Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Gladish Building -- What?

Since writing this article in my regular website in September 2005 until tonight, April 9, 2008, I've had some unfinished business in knowing what in the heck was located at the southeast corner of Hudson & NW 1st Street (Park Avenue), immediately west of the 1932 YWCA Building before it was destroyed during the 1960s-1970s Urban Renewal days.

Various photographs showed that something was there ... these images from the Oklahoma County Assessor's Photo Album clearly show a skeletal structure at the location:

What got me started in the first place was the "Famous Kiltie Band" postcard which showed a rather nice looking building to the rear (east) and right (south) of the band.

Click on the postcard for a larger view

The venerable but presently missing in action Downtown Guy opined that the building was illusory, nothing more than the postcard maker taking artistic license with what would look good behind the band and that a parking garage, perhaps unfinished, was once at the location. By the early 1950s, the building was gone ...

Though still puzzled, I accepted the Downtown Guy's wisdom and put it down.

But, doing the OKC Postcards article, which includes the above Kiltie Band postcard made in the late 1930s or early 1940s, got me started on the unsolved mystery, once again. What the heck was that skeletal structure? So, while it's doubtless of little historical importance, I jumped in once again.

When I wrote the September 2005 website article, I didn't know that the Oklahoman's archives, dating back to 1901, are freely available on-line through the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Library System by use of your library card number, whether you're at the library or not – what a great service that has proven to be in researching one thing or another. Take that as a hint that you might enjoy doing the same!

Doing some digging in the Oklahoman's archives tonight, the mystery building is finally unmasked! The building was real.

An April 7, 1940, Oklahoman article was the first thing I ran across. It reported on a petition that was being circulated which asked the City Council ...
... to condemn the old six-story Gladish building at Northwest First street and Hudson avenue or to force its completion.* * *
* * *
Entitled a "Petition for Removal of an Old Skeleton," the document was being circulated by a group identified as owners of downtown property who contend the structure is a detriment to the civic center and adjoining property.

"This towering skeleton has stood uncompleted too long," said the petition. "It is not a symbol of progress nor is it in keeping with the character of the buildings surrounding the civic center."
* * *
Until 10 years ago, the building was a warehouse. A man who purchased it then had it stripped of its walls and outer structures planning to convert it to a business building. The depression hit and the project was abandoned.

A huge, concrete skeleton, it has remained unfinished since with a flower shop on the first floor and other parts used for a parking garage.
The petition got nowhere, but at least some clues were dropped ... a name, Gladish Building, and an early use, warehouse building. The clues were good enough.

Additional articles reported that the six-story building was originally built in or about 1910 as the O.K. Transfer & Storage Building and people stored their stuff there. James S. Gladish purchased the building in 1930, planned to make it into 14 story 2-winged hotel, and started stripping it down. That's as far as he got when the Great Depression stopped his plans in their tracks, and, aside from making a space for a flower shop on the first floor, the building sat there in its naked state until 1946.

Then, the property was purchased by G.A. Nichols. The May 12, 1946, Oklahoman reported as follows:
Civic Center's Skeleton Sold, To Be Finished

Transformation of Oklahoma City's skeleton building on the southeast corner of NW 1 and Hudson into a modern and larger office structure, possibly to be used for the new Veterans Administration office here, was revealed Saturday. The announcement would erase the landmark which has been considered a public eyesore for the past 15 years.

G.A. Nichols, president of the Nichols enterprises and new purchaser of the building said his companies plan to spend a half million dollars in completing the structure. Besides filling in the present six stories, two more floors will be added and the length of the building increased 20 feet to the south. Construction will be slanted toward filling the requirements of the regional VA office, Nichols said.

"The veterans administration is trying to get the building and we will submit them plans immediately," he explained. * * * John W. Coyle, vice-president of the Nichols companies said part of the building would be used for the firm's offices now located at 115 N. Harvey. Construction on the completion will begin as soon as materials are available."
This picture accompanied the article (click pic for larger)

A December 23, 1946, article reports,
Approval to complete the six-story structure and add two more floors was given here this week by the Civilian Production administration because of the city's critical need of office space.

John W. Coyle, vice-president of the G.A. Nichols enterprises, owners of the building, said construction would begin immediately with a hope of completion in nine months.
* * *
The plans, he explained, have been drawn to blend the building into architecture of civic center, by using horizontal lines along the sides of the structure with vertical lines at the corner. * * * The face of the building will be done in a pink and buff Indiana limestone. Long white metal strips will run down the length of the building at its corner. The first floor and balcony will be in black and white marble.
Although immediate construction did not occur, a June 6, 1947, Oklahoman article reported that construction had begun and that completion of its expansion to eight floors was expected within a year. In the two articles just stated, no mention was made of the Veterans Administration, so that deal must have fallen through ... now it was to be a general office building. But, something happened to that plan, too, because it never materialized.

Instead, an October 9, 1947, article reported that the Halliburton Department Store, located immediately south of the Gladish Building, had been sold to Federated Department Stores, and that, in a separate transaction, an option to purchase the Gladish building had been acquired from G.A. Nichols, and speculation then turned to using the property as an expansion of Halliburton's. The photograph below shows the relative location of the two properties (click pic for larger view):

The option was exercised and Halliburton's new owner acquired the property. But, the potential development didn't happen. The next topic to be discussed in the Oklahoman about this property was its demise. A November 20, 1952, article reported that the building would be razed and become, at least initially, a street level parking lot. Sitting exposed to the elements since 1930 had taken its toll on the structure's viability. The City Building Superintendent's inspection of the building revealed that concrete columns and beams had suffered badly, crumbling and separating from the steel in several places. The east wall of the building which abutted the YWCA would be all that would remain, probably for structural integrity of the Y. And, that's why and how the YWCA's west side came to have its rather unfinished appearance.

And, there you have it ... mystery building solved ... and, of course, the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library and Learning Center now sits on the site of both the former YWCA and Gladish Buildings, both of which have fallen into the lore of Oklahoma City history.

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Anonymous said...

Doug- Can I tell you how awesome you are? I'm seriously impressed. You've got quite a nose for all this lost history. You deserve an award.

Thanks for sharing this story with us.


Jason said...

Yes, what Shane said!

I learn something new every time I come here.


Doug Dawg said...

Whoa, Shane! That's a really neat thing for you to say ... that said, award accepted! [grin]

Doug Dawg said...

Jason, I didn't mean to leave you out ... thanks for your comment and your hugely great photo website !

Bygningsentreprise said...

This article is great and its very amazing. Thank you for posting.

Chad McMillan said...

Great work. The man at the center of the "Gladish" building was none other than my mother's grandfather. He was very entrepreneurial---in good, and bad ways. The depression did change the families fortunes. James ended up getting in trouble at some point. I believe he was selling fake stock...though I would have to go back to look in my records. Anyway--I enjoyed finding this. Great work. If you ever find a photo of their home, I would like to see that.