In 1910, the school term began a bit later in Oklahoma City than it does these days. The Oklahoman published a story Sept. 12, 1910, announcing the completion or near completion of six new schools. The story read:
“The list includes six new buildings, namely: Lowell, Culbertson, Whittier, Wheeler, Lee and the high school. The Whittier school will not be completed and ready for occupancy until next week. Arrangements, however, have been made to take care of the students temporarily at the Willard, which is nearby. The high school building also is in an incomplete stage, but enough rooms have been put in order to take care of the student body for the present. Another month will probably elapse before the building will be complete in every sense of the word.
“The Wheeler school, in east Capitol Hill, and Lee in west Capitol Hill, also are incomplete. The former, however, it is said, will be ready for occupancy in two weeks. A month or more probably will elapse before the Lee can be thrown open. Churches and store rooms have been rented to furnish temporary quarters for the children.”
In this throwaway age, I was pleasantly surprised to find that these buildings still exist and that all but one of them still is being used.
Lee and Wheeler elementary schools, at 424 SW 29 and 501 SE 25, are still in use as elementary schools and are celebrating their centennial this year. Whittier school was the second home of Oklahoma State University Technical Institute. The institute used it for some classes for about 12 years after moving to a new building in 1971. Next, the Community Action Agency moved in, now using it for storage. The Central High School building, 800 N Harvey, is now home to American Farmers and Ranchers Mutual Insurance and has been proposed as a site for the new downtown elementary school.
The Culbertson school was listed in the “Architectural/Historical Survey of Oklahoma City’s Historic School Buildings” prepared for the Criterion Group and submitted February 2001 as “may still be standing.” A drive by the building at 1200 NE 13 certainly shows a building, that could conceal the Culbertson school building under a brick facade. It houses the state Department of Mental Health and Substances Abuse Services and the Oklahoma County Crisis Intervention Center.
The truly sad note is Lowell school at 600 N High. It is the only building not being used today. It was the home for F.D. Moon Middle School, Page-Woodson and the old Douglass High School. It now sits boarded up and in disrepair and appears on Oklahoma’s Most Endangered Historic Places list. The Oklahoma City School District still owns it. Perhaps instead of letting it crumble from disuse, some MAPS dollars could be used to re-create Lowell school as the new downtown elementary school.
All of these buildings are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
In this 100th year, let’s join Lee and Wheeler schools as they celebrate their centennials. And let’s hope that all six have an additional 100 years of service in them.