In the British capital of London, small blue plaques adorn many structures where prominent people once lived. Those plaques tell visitors where diverse figures including Sir Thomas More, Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin and American guitarist Jimi Hendrix resided in London.
Travelers who come to Perry have a somewhat similar experience as they encounter signs on buildings that on the town square that tell of the structure’s origins and history. Those signs were put in place by the Perry Main Street organization.
It would seem that the plaque that adorns the Kumback Café in Perry probably gets the most attention from travelers due to the fame of that eatery. The Kumback, which has been in continuous operation since 1926, has hosted people such as bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd, former Gov. Henry Bellmon and more recently New York Times columnist Roger Cohen. Its walls are festooned with memorabilia from Perry’s past. Generations of Perry High School’s athletes — especially it’s wrestlers — smile down on the Kumback’s patrons in photos from yearbooks and newspapers as waitresses deliver plates of food and pour steaming coffee into cups.
Listeners to the National Public Radio presentation, “The Splendid Table” were told of the Kumback’s charm and good food several years ago after two traveling food critics devoted a segment to it. It has also been featured on travel segments on Oklahoma City and Tulsa television stations .
Alert visitors may become alarmed when they notice what appears to be three gunslingers looking down at them from the second-floor windows in a building that is adjacent to the Kumback. But a closer examination will reveal that they are in fact cardboard cutouts of gunslingers and are only decorative in nature.
The notation on one stately red brick building with a circular window that resembles a porthole tells of how it was designed by pioneer architect Joseph Foucart. That structure is now on the List of Historic Buildings that is maintained by the U.S. Department of the Interior and is also featured on several websites that are devoted to historic buildings with unique architecture.
Architect Ron Frantz of the University of Oklahoma School of Architecture has spoken of how circular windows were one of Foucart’s trademarks and are found on both commercial and residential buildings that he designed in Perry and Guthrie. The plaque located on one building that was at one time a blacksmith shop tells of how its owners, the Malzahn Brothers, went on to found the Charles Machine Works. That entity is also known as “Ditch Witch” and is in operation around the world and is Perry’s largest employer.
Some of the downtown Perry buildings whose facades have been refurbished by volunteers under the auspices of the local Main Street association are now home to new businesses. Several of those that are still vacant, whose second floor windows were adorned with swirls of frost on one recent gray morning, appear to be waiting patiently to be called into service once again.
William F. O’Brien is an Oklahoma City attorney.