The ongoing coverage of the SandRidge application to tear down several buildings on its downtown campus has me reflecting on the following argument: if some of these buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, which is when one structure, the former Braniff headquarters, was listed, why would they be deemed historic now?
Isn’t it convenient that I delved into the history of the Braniff building being listed in the following December article? After reading it again, I’m left to wonder if there was even a chance for the other buildings to be listed considering the opposition Kerr-McGee attempted to the listing of the Braniff building. Read on:
The placement of the Braniff building on the National Register of Historic Places 30 years ago didn’t hurt its chances of surviving the wrecking ball — especially now that such status is taken into account by Downtown Design guidelines passed three years ago by Oklahoma City that govern the central business district.
Documents show the placement of the building on the register in 1980 was unsuccessfully disputed by its then owner, Kerr-McGee Corp.
The 10-story, 75,584-square-foot building was built in 1923 by Thomas Braniff for his insurance agency and was later home to the airline he founded, Braniff Airways, until he moved operations to Dallas in the early 1940s. The 1970 application to the register by historian Bob Blackburn cited that legacy, noting Braniff was one of the city’s most “successful and influential businessmen,” and also noted it was designed by the city’s foremost architect of the early 20th century, Andrew Solomon Layton.
P.A. Puttroff, vice president at Kerr-McGee, argued the company never received mailed notification of the building’s placement on the register and also questioned its historic significance. By that point the company had already erected a false concrete covering to hide the formerly ornate facade of the former India Temple building that, having been built in 1902, was one of downtown’s oldest surviving structures.
“Numerous buildings which were the product of Mr. Layton’s various firms, including the Skirvin Plaza Hotel, the Oklahoma Capitol, the Oklahoma Historical Society Building, Central High School, that are of more architectural merit are already on the National Register,” Puttroff wrote in a Sept. 25, 1980 letter. “This assures that future generations will be able to view the work of one of Oklahoma’s premier pioneer architects without the necessity of placing one of his lesser works on the National Register.”
H. Glenn Jordan, then director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, was not impressed with such arguments.
In a response to Puttroff on Oct. 14, 1980, Jordan wrote:
“Kerr-McGee claims never to have received our notification letter but we are not held to account for the U.S. Postal Service. Furthermore, in our opinion certain comments made by Kerr-McGee to demonstrate the building is not significant are very weak.”