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DHAHRAN: Across the smooth road, overlooking the rows of typical clapboard houses with manicured lawns of Aramco Camp, lies a tranquil time capsule where heritage and nostalgia collide.

The renovated historic houses on 12th Street and Ibis Avenue, in the so-called Houses 1220 and 1222 – which were among the first to be built in the Dhahran Camp in 1938 – 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 special atmosphere. (AN photos)

It was originally inhabited by Dr. TC Alexander and his family in the 1940s. He was perhaps best known as one of the first doctors to move permanently to work and live in Dhahran.

He helped initiate a regional vaccination program and contributed to the success of Aramco’s health system during his tenure. Alexander’s wife, who wanted to make her own way in the community, hosted the founding meeting of the Dhahran Women’s Group at her home in 1946, a group that is still active today.

HIGHLIGHT

Aramco is known as the place where black gold was discovered in the 1930s, changing the course of the kingdom’s and the world’s history overnight.

Later, Fouad Saleh, the executive director of community services, pushed for the creation of what he called a “Saudi Aramco Museum” – a place to preserve and present the history of Aramco and its people for the community to enjoy in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

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

Saleh’s vision did not become a reality until long after the Alexanders left. Their former home officially became a gallery focusing on cultural heritage and Aramco artifacts, opening to the public in 1992.

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

Al-Naimi began working for the company in the late 1940s and rose through the ranks to become Aramco’s president 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’s bookshelf.

There are also other books on the shelves, many of which were donated.

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

“I’m here on vacation, visiting my family. I grew up at Aramco, so it was very nostalgic just walking around here,” Bouholaigah told Arab News. “I happened to see a red vintage car parked outside, so I was a bit curious and decided to just go inside.”

As he entered, he noticed the framed pictures of former Aramco presidents on the wall.

“For me, it was really interesting to see the transition. And then the next thing I noticed was the library, which basically had a ton of yearbooks,” he said. Although he didn’t attend the Aramco school himself, he was happy to randomly pull out a 2008 7th grade yearbook that had pages of photos of friends he played ball with after school. He quickly snapped photos to send to those friends, some of whom he’s still in touch with today.

He also appreciated how the gallery offered a diverse range of offerings beyond the company’s obvious artifacts, showcasing the community’s culture and its broader contribution to local society.

“I like that it’s not just about oil. You can see pictures of the first house built for Saudis. You can see pictures of secondary schools – the first girls’ school they built in Saudi Arabia,” he said.

By juxtaposing modern elements with historical artifacts and memorabilia, a special atmosphere is created that serves as a time capsule for the community and the country.

Aramco is known as the place where black gold was discovered in the 1930s, changing the course of the kingdom’s and the world’s history overnight. The gallery showcases various milestones the company has achieved over the decades.

As you wander around the area, it becomes clear that Aramco’s influence goes beyond oil and that the company makes a significant contribution to the social and cultural fabric of the region and beyond.

Watching the community evolve through these artifacts must have been a poignant reminder of how the company shaped people’s lives and general societal changes over the decades. The nostalgic feelings of the “Aramco-Börgel” – those who grew up in the camp – reflect a strong sense of identity and community that has been cultivated over the years. Many have returned to pay tribute to the place that shaped them by donating books and yearbooks to the gallery.

There is also a Majlis at the rear that can be rented for private events or used to watch a film produced by Aramco from the film library.

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

The gallery is open Sunday to Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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