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DHAHRAN: Across the smooth road, overlooking rows of cookie-cutter tin houses with manicured lawns, lies a serene time capsule where heritage and nostalgia collide.

Located at 12th Street and Ibis Avenue in what were known as Houses 1220 and 1222—among the first to be built in the Dhahran camp in 1938—the renovated historic houses now house the Community Heritage Gallery.

It feels like being welcomed into someone’s home.

The juxtaposition of modern elements with historical artifacts and memorabilia creates a distinctive atmosphere. (AN photos)

It was originally occupied by Dr. TC Alexander and his family in the 1940s. He was probably best known for being one of the first permanent doctors to move to Dhahran to work and live.

He helped initiate a regional vaccination program and helped Aramco’s health system thrive during his tenure. Alexander’s wife, eager to make her way within the community, hosted the inaugural meeting of the Dhahran Women’s Group in their home in 1946, a group that is still active today.

HIGHEASY

Aramco is well known for being the place where black gold was found in the 1930s and for overnight changing the course of the Kingdom and the history of the world.

Later, Fouad Saleh, the executive director of community services, became a champion of establishing what he called a “Saudi Aramco museum” – a place where the history of Aramco and its people would be preserved and presented for enjoyment by the community inside. a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

The juxtaposition of modern elements with historical artifacts and memorabilia creates a distinctive atmosphere. (AN photos)

Saleh’s vision was realized well after the Alexanders moved. Their former home officially became a gallery focusing on Aramco heritage and artifacts, opened to the public in 1992.

The opening was attended by Hisham Nazer, then Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources and a chairman of the Saudi Aramco board, and Aramco’s first Saudi chairman, Ali Al-Naimi, who was also CEO at the time.

Al-Naimi started working at the company in the late 1940s and rose through the ranks to become Aramco’s chairman from 1984 to 1995. His 2016 autobiography, Out of the Desert: My Journey from Nomadic Bedouin to the Heart of Global Oil, is prominently displayed on the Heritage Gallery shelf.

There are other books on the shelves, many of which have been donated.

Hassan Bouholaigah, a Saudi creative who grew up in Dhahran and now lives in Riyadh, was walking around the neighborhood in his spare time when he happened upon the Heritage Gallery.

“I’m on vacation visiting family here. I grew up in Aramco, so it was very nostalgic to walk around,” Bouholaigah told Arab News. “I just happened to see a classic red car parked outside so I was a bit intrigued and decided to pop in.”

Upon entering, he noticed the framed pictures of former Aramco presidents on the wall.

“For me, it was very interesting just to see the transition. And then the next thing that caught my eye was just the library, which basically had a lot of yearbooks,” he said. Although he didn’t attend the Aramco school himself, he was excited to stumble across a 2008 7th grade yearbook that contained pages of photos of friends he used to play ball with after school. He quickly snapped photos to send to those friends, some of whom he is still in touch with today.

He also appreciated how the gallery diversified beyond the obvious company artefacts and showcased the community’s culture and its wider contribution to local society.

“I like how they don’t just focus on oil. You can see pictures of the place where the first house was built for Saudis. You can see some pictures from the high schools – from the first women’s school they built in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

The juxtaposition of modern elements with historical artifacts and memorabilia creates a distinctive atmosphere that serves as a time capsule for the community and the country.

Aramco is well known for being where black gold was found in the 1930s and overnight changing the course of the Kingdom and world history. The gallery showcases various milestones the company has hit over the decades.

It is evident as you roam the space that Aramco’s influence extends beyond oil, contributing significantly to the social and cultural fabric of the region and beyond.

Seeing the community evolve through these artifacts must have been a poignant reminder of how the company shaped lives and broader societal change over the decades. The nostalgic feelings shared by the “Aramco boys” – those who grew up in the camp pillar – reflect a strong sense of identity and community that has been cultivated over the years. Many have returned to pay tribute to the space that helped shape them by donating books and yearbooks to the gallery.

There is also a majlis in the back, which people can hire for private events or to watch one of the films produced by Aramco from their film library.

The Heritage Gallery is located opposite the Dhahran Leisure Library and does not require a ticket.

The gallery is open 7am to 6pm Sunday to Wednesday, 7am to 9pm Thursday and 3pm to 9pm Friday.

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