William F. O'Brien
Special to The Sun
OKLA. CITY —
Terence Malik is an American filmmaker who spent part of his youth in Bartlesville. He is perhaps best known for the critically acclaimed 1978 movie “Days of Heaven” that is set in the Texas Panhandle before the First World War during the harvest season. The late film critic Roger Ebert described “Days of Heaven” as “one of the most beautifully photographed films ever made” and praised Malik for evoking “the loneliness and beauty of the limitless Texas Prairie” Ebert wrote of how the characters in the film appeared to be on a land “to large for its inhabitants” and that they seemed to struggle with the “weight of the land.” And a visitor to Frederick, in Southwestern Oklahoma, where the land has a topography comparable to the Texas prairie, encounters visual images that are similar to the ones contained in Malik’s movie.
From a distance, the structures in Frederick appear as small as the ones on model train sets as they sit amidst sprawling fields and limitless skies that seem to be held in places by spackles of white clouds. But unlike the characters in Malik’s movie, the people of Frederick seem to be at peace with their land, and tell visitors of how the wheat fields turn different colors before the harvest season and the thin layer of frost that can be seen in the early morning on the land in the fall. Frederick, which is the county seat of Tillman County, produces wheat, cotton and other agricultural products. In the City of New Orleans there are many one room wide homes that are known as “shotgun houses” because a gun could be fired through the front door and go through every room in the structure.
Recent histories of that city have concluded that the design of those houses was brought to New Orleans from French refugees who fled the Slave Rebellion that took place in Haiti in the late 1700s. There are shotgun houses found in several residential areas in Frederick, and it is reported that they were moved there from the town of Burkburnett, Texas, in the early decades of the last century by a local businessman. In 1904, a fire destroyed much of downtown Frederick, and the people of that community decided to rebuild it with bricks and mortar to ensure that it survived.
And those structures, which include the Ramona Theater that is on the Department of the Interior’s list of historic buildings, reflect the architecture of that era. Like the downtowns of many Oklahoma communities, that area was deserted by retailers in the 1960s, and many of the structures there are not currently in use. Architect Ron Frantz, who formerly was part of the Main Street Program operated by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, that works to revitalize downtown areas in Oklahoma communities, has spoken about the architectural heritage embodied in Frederick’s downtown buildings, and the steps that could be taken to renovate and preserve them. And it is possible that the renovation of some of those structures will begin soon.
The Main Street organization plans to implement a new program that will assist communities seeking to reinvigorate their downtown areas but will not include all of the requirements for membership that are found in its current program.
The City of Frederick has indicated that it would like to participate in that planned undertaking, and recently sent a representative to a regional Main Street gathering that was in Altus. And it is possible that downtown Frederick will be reborn in the 21st century just as it was in the 20th century.
WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is an Oklahoma City attorney.