Houston’s Wortham Theater Center, Weeks After Harvey Struck

Houston’s Wortham Theater Center, Weeks After Harvey Struck
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The ballet orchestra seats at the Wortham Theater Center, parts of which were flooded with up to 12 feet of water during Hurricane Harvey. Credit Gerald Llorence/Houston First Corporation

HOUSTON — After Tropical Storm Allison battered this city in 2001, the Wortham Theater Center — home to the Houston Grand Opera and the Houston Ballet — was fitted with precautionary storm doors to help reduce flooding in the future. Yet Hurricane Harvey proved too much for the building’s lower floors, as a tour in late September by journalists and photographers made clear.

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Lengthy plastic tubes and funnels are operating as air ducts throughout the Wortham. Credit Gerald Llorence/Houston First Corporation

Electricity is now supplied by a large and noisy generator outside the building. Long air ducts — large plastic tubes or funnels — run everywhere, even to the upstairs foyers. An indoor lake consumed the carpet at the front of the main theater’s auditorium (now covered in plastic sheets); fortunately the orchestra pit was sealed off.

The smell of this area remained one of extensive and pervasive damp. The waters covered the focal point of any theater — the stage, not yet completely dry. An entirely new stage may be required.

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One of the orchestra pits at the Wortham. Credit Gerald Llorence/Houston First Corporation

The full havoc that descended on the Wortham, however, becomes evident only on a visit to the corridors beneath the orchestra pit. Before Harvey arrived, Houston Grand Opera’s staff raised costumes, footwear, and other properties high above floor level — not as high, though, as the stunning levels reached by the flood. The maestro’s office is now a dump for black bags containing ruined items. The ballet corps dressing rooms look as if they have been vandalized (mirrors broken, floors muddy, furniture tipped over).

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Dressing room damage at the Wortham, one month after Hurricane Harvey. Credit Alastair Macaulay

Yet the ballet company was relatively lucky. Since 2011, it has had a separate Center for Dance, where costumes and shoes were stored.

Some of the Wortham’s worst stenches have come from boxes of opera boots and thousands of shoes, which rotted after the storm. Other sources of toxicity — the dye cupboard, for example — have been addressed. The waters wrecked floors, walls, ceilings and all the building’s electrical, mechanical and air-conditioning systems. Many surfaces have already been stripped by repair work.

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