Building 98 at Fort D.A. Russell has been specially selected as the International Woman’s Foundation headquarters. Formerly an officer’s club and bachelor officer’s quarters, Building 98 is historically a place where officers came to relax and fellowship with their peers. It now stands as a physical reminder of the camaraderie that service men and women shared with each other, and with the local and international communities.
The most exciting treasure contained within its walls are two rooms of oil-on-plaster murals painted by German prisoners of war interned at the camp between 1943 and 1945. Depicting scenes of the surrounding terrain and southwest culture, they are the largest collection and some of the few remaining such murals still in existence. Others have long since been neglected, forgotten and destroyed.
There is an unmistakable friendship evident on these walls — images of peace and tranquility painted by young men longing for home and family — that belie the war that was then engulfing the world-at-large.
Building 98 has maintained much of its historic integrity, having undergone few alterations since the fort closed in 1946. It is a simple, “army issue,” concrete and adobe structure with a pebble-dash exterior, originally roofed with cavalry red rolled roofing. In its simplicity lies an underlying elegance that years of
neglect almost obscured.
Building 98 was registered as a National Historic Site by the United States Department of Interior in February 2004. It was further registered as a Recorded Historic Texas Landmark by the Texas Historic Commission, September 2005. As of January 2007 all of old Fort D. A. Russell was designated a National Historic Monument by the United States Department of Interior.
Rescue of this special building and its incredible murals has been a matter of great urgency. Failing to act would have lost these treasures for future generations. Restoration has been underway since 2003 and will continue.
Building 98 is being restored and rehabilitated by professional preservationists under the guidance of the Texas Historical Commission using the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. The property will finally be transformed into a retreat for artists. The mural rooms will become a unique museum embracing subjects significant to the building itself, such as military history, Texas history, prisoner-of-war art and women’s studies.
Photographs by John B. Chandler
Part of the sympathetic restoration will include conservation of the prisoner-of-war murals. Restoration of the historic officers’ club with its original massive wooden bar, mirrored wall and brass detailing, rehabilitation of the bachelors’ quarters, and restoration of the historic 2000 square foot Ball Room have been accomplished.
Given funds, an additional 4,600 square feet of usable space will be added to further the mission of IWF in enhancing the intellectual, spiritual and physical lives of women in the arts. The facility will be used to host artists in residence who might not otherwise be able to perform or produce their art. It will provide the necessary tools and venue for creating and displaying artwork of all genres. Further plans call for a performance hall and stage, two artist’s studios, a darkroom, woodworking shed and other artist’s tools.
Common areas will allow for mutual mentoring and spiritual rejuvenation. Serene xeriscaped gardens with a medieval design labyrinth will provide private areas for meditation and communication with nature. An on-premises spa, summer pool and private club with dining facilities will complement the experience. A state-of-the-art health center with the most advanced nutrition and healthful aging therapies will operate in one leased wing of the building.
There is no comparable facility to be found.
The foundation’s projects are funded through private club, health center and artist guest rooms, making it a fully self-sustaining venture. IWF docents now invite visitors to experience the murals and the shared heritage of an important period of local and international 20th century history.