The newspaper had a pretty good display today on the SandRidge project, but space didn’t allow for every photo to be printed or for everything I wrote.
So let’s start with a visual inventory first.
I’m not sure the loss of either of these first two buildings will prompt much shedding of tears. But here comes the part I know will trouble some folks….
The India Temple Building, is, from all the research I’ve done, the oldest significant structure still standing downtown. Built in 1902, the building once housed the state legislature. And either in the 1950s or 1960s, Kerr-McGee, with the assistance of Frankfurt-Short-Bruza, did this:
SandRidge Energy could have torn all of these buildings down, no questions asked, as recently as four years ago. But the creation of the Downtown Design Review Committee ended the days of demolition without public input. SandRidge must get permission first from the committee. If the committee votes against any of these applications, SandRidge can either comply with the order or appeal to the Board of Adjustment. And if that appeal is not upheld, the company can then take the matter to district court.
So let’s delve further into the India Temple Building before moving on to the final structure. SandRidge CEO Tom Ward calls this building as it appears now an “eyesore.” I doubt anyone would argue that. But is the real building, one that would be a magical recovery of our past (ala the Skirvin), just waiting to be rediscovered and brought back to life?
Architect Anthony McDermid was once part of a team chosen by Kerr-McGee to redevelop these old buildings into housing. The team did a lot of work – they obtained TIF money to tear down the old YMCA building and replace it with a modern garage for the Kerr-McGee workers and the future residents of the Braniff Tower and neighboring KerMac Building. The deal fell apart just as they were about to seek building permits. From the start, McDermid shied away from stating any plans for the India Temple Building.
Three years later, McDermid admits they likely never would have pursued housing for the 107-year-old building.
Here’s what didn’t make today’s paper:
The building at 111 Robert S. Kerr, would, at first glance, seem to be most historic property on the block. The building, built in 1902, briefly housed the state legislature and its ornate façade, if it still existed, would be a unique reminder of an era that was removed entirely during the Urban Renewal era.
But McDermid, who surveyed the buildings extensively, said he came to the same conclusion reached by SandRidge Energy – the former India Temple building was too far damaged by Kerr-McGee to be restored.
“We even had someone from the State Historical Preservation Office look at it,” McDermid said. “He came, we walked the entire building and evaluated what was going on with it. It had been so altered – a new floor had been added into the two-story lobby, it had been torn up inside, and while we never pulled the outside panels, we had eyewitness reports the exterior features had been sawn off.”
McDermid has no involvement with SandRidge Energy, the campus makeover, or any of the old buildings. So one might conclude he’s a good neutral judge of whether the India Temple Building could be brought back to life.
Consider this account by yet another team of respected developers who looked at the building in the early 1990s:
Mark Ruffin, Nicholas Preftakes and Jim Parrack looked at the odds of renovating the buildings and walked away.
“The bones weren’t really that conducive,” Ruffin said. “They had low clearance heights, they had significant asbestos issues. From a functional standpoint, they just weren’t that conducive.”
That’s a lot of damning expertise. And yet something else makes me wonder if more should be known before calling out the wrecking ball. Consider the testimony of a dying man I reported in a column three years ago as McDermid’s housing project was falling apart due to the demise of Kerr-McGee:
I wanted to share Bob Maidt’s story at a triumphant moment. Maidt and his son Bob Maidt Jr. were veterans in the plastering business, and I was first introduced to Bob Maidt Jr. when he helped me understand the pros and cons in the use of EIFS stucco in new construction.The visit about the Kerr-McGee campus building would be their last. That night, Maidt Sr. died. Ironically, the story that sparked the Maidts’ visit had been written a couple weeks earlier — intended to run at a later date. Had the story been delayed one more day, the information needed to restore the India Temple building to its original facade might have disappeared forever.
In March, I wrote a story about a building on the Kerr-McGee campus that was to be part of a condominium development. At first glance, the building at Broadway and Robert S. Kerr Avenue in Oklahoma City is hardly spectacular. But developer and architect Anthony McDermid was aware that the concrete facade covered up a historic facade that dated back to 1902. The building, far from a forgettable Urban Renewal addition to downtown, is a true gem — and its restoration would give back a bit of history in an area that lost much of its past in the 1960s and 1970s.
But McDermid had no information on how the fake facade was added or whether the original India Temple facade was still intact. Before and after photos were printed with my story, and Bob Maidt Jr. immediately recognized the project as one completed by his ailing father. Maidt Jr. later e-mailed saying he approached his father, who was bed ridden, and memories started to flow.
The elder Maidt, 82, had been released from the hospital a couple of weeks earlier, with doctors telling the family they could do no more to relieve the man’s failing health.
“He did most of the Kerr-McGee work, so I figured it was his job,” Maidt Jr. said. “I went over in the afternoon, after work, and he seemed pretty excited. It perked him right up — put a gleam in his eyes. He said, ‘Oh yeah, I remember doing that.’”
Maidt Sr. not only recalled the job, but also told his son where to find the job files and photos of the new facade’s installation. The original building, he said, wasn’t seriously damaged during the 1960s-era renovation.
For Maidt Jr., the conversation was a chance to relive the days when the pair worked together, running the family business. Their plastering business had been started a century earlier by Maidt Jr.’s grandfather’s uncle, Albert Maidt (who also was one of the founders of Twin Hills Golf and Country Club). The family business had passed from one generation to another until it closed in 1997.
When I last spoke to Bob Maidt Jr., he indicated the paperwork and plans from the job were safe and could be provided to anyone wanting to delve deeper into whether the building could be saved. SandRidge reports the building’s facade was shaved off and is lost forever.
These two accounts, at first glance, appear to be in direct contradiction of each other. And as we know from the example set by Steve Mason along NW 9, what may appear to be a hopeless cause may simply be a question of commitment. I don’t think anyone would blame Tom Ward or SandRidge for wanting to get rid of the India Temple Building. But it’s up to the members of the Downtown Design Review Committee (some of whom read this blog) to decide how much dillegence is needed to see whether the India Temple Building, as with the original first two stories of the Skirvin, can be restored.
And now for the final target for demolition – the old KerMac Building. Standing at 135 Robert S. Kerr Ave., the 11-story, 155,911-square-foot building was built in 1921 and was once Kerr-McGee’s headquarters.
McDermid’s one concern with the SandRidge plan is the old KerMac Building. He knows it can be salvaged – it was part of the Braniff Towers project. And even today there are developers who have make their interest in converted to housing known to SandRidge.
So the building can be salvaged, and there are good prospects for adaptive re-use. Further, SandRidge Energy plans to create an open plaza where there is now a strong urban streetfront. The entrance would create a gap – the sort of thing that pedestrian consultant Jeff Speck described as a sap on walkability and urban life.
Folks, this is the plan. But it’s not final, and there’s a process ahead for determining whether some, all or none of SandRidge’s planned demolition comes to pass. In my stories today, I quote historian Bob Blackburn in pointing out that preservation doesn’t mean saving EVERY old building. Let the discussion begin.