A completely new electrical system, costing $7 million, replaced dilapidated electrical switch gears and generators.
The building’s new transformer is a saga unto itself, and it delayed the building’s opening by several months as it was en route through a bottlenecked Panama Canal. When it arrived, it was brought through the large backstage door and then lowered through a giant hole in the stage level to its final home in the basement before the stage was reconstructed. Hogg transformers also power the nearby Biological Laboratories.
“When you do a renovation project of historical significance, it’s tough,” says Ferede. “I think specifically for this building the electrical, the part you don’t see, was really the most challenging. It also happened to coincide with the COVID, and so there were numerous supply-chain issues.”
Ferede describes the old mechanical room as “a mess, with suffocatingly low ceiling heights and closely spaced mechanical equipment.” They doubled the size of the mechanical room underground with a horizontal drilling operation to remove soil. Brand new ductwork was installed in the ceilings, and the building got an all-new water supply.
Then there was the roof. “Before, when it rained, the trash cans had to be scattered everywhere to catch the leaks,” Buckley says. Campbell adds, “We called it ‘water features.’ You literally could not sit in a quarter of the balcony.” A new roof cost another $7 million. They removed the clay Spanish tile, replaced the substrate, and put the original tile back on.
Another big improvement visitors will eventually discover are the restrooms. “People used to come to events and could miss almost the entire show waiting for a restroom, particularly women,” Buckley says. In the ladies’ restroom, there were signs in every stall reading: “Do not flush during performances.” They have replaced the two restrooms with no fewer than 14, most of which are single-occupancy, including several that are handicap accessible. The balcony level, which previously had no restrooms, now has four.
Lee Bash, UT’s longtime executive director of development events, associates Hogg with large annual events he produced for UT’s Littlefield Society donors. Some 15 years ago, he brought in 1950s pop phenom Patti Page. “We discovered during setup that there were bats flying around in Hogg auditorium, far out of reach. Obviously we couldn’t have a theater filled with our top donors with bats flying about.” He called facilities, and they dispatched “bat wranglers,” brave custodians armed with long poles with nets at the end. “As you can imagine, this did not go smoothly,” Bash recalls smiling. “The bats proved to be quite elusive. After watching for a while, I excused myself and asked them to let me know when, and if, they were successful. I got a call later that day to say they had indeed caught the bats, after significant wrangling time. The next year, or maybe two, we had to do it all again.”
Campbell says if the backstage doors are left open for any amount of time, “they will be guests in the building.” But Bash is hopeful that with the restoration, fewer bats may taking the stage.
The Visible Improvements
“The first thing you saw was peeling paint,” says Campbell of the lobby. That is gone — in its place, new ornamental woodwork that dampens the acoustics in the lobby and was inspired by the geometric shapes of the original carved plaster surrounding the stage.
The box office in the lobby and the vestibule between the lobby and the auditorium were removed, and the interior doors veneered. The side doors, which were solid wood, were rotten and have been replaced by replicas.