Annette Conwell had to speak loudly Thursday over the whirring of fans and dehumidifiers working to dry out the first floor of the Butler Longhorn Museum.
“Hurricane Harvey stampeded the Butler Longhorn Museum, we like to say,” Conwell said. She’s president of the museum’s board.
Nearby, Clear Creek overflowed its banks in late August during Hurricane Harvey and flooded the museum that was once the home of Walter Hall at 1220 Coryell St. The city had bought the property after Hall, a businessman and prominent resident, died in 2000.
Estimates from the city’s insurance carriers place the cost of repairs between $50,000 and $100,000, Information Technology Director Ryan Smith said. He also oversees city-owned facilities.
The education building in the back of the property was flooded with 3 feet to 5 feet of water, while about 3 inches of water got into the main building, Smith said.
“Both of the structures are in the process of remediation, Sheetrock removal, cleaning and testing,” Smith said. “Once that is complete, we will start the rebuild.”
The city will rebuild the infrastructure, but the museum board has to pay for extras, including the murals now split horizontally where workers cut wet drywall away.
“We worked hard trying to take it to another step, and now we’re back where we started,” Conwell said.
None of the museum’s artifacts were ruined, Conwell said. She credits that to pre-hurricane preparation of Monica Hughes, the museum’s director.
“Monica got everything to the second floor,” Conwell said. “She got everything on tables, too.
“If she had not done it, we would have lost so much.”
The collection of memorabilia and factual exhibits are tributes to the longhorn cattle breeding efforts of the Butler family. Longhorn skulls with horns, mounted longhorn heads, antique furniture, almost-life-size cutouts of John Wayne and an assortment of movie posters of Westerns fill the building. Art exhibits include paintings of longhorns and statues made of guns.
“There’s an ounce of Butler longhorn blood in every longhorn alive today,” Hughes said.
And while the main building took in about 3 inches of water, in some places water seeped in and stayed. A built-in stage is one place where the water hid, and workers have torn out the wood.
The elevator in the museum could have saved the museum from more damage. Crews pumped out 23 55-gallon drums of water from the elevator shaft, Hughes said.
Hughes went to the museum while it was still flooded, she said. She has pictures on her cellphone that show the floodwater reaching the top of a window in the back building. She walked in knee-deep water to check on the main building, she said. Thin dark lines on the painted white walls don’t show the highest point of flooding, but they do indicate where the water settled for the longest time, Hughes said.
The biggest physical loss to the museum are the murals painted on the drywall that soaked up those 3 inches of floodwater like flat sponges. Wells Fargo & Co. had paid $20,000 to artists to create the murals, and Hughes was on the phone Thursday to ask whether Wells Fargo could again help in replacing them.
But there’s another loss. The museum won’t be able to hold any events in its space for a couple of months at least, Hughes said. The city closed the building for the months of October and November while it makes basic structural repairs.
“We’ve had to turn 240 people away,” Hughes said about visitors to the museum.
The museum, filled with exhibits explaining the Butler longhorn cattle bloodlines, began as a city project that opened in 2009.
Critics said the city museum was racking up runaway costs. The city, no longer willing to subsidize the project, asked the museum board to foot the bills. In 2009, the city phased out the financial responsibilities to the museum board. The city’s annual budget to operate the museum was $230,000 a year with three full-time employees.
Ticket sales alone aren’t generating enough money for the museum, which began booking events to increase revenues. That led to outside weddings and other events with live music that bothered neighbors who complained to the police.
The museum board was paying $100 a month to lease the city building, but after the museum could no longer hold outdoor events, it had no revenue to pay utility and other basic costs.
In April, the city agreed to take over the costs. For 2017, the city is paying $35,000 and will pay $65,000 in 2018.
That doesn’t include the storm damage of $50,000 to $100,000, but the city’s insurance would cover those expenses, officials said.
The museum has also had to cancel four inside events and at least two fundraising shows have moved to another venue.
An Oct. 27 fundraiser for the museum featuring the Manhattan Dolls, a swing-style act that performs songs from the 1930s and 1940s, had to move from the closed museum to the Fiesta Shack behind Esteban’s Cafe and Cantina, 402 W. Main St., in League City.
Besides its ongoing fundraising efforts, the museum board is asking for donations to replace a damaged refrigerator, chairs and tables, Conwell said.
And another way the museum is raising money is selling $20 calendars featuring photos of League City men conservatively dressed as cowboys.
“There’s no skin,” Conwell said.
As challenging as Harvey’s damage is, the other political and economical challenges the museum has faced were more daunting, Hughes said.
“We’re going to reopen,” Hughes said. “We’re here, we’re going to remain here, and we’re going to prevail.”