Museum hires engineering firm to evaluate building

The Culberson County Historical Museum Association owns and operates the Clark Hotel Museum.
The Culberson County Historical Museum Association owns and operates the Clark Hotel Museum.

The Culberson County Historical Museum Association board has approved an in-depth study into how to renovate the historic Clark Hotel Museum.

The board has hired Exceed Engineering, LLC, a structural engineering and design firm, for $16,000 to survey the museum building and recommend the best course of action for renovating and restoring the 122-year-old historic structure.

The study will prioritize projects for the museum in the long term. The installation of an HVAC system (currently lacking) is likely at the top of the list. All recommendations are made to be consistent with the “Secretary of the Interiors Standards for Rehabilitation” and to preserve or restore the building’s original historic appearance or character. Other recommendations will likely include bringing the building into compliance with applicable building codes and Texas Accessibility Standards (TAS).

“The study is necessary and long overdue,” museum board president Dan Baeza said. “If you notice in some of the upstairs rooms, the elements and time have not been kind to many objects. The building goes through temperature extremes every year. This is not good for visitors or for preserving artifacts for future generations. Controlling the indoor climate is crucial for most modern museums. If the building were to be retrofitted with a proper HVAC system, it would make the museum more attractive to visitors and potential artifact donors.”

There has not been a comprehensive needs assessment on the building, and repairs have been piecemeal over the years. The most recent major rehab projects conducted addressed the exterior and roof. So the board hopes and expects most of the evaluation will address interior improvements.

Once the structural survey is complete, the price tag to make critical improvements will be outlined, and the museum will most likely have to apply for outside grants for funding. It’s not like the city or county completely has ignored the building either; funding comes from the city (to the tune of $35,000 a year), the county (to the tune of $9,000 a year), and donations. Thanks to their increased funding, the museum started off its 2022 budget with $57,157 in the bank. The 2023 budget is in the works.

According to the proposal with Exceed Engineering, crews will begin surveying the building soon, from the roof to the foundation — work that includes performing a 3D scan of the existing building. The final report will be delivered in late spring or early summer.

It should be known that the museum is set for a temporary closure after the retirement of the museum director, Patricia Golden. Thanks to an agreement between the Town of Van Horn’s Convention Center & Visitors Bureau, Golden operated out of the museum as a tourist information guide.

While serving an essential role as a tourist guide, Golden gave thousands of visitors a glimpse into Van Horn’s history throughout the years. She retires from her dual roles after 15 years of service. The museum board and everyone at the city appreciate Patrica Golden’s dedication over the years.

There are plans to reopen the museum for special events or through the help of volunteers if possible. Until sufficient funding for staffing is secured, the museum will not be open to the public for regular hours. The museum hopes to continue collaborating with the city and develop a plan, so the closure is temporary and not indefinite.

The temporary closure will also allow the board more time to review its policies and do some exhibit maintenance. The museum placed a temporary moratorium on all new acquisitions effective January 1, 2023. A collecting moratorium is a temporary period during which the museum will stop accepting items for the collection. During this period, no unsolicited artifacts will be accepted into the museum.

As the museum enters a major planning phase, combined with a critical lack of staff and the significant growth of the collections over the past years, this measure is necessary to allow time to process all uncatalogued items and plan the reorganization of spaces.

Currently, the main archives room is located in a remote section on the second floor. After some consideration, it was decided that relocating the archives to a more accessible area would better suit the museum’s needs. Thus prompting the closure of the thrift store. The thrift store area will also go on to serve as an administrative office as well. The current office area is housed in the main lobby, the relocation will free up space that can be restored to its historical appearance.

Ahead of the closure, the thrift store will be holding a massive sale Saturday, Feb. 11, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The museum is thankful to everyone who has donated, volunteered or shopped at the store over the years.

To that end, the museum board will likely be looking to hire an Executive Director or part-time individual in the near future. The director will help guide the museum’s overall vision, fundraising efforts, community engagement, and operations and facility management, among other responsibilities.

The Culberson County Historical Museum Association owns and operates the Clark Hotel Museum, the one source of information about our rich local heritage. The current museum board comprises nine members, with one vacancy: President- Dan Baeza, Vice President- Willie Simmons, Secretary- Diff Torres, Treasurer- Heather Knowles, Museum Director- Patricia Golden, Starvanna Cottrell, Yolanda Carmona, Larry Simpson, Pete Torres. The museum board meets on the second Thursday of every month at 6:30 pm in the Clark Hotel Museum lobby. For more information about volunteering, email [email protected].

The Clark Hotel, known as the Cox Building, was built in stages between 1901 and 1929. The lower part housed almost every business in town. Originally built to provide office space, the edifice has housed various activities, including retail, governmental, bar room, and boarding. Housing this kaleidoscope of activities that ranged from governmental agencies to entertainment and vices, the structure for many years functioned as the nucleus of Van Horn.

When Culberson County was organized in April 1911, and Van Horn voted county seat, the commissioner’s court and other county officers occupied part of the structure as a courthouse, as it was the only structure large enough for that purpose. In 1918, Fred Clark, Sr. purchased the structure and converted it to a hotel. After 1968, the building closed except for the Post Office, which moved on Dec. 2, 1978, leaving the building vacant.

In 1971 the building received a Historical Marker from the Texas Historical Commission. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. On March 7, 1979, the Culberson County Historical Society purchased the building. The museum was moved from the Honeycutt House and officially opened on May 25, 1980, as the Clark Hotel Museum.

Today the Clark Hotel Museum displays Native American artifacts, fossils, an old mining car, the old kitchen, parlor, lobby, and many other reminders of the historic past in this part of Far West Texas.


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