Welcoming Wilhelmina Grove

By Mike Emery

Those who knew Wilhelmina Daisy Cullen Robertson Smith will recall her devotion to the arts and the University of Houston.

This fall, the University welcomed a campus enhancement that is named for its longtime supporter and friend.

Wilhelmina Grove officially opened, welcoming arts patrons and members of the Cougar Community who frequent UH’s Arts District. The Grove connects UH’s principal arts venues including Blaffer Art Museum, Moores Opera House, Lyndall Finley Wortham Theatre and the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts. It also offers a versatile outdoor area for personal meditation, conversation and pre-performance activities.

The $2.2 million project was completed just in time for the Alley Theatre’s yearlong residence at UH and to greet the Creative Coogs returning for the fall semester.

An abundance of trees characterizes the Grove’s serene setting, while concrete seating areas offer spaces for socializing and studying. At night, hanging lanterns transform the space into a perfect pavilion to host events before and after plays, concerts or exhibitions.

“I’m especially excited about the new lighting and what the Grove will look like for people who are coming on campus for arts events and performances,” said Jim Johnson, director of UH’s School of Theatre and Dance. “I think many of them will be pleasantly surprised to have this as their first experience of the University of Houston.”

While student artists and campus visitors are enjoying the revamped space, Smith’s family is pleased to see the Grove as yet another chapter in the campus’ evolution.

Her daughter Lillie T. Robertson said the space complements her mother’s passion for both UH and the performing arts.

“It is just the kind of place she’d create – a modern and elegant plaza in an old grove of trees that invites people to gather and enjoy the outdoors,” she said. “My family – Beth Robertson, Corby Robertson, Carroll Ray and Alison Baumann – and I are delighted by its functional beauty that honors her so well.”

The Grove’s namesake was not only a valued friend to the University, she was a proud alumna – having earned her degree in 1944. Smith, who passed away in 2009, was the last surviving daughter of UH’s founding family Hugh Roy Cullen and Lillie Cranz Cullen. Her husband, Corbin J. Robertson, was the namesake of UH’s previous football stadium.

The Grove was made possible through the generosity of supporters, whose contributions totaled $1.7 million. Those who made this project possible include the Cullen Trust for the Performing Arts; Lillie T. Robertson/CJ Foundation Fund of the Greater Houston Community Foundation; The Wortham Foundation Inc.; Carroll R. Ray and Hugh M. Ray/CRL Family Fund of the Greater Houston Community Foundation and Houston Endowment Inc.

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