“It’s future is as good as gold….” Um, not so fast.
As debate continues over the future of the Gold Dome, I’m digging up videos and information provided by preservationists on why they think the structure is worth saving. Have no doubt, an effort is underway to prevent a repeat of past protests … and while the owner, David Box, has not yet filed for a demolition permit with Urban Design, that does not mean he is promising to keep the structure standing.
Okie Mod Squad has a great history you can read here. Note, the building is listed as one of 100 best buildings in central Oklahoma by the Central Oklahoma Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Architects Newspaper blog, meanwhile, noted after learning about Box’s demolition plan that “Oklahoma City just cannot tear down its architectural landmarks fast enough.”
Oklahoma City has won accolades in recent months from the architectural community with both a cover story on Architectural Record magazine and top honors from the National Architectural Foundation. But will those accolades turn to jeers if two nationally respected properties – Stage Center and the Gold Dome -are torn down in the same year?
There are assumptions being made that because Dr. Irene Lam lost the Gold Dome in foreclosure that it’s a failed property that can’t be saved. Lam is an optometrist. Her heart may have been in the right place, but tenants during her tenure argued she did not know how to manage or develop the property. She had no such experience.
I am hearing interest in the development community in buying the Gold Dome, preserving it and giving it a new life. But whether they can pay the price Box paid remains a question. He is seen as having paid too much for the structure – and the question is out there among critics as to whether he did so assuming he could easily raze the Gold Dome and replace it with a gas station or other commercial use taking advantage of the high traffic count at NW 23 and Classen (he denied having intent to tear it down when he bought it).
Box is now engaging with the preservation community on their Facebook page, and it will be interesting to see if they can provide him with a way forward that keeps the dome intact.
Weather permitting, it is likely many of you will be excited to see some activity at the long vacant Rock Island Plow Building at Oklahoma and Reno Avenues in Bricktown.
Don’t celebrate yet.
Let’s get into some background first; the building, built in 1909, has been vacant since the early 1980s when it was targeted for redevelopment by original Bricktown developer Neal Horton. During research for my book OKC Second Time Around, I learned that Horton was bewildered when he first walked into the building and found all the desks, paperwork, equipment and furnishings still in place even though the final operation in the building had ceased years earlier. It was, as his architect Don Beck noted, as if the employees left on a Friday and simply never returned.
The building was eventually boarded up, and has remained empty ever since. Avis and Phil Scaramuci bought the building a few years ago, spent quite a bit of money to prevent the building from collapsing, but have done nothing in the years since.
As time passed, the rest of Bricktown has continued to move forward and Avis Scaramuci has been singled out for criticism by the online community and others.
Richard McKown, who worked with the Scaramuci’s son Wade, a respected London architect, on the Level Urban Apartments in Deep Deuce, confirms he is now doing some exploratory work on what it will take to bring the Rock Island Plow Building back to life.
The boards will be removed from the building Tuesday and Wednesday, weather permitting. Then, on Thursday, a historic surveyor will inspect the building’s window openings. And on Friday, the boards will go back up over the windows.
There is no deal yet. But this also is cause to have hope.
I’m always grateful that with news holes (space for story copy) so tight in newspapers around the country, I’m still able to get some in-depth coverage to you the readers. Such was the case today with my story on Film Row - except that renderings I really wanted to share with you didn’t make the cut in print, or apparently, online.
So without any further delay, here’s a look at what’s coming up:
Yesterday I posted some great photos taken by Will Hider while he and I toured “the lost city.” One building we discovered, one neither of us had ever noticed before, was the stunning Voss Building.
Thanks to Bradley Wynn, we also have some photos from the Oklahoma Historical Society to provide us with a glimpse of the building when it was home to Voss Truck Lines.
It’s been an … odd week. It’s been a long week. Not all is well at City Hall. Not all is well with Project 180. Worked much of the week with a bad cold. Then there was the devastating news of Pulitzer Prize winner and loyal Oklahoma City hometown boy Anthony Shadid dying in Syria. Yet there’s much to celebrate. Much that is going well. Oklahoma City is, in many ways, blessed.
So what do we need to look forward to next week?
We now know that the mysterious operators of “Exhale,” the restaurant? club? bar? planned for NW 15 and Broadway have withdrawn their application for ABC (alcohol zoning) at next week’s Planning Commission. Is the development dead? Don’t know, but wouldn’t assume anything.
Another building is threatened. Apparently the successful transformation of funky old buildings along NW 23 by the Good Egg Group and the “taco twins” isn’t enough to convince the owner of the old Hemi’s Pizza at 1007 NW 23 to fix the place up and lease it again. The Urban Design Committee is being asked by the owner, Monireh Mohamadi, for permission to raze the building with no plans for putting anything in its place.
The building has been empty for a few years, and a lack of TLC has left it a bit too obscured for anyone to appreciate what’s behind the overgrown trees, brush and debris. But assistant planner Paul Ryckbost did some research and determined there’s definitely a building worth saving. He’s recommending the demolition be denied. Paul asked my help in finding a historic photo of the property. I search Oklahoman archives, Retro Metro OKC archives, but found nothing. I know that Paul did extensive research as well. And it was that research, which turned up that this property was first opened in 1958 as the home of Richard Lee Portrait Studio, that allowed me to find out how the building originally appeared when it opened:
The owner, for those of you who might be wondering about this sort of thing, lives in a $1.6 million mansion in Nichols Hills.
Gotta wonder…. can we get a competition going between Keith and the taco twins to make this their next great eatery on NW 23? When this owner or his representatives show up at the Urban Design meeting (3 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall) and argue there is no hope for this property, no one wants to lease it, will anyone show up and show otherwise?
Our friend Charles Hill over at Dustbury brings this great quote to our attention:
“Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves. Even when we had Penn Station, we couldn’t afford to keep it clean. We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.”
Read more here.
In the past week since the Downtown Design Review Committee, Planning Department and Public Works clashed on the proposed makeover of the Civic Center park, I’ve heard only negative comments about the designs by Rand Elliott and Tulsa-based PDG Inc., which call for the removal of all trees (some of the biggest trees to be found downtown), sculptures, monuments and other landscaping. Read the full story on that debate here.
Rand Elliott doesn’t think small – I think it’s safe to say everyone would agree he always attempts to hit a home-run – he aspires to create great, eye-catching architecture and design. And I think his biggest fans and even his greatest critics would agree that the city is better off with his imprint. But what if one of those high-flying balls ends up being a foul? Will anyone tell the slugger when his latest hit didn’t go so well?
That’s the question ahead ahead for those who see this hit as a foul ball rather than a home run. I’m hearing that any differences between city planners and engineers is being ironed out behind the scenes and that the rare display of disagreement will disappear with a reapplication of the designs that skip over, for now, questions about the proposed archway, spinning towers and City Hall fountain.
Of course, that still leaves a lot of questions unresolved. I’ve been asked by more than a dozen different readers what they need to do to voice their opposition to these designs. They say these designs were not fully vetted, and some also are questioning whether the committee that reviewed this work consisted of too many people hand-selected by the design team.
This project HAS NOT been approved by the mayor and council. It must get five or more votes to move forward. So to those asking how they can voice their disapproval – or approval – now is the time to contact the mayor and council.
Ward 1 Councilman Gary Marrs: email@example.com
Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee: email@example.com
Ward 4 Councilman Pete White: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell: email@example.com
Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 7 Councilman Skip Kelly: email@example.com
Ward 8 Councilman Pat Ryan: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mayor Mick Cornett: email@example.com
Over at www.downtownontherange.blogspot.com, Nick Roberts is continuing to put his own stamp on the discussion of downtown Oklahoma City’s ongoing transformation. Nick, who is pursuing a planning degree in college, is able to take that discussion a bit further than I can due to our different roles in the blogging world. I try to offer news and observation (and sometimes very uncomfortable questions posed to those I cover), while Nick goes straight to commentary. He’s good at what he does. But confusion sometimes emerges. Last summer developer Richard Tanenbaum put up a slide of quotes praising his track record and attributed it to OKC Central – when it actually was written by Nick over at Downtown on the Range.
Nick and I are often thinking about the same topics. This time we’re both thinking about Avis Scaramucci, owner of Nonna’s and The Painted Door in Bricktown, and who is going on her fourth year as chair of the Bricktown Association (she also serves of chair of the Bricktown Urban Design Committee). A few weeks ago, I took the following photo:
Yep, that’s more windows getting covered with plywood over at the Rock Island Plow Building. Keep in mind it’s a structure that is on the National Register of Historic Places. Before I could post anything on OKC Central, Nick posted his own photo with the following quote:
Does a single successful restaurant make someone the “Queen of Bricktown?” So far Avis has done nothing to prove that she wasn’t one and done in terms of Bricktown development, and how did this get to be the person chairing the Bricktown Suburban Design Committee?
So I guess Nick would be none too thrilled to see more plywood going up on windows at the 100-year-old Rock Island Plow building, which Avis owns. It’s the ONLY boarded up structure left in Bricktown, and it’s along Reno Avenue where thousands of visitors travel daily, both by foot and by vehicle. It’s a prime corridor for tourists and those attending NBA games at the nearby Chesapeake Energy Arena.
County records show Avis and her husband Phil bought the building for $1,450,000 in 2003. I’m also aware they spent a significant amount of money doing emergency structural repairs several years ago that, if not done, we likely would have lost this building all together.
I’ve been hearing complaints similar to those voiced by Nick, and I asked Avis why the wait – why not move forward with a development or simply sell the building to someone who will make something happen. I know they’ve had willing buyers – parties with a track record of successful development. So far, Avis’ response is simply “now is not the time.”
This won’t make Nick any happier. And I fully anticipate he’ll have more to say on this matter.
The Hotel Marion at NW 10 and Broadway is probably familiar to most OKC Central regulars. It’s a heart breaker of a building that passed through several owners before landing with the MidTown Renaissance group a few years ago. Give Bob Howard, Mickey Clagg and Chris Fleming credit, they’ve shown their dedication toward renovating and properly restoring their older buildings, but the Marion is the one building that eludes even bravest of souls in the development world.
Downtown Brainstorming is just that – using the collective experience, observations and imagination of OKC Central readers to help solve problems such as the Marion. It will be done when the key decision makers indicate they welcome such input, and in this case, we have the go-ahead from Mr. Howard himself.
Before getting into the complications surrounding the Marion, let’s revisit some stories about the hotel’s history that help show why it deserves a new shot at life.
The hotel was built in 1908, making it, I believe the oldest surviving structure downtown after the razing of India Temple last year. In 2006, after the building was bought by MidTown Renaissance, I heard from one of the descendants of the hotel’s original owners. J. Malcolm Haney’s grandmother, Bess L. Haney, operated the hotel from 1946 to 1971.
Malcolm correctly recalled the hotel’s east facade for years had a sign that boasted it was “The Nicest Small Hotel You’ll Find.”
“This place has a very special place in our family’s past,” Haney told me. “Our safe haven was staying at the Marion with Bessie in room 110, which had two single beds … Many of Bessie’s rooms were occupied by permanent residents, including three terrific small apartments in the basement. It was the last place many army recruits stayed before they shipped off to boot camp because the U.S. Army recruiting center was across the street.”
Haney’s cousin Bob Villareal recalled the hotel’s telephone booth had a ventilation fan that turned on upon entry.
“You could put your finger in the fan without injury,”
Villareal said. Villareal still remembers the hotel’s corner room, home to an old radio and his grandmother’s parakeet. Photographs from Bess Haney’s lifetime were displayed throughout the hotel.
“I’ll never forget the smells in that old place,” Villareal said. “There was a certain aura about the hotel that’s hard to put in words, but it always felt peaceful and happy. Of course, it was never the same without Bessie. She was the heart of the Marion.”
More recently, my worthy competitor Brianna Bailey at the Journal Record shared even more about the hotel’s history. She shared how the Marion was next to an Army recruiting station, and the Haneys saw countless young servicemen from across the state off to the Vietnam and Korean wars over the years.
Malcolm Haney told Brianna about how the hotel’s old-fashioned soda pop machine that would dispense soft drinks in glass bottles for 10 cents.
“Bessie had an old-fashioned telephone switchboard and would patch people through to the rooms,” Malcolm Haney said. “It was a warm family place and Bessie was the matriarch of the family.”
So what went wrong?
Haney told Bailey that time was the enemy with downtown descending into decline in the 1970s. Chain hotels drew customers away from the Marion.
“Bessie fought the battle of any small hotel operator against the large chain hotels and she fought the downfall of downtown of ’60s and ’70s,” Malcolm Haney told Bailey. Bess Haney’s five children asked their then-elderly mother to retire from the Marion in the 1970s, and she died in 1984 at the age of 95.
So we have a nice historical, architectural gem with a warm and fuzzy history to make us all go “awwwwwwwwww.” With that done, let’s get the harsh slap of reality started.
The building is a mess. The interior consists of rotting wood. The roof is barely there. As I pointed out on this blog a few months ago, the dreadful appearance of jigsaw cracks has emerged along the building’s corners.
Here’s the good news: Bob Howard KNOWS he’s going to lose money with this building. He is no fool. And as Rep. David Dank pushes to eliminate historic tax credits, understand it’s buildings like this that become impossible to save without such assistance. Tax credits saved the Skirvin hotel. Tax credits saved the Gold Dome. Tax credits saved the Sieber.
But tax credits won’t save the Marion. It’s just not enough. Howard says he’s prepared to make this his contribution to the community. He appreciates the history and architecture of the Marion. And if money were the only concern here (understand, however, Howard isn’t going to bankrupt himself on this either), then I doubt the Marion would be our first Downtown Brainstorming candidate.
Talking to Howard and his partner Fleming, it’s clear that one risks killing the Marion if one is to save it.
The interior must be gutted. That means that support beams must be put in to prop up the facade walls much as Marva Ellard did with the old grocery building section of the Sieber. But the Marion is a very tight spot, locked in by properties with different owners.
It is surrounded by occupied buildings, and the parking is heavily used by the law firm to the west. The street, NW 10, is a major corridor that would be a nightmare to shut down, if city folks were willing to even entertain such a move. And even if the Marion had some working space around it, the engineering on this is a puzzle.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; the readers make OKC Central special. The conversations are a step above what’s found elsewhere on the ‘net, including the comment sections on NewsOK. I’m proud of that, far more than anything else I’ve accomplished with this site. You’ve been around the world. You’ve followed urban design closely. You’re argumentative, but respectfully so. You bring new ideas. You love downtown Oklahoma City. You’re proud of what’s been done. You’re not satisfied that enough has been done. You’re always pushing for it to be better. And you want to solve downtown’s biggest problems.
Here’s your chance. Are there landmarks elsewhere in the world that have had similar challenges? How were they overcome? What can be done to make the Marion a feasible renovation?
Is Shawnee, with a population of just under 30,000, a “larger city”?
I think the world of Oklahoma Watch, the non-profit news venture that partners up with The Oklahoman, Tulsa World and other news outlets around the state on in-depth public interest stories.
A story in today’s Oklahoman, which isn’t online (UPDATE: read it here), about a task force led by Rep. David Dank examining whether to cut back or eliminate historic tax credits takes an assumption by Dank and treats it as fact: that these tax credits primarily benefit larger cities like Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
To those of you associated with Main Street programs around the state, to those of you in the preservation community, I’d advise this is something you’ll want to watch carefully.
A few back I was lucky enough to get to travel around the state, visiting with Main Street business owners from Poteau to Miami to Stillwater. I personally saw examples of treasured, yet neglected Main Street properties brought back to life with the help of these tax credits. If these credits are limited to the major cities, then please explain that definition as it applies to Shawnee (where tax credits helped on renovating the Aldridge Hotel) and in Muskogee (the Surety Apartments).
Maybe these tax credits are good, maybe they’re bad. But a look at the facts will show these tax credits have been used quite a bit in small town Oklahoma.