks. It sucks. Exit the slow, small elevator and enter a narrow, cramped hallway, leading to featureless, painfully dreary offices. Modern attitudes assert that a medical building should reflect some regard for the patients it serves, and for the people who treat them. Such is not the case here.The place is - how you say? - ratty. Just awful. Perhaps if one was to sink half a billion dollars into the Prudential Life, a sensitive re-adaption could make this facility useful and attractive. The scenario seems unlikely.

If this building deserves to be preserved, then so does Pergatory. It has the approximate charm and utility of a 1949 water heater, and is occupying land which can be - shall be - used for better purposes. The new facility may save lives. Isn't that more important?

Sorry to see it go, but not as sorry as I might be.

The thing I don't like about the MDACC rationale, though, is that their cost estimates are based upon repurposing the building for a medical use. I'd like to see the cost of renovating and leaving it as office space and having MDACC simply build their facilities in a different location. It's not as though there isn't land available in the Mid Campus or South Campus, and it's not as though other TMC institutions aren't willing to go there.

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The thing I don't like about the MDACC rationale, though, is that their cost estimates are based upon repurposing the building for a medical use. I'd like to see the cost of renovating and leaving it as office space and having MDACC simply build their facilities in a different location.

A simple renovation is just cosmetic and easily done, but it won't solve the problem. MDACC Operations VP Bill Daigneau says the foundation is slowly cracking and sinking and this is causing the building's superstructure to pull apart and fall in on itself. There are cracks in ceilings and walls from top to bottom, including the lobby wall with the mural, and they're spreading. MDACC's attitude is that it's beyond saving. He said if they did nothing the building would collapse in a few years.

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A simple renovation is just cosmetic and easily done, but it won't solve the problem. MDACC Operations VP Bill Daigneau says the foundation is slowly cracking and sinking and this is causing the building's superstructure to pull apart and fall in on itself. There are cracks in ceilings and walls from top to bottom, including the lobby wall with the mural, and they're spreading. MDACC's attitude is that it's beyond saving. He said if they did nothing the building would collapse in a few years.

I didn't use the word "simple" to describe a renovation as office space. Obviously whatever repairs are necessary to maintain the structure's integrity would have to be taken into account. And I do acknowledge the plausibility that this building is beyond repair; I've underwritten a few such project proposals before and determined as much. My concern, really, is that MDACC (and certain other TMC institutions) are placing an irrational premium on land (in terms of Dollars and utility) north of the bayou whereas they might should be more actively exploring numerous options to the south.

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Does anyone know what might take its place? (Hopefully, nothing beige or any other shade of brown.)

Found this in the original posted chron article:

William Daigneau, M.D. Anderson's vice president for operations and facilities, said the building will be replaced by a pair of clinic buildings.

I'm not sure how big those normally are.

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I didn't use the word "simple" to describe a renovation as office space. Obviously whatever repairs are necessary to maintain the structure's integrity would have to be taken into account. And I do acknowledge the plausibility that this building is beyond repair; I've underwritten a few such project proposals before and determined as much. My concern, really, is that MDACC (and certain other TMC institutions) are placing an irrational premium on land (in terms of Dollars and utility) north of the bayou whereas they might should be more actively exploring numerous options to the south.

And I didn't intend to imply that you were thinking of a "simple" renovation. I used the word "simple renovation" to make the point that there's a universe of difference between doing a cosmetic renovation, and doing all the work necessary to restore a crumbling building's structural integrity. Clearly, a renovation would cost a helluva lot less than an overhaul, but it's not going to get either one.

I agree with your concerns over the way MDACC has handled its problems with this old building, and the way it's managed its expansion in and around the TMC. As for "options to the south", isn't that sort of what's going on down at the corner of Fannin and OST? Isn't MDACC doing some building there?

And for the poster wondering what the new structure that will replace the Prudential Bldg will look like, I think we can safely predict that in architectural style and general appearance, it will look pretty much just like all the other MDACC buildings between Fannin and Braeswood. Those people are nothing if not predictable.

Edited by FilioScotia

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And I didn't intend to imply that you were thinking of a "simple" renovation. I understand where you're coming from with this old building, and I agree. As for "options to the south", isn't that what's going on down at the corner of Fannin and OST? Isn't MDACC doing some building there?

At some level I'm sure that the Mid- or South Campus has got to be in their long term plans. I just hope that their priorities are straight is all.

I think that its the UTHSC-Houston doing most of the expansion south of OST, btw.

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Word on the street is that October 1 is the goal for the beginning the demolition and conclusion is January 2011. We shall see.

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Word on the street is that October 1 is the goal for the beginning the demolition and conclusion is January 2011. We shall see.

I retired recently and moved far away from Houston, so I'm not up to speed with the status of the Hurd Mural in the old Prudential Building. The last time I heard anything about it, they couldn't find anyone willing to pay the steep cost of removing the mural and storing it, and they couldn't find an art venue willing to create a space for it.

Everybody was wringing their hands saying "oh what a artistic shame this is", but no one was willing to do what is needed to save the mural.

That was the situation as of the first of this year. Has anything changed? Is the mural still doomed?

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From what I understand, both MD Anderson and a museum in New Mexico finally found a donor who is willing to pay to have the mural removed and delivered to the museum in a single piece. Specially trained workers arrived at the building several weeks ago to detach the mural from the ceiling and floor, and encapsulate the entire mural in a gigantic crate that is 20 ft tall and 50 ft wide. The entire front doorway, vestibule, and porte cohere will have to be dismantled to make way for the crate. They will have to go down to the basement to reinforce the floor underneath the lobby to support the load of the crate as it departs the building. A crane will be brought to lift the crate onto a specially commissioned tractor trailer. The trailer will transport the mural to New Mexico with a convoy of bucket trucks to raise any obstructing power lines between here and there. Once the mural has been removed, the demolition of the building will begin immediately.

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From what I understand, both MD Anderson and a museum in New Mexico finally found a donor who is willing to pay to have the mural removed and delivered to the museum in a single piece. Specially trained workers arrived at the building several weeks ago to detach the mural from the ceiling and floor, and encapsulate the entire mural in a gigantic crate that is 20 ft tall and 50 ft wide. The entire front doorway, vestibule, and porte cohere will have to be dismantled to make way for the crate. They will have to go down to the basement to reinforce the floor underneath the lobby to support the load of the crate as it departs the building. A crane will be brought to lift the crate onto a specially commissioned tractor trailer. The trailer will transport the mural to New Mexico with a convoy of bucket trucks to raise any obstructing power lines between here and there. Once the mural has been removed, the demolition of the building will begin immediately.

The only thing I can say to this is "Excellent." I'm glad it is being salvaged.

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