OKLA. CITY —
English author Max Beerbohm wrote in the 19th century: “Not along the Grand Canal do you find the essential Venice; the beauty that is hidden away, not the beauty that is revealed, is the city’s essence.” And a somewhat similar observation could currently be made about the state of Oklahoma, where many visitors see only the beauty that is found in the greater Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas and never see the beauty that is found in the state’s smaller communities.
Some of the treasures that are found in rural Oklahoma were shown in a visual presentation that was recently made by architect Larry Lucas in Mangum. Lucas is affiliated with the Main Street Program that is operated by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce that works to preserve the main streets and downtowns of the state’s smaller communities.
The success of that undertaking has prompted several communities in Oklahoma City and Tulsa to join it. Lucas told the attendees, most of whom were from Mangum and the neighboring communities of Altus and Hobart, that every time an old building is destroyed a part of a community’s history is lost and that it is much cheaper and energy efficient to renovate an existing building than it is to construct a new one.
He also quoted an architect who said that the greenest building is one that is already built. He urged them to prepare a list of all public and private buildings in their communities and collect photos of those structures from residents and from local newspapers to ascertain their original appearance.
Lucas said that they will find that many structures have been subject to deferred maintenance and the use of inappropriate materials that have altered their original appearance. Deferred maintenance often results in faded and chipped facades and broken and boarded-up windows. Inappropriate materials include aluminum and vinyl sidings that were placed on buildings decades ago that hid their original facades of bricks and stone.
The architect’s presentation included before-and-after pictures of buildings throughout the state that have been renovated under the auspices of local Main Street organizations.
A formerly moribund structure on Ardmore’s Main Street is now the site of the brightly lit and popular Mexican restaurant, Casa Romo. The Wells Building in Sapulpa used to be encased in a cocoon of dark siding which was removed to reveal rows of long hidden windows.
A previously faded structure in Hobart has been revitalized and now is the home of the General Tommy Franks Museum.
There were also pictures of revitalized buildings in Enid and Claremore. The removal of sidings from buildings also often reveal the names of the pioneer merchants who built them chiseled on their original facades.
Lucas reported that several Main Street communities have formed what are known as “facade squads” that work with building owners in their downtown areas to improve their facades. The Perry Main Street organization has produced a pamphlet entitled “Adventures of the Facade Squad” that other communities are now accessing.
The attendees were also shown a vacant lot in downtown Okmulgee that was transformed into a small pocket park where people gather. Lucas advised them that they should build consensus with all of the relevant parties in their communities as to how renovation should proceed.
Christopher Wren was the architect who oversaw the rebirth of London after the Great Fire of 1666. He designed St Paul’s Cathedral and many other structures in the British Capital.
Wren is buried in the nave of St. Paul’s, and on his grave is a Latin inscription that translates into English as “If you seek his monument, look all around you.”
The monument to the Main Street organizations of Oklahoma may be the refurbished downtown areas that they brought about.
William F. O’Brien is an Oklahoma City attorney.