Heritage, Volume 10, Number 3, Summer 1992 Page: 9
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By Julie Napier
A Ithough the train no longer
stops at the depot across the street to
deliver guests to the Grace Hotel, the
former grandeur and activity of the 83year-old
structure has returned. Once
considered the finest accommodations
between Fort Worth and El Paso, the
former Grace Hotel now houses an art
museum, a children's participatory museum,
and a history museum.
The Grace Cultural Center has been
as successful as its namesake and is destined
for as great if not greater fame.
After three-and-a-half months, the center
has hosted 17,471 visitors and 5,000
more individuals on organized tours,
eclipsing the annual 15,000 visitor attendance
at the museum's previous location.
This "Gem of West Texas" is the
result of six years of dreaming, planning,
fundraising, and community cooperation.
Conceived in the mind of Frank
Murray, a volunteer for the Abilene
Preservation League, the original idea for
the Grace Cultural Center consisted of
renovating two floors, 20,000 square feet,
for a combination of uses including a
restaurant and new facilities for the
Abilene Fine Arts Museum. Credibility
was given to the idea of moving the
Museum by a downtown revitalization
plan commissioned by the city. The plan
called for a cultural center to be constructed
in the vicinity of the downtown
civic center. Although the plan suggested
the demolition of numerous historic
structures, it recognized the architectural
and historical significance of the Grace.
Grace Center photograph by Steve Butman
Murray's motivation in this project
was purely altruistic - find a use for the
historic Grace and preserve the structure
for future generations. He discussed
the idea with museum president Ted
Paup and other community leaders. An
opportunity to purchase the Grace
property prompted the A.P.L. to approach
the Abilene Fine Arts Museum
board with a no-risk proposal. The
Abilene Preservation League would raise
the money to renovate two floors if the
Museum would agree to occupy and
operate the space. In need of more room
and encouraged by staff, the 50-year-old
organization consented to a formal review
of the proposal.
The Museum created an ad hoc committee
of community leaders to thoroughly
review the proposal and other
options for the future of the Museum.
Although a bond election to construct a
new arts facility in downtown had recently
failed, several committee members
believed that route to be the best for
Abilene's future. For the members who
saw a possibility in using the Grace, the
proposal still faced many obstacles.
Two major concerns regarding the
old hotel plagued the committee. The
first was the lack of parking. The Grace
is located on the corner of a block of
historic buildings with the nearest open
parking lots across busy South First Street
and nearly two blocks behind the building.
Meeting city zoning requirements
and providing convenient parking would
be difficult. The second concern reflected
a common negative perception of a vacant
and unattractive downtown. Com
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 10, Number 3, Summer 1992, periodical, Summer 1992; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45419/m1/9/: accessed March 23, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.