Monday, April 12, 2010

Bye Bye Miss American Pie

I love you, SandRidge, maybe even you, too,
Downtown Design Review Committee, but ... but ... but ...

(and with credit and respect to Don McLean)




This article should be considered updated on April 20,
after the April 19 appeal was filed.

A thread at OkcTalk.com began the non-official on-line discussion well before SandRidge's official proposal was kinda-sorta made public, as reported by Oklahoman reporter Steve Lackmeyer on December 6, 2009, he noting in a companion article that approval by the city's downtown Design Review Committee was also necessary for SandRidge's proposal when it would eventually be made.

In the same OkcTalk.com thread on January 28, 2010, poster "Edge" identified this link at rogersmarvel.com which showed several very nice drawings of SandRidge's proposed new campus ... click the images below for larger views.
About that, I replied to Edge's link in this reply at OkcTalk.com:
Thanks for the link, Edge.

Having looked over the images there, I have to say that IF Sandridge does everything contemplated in those images, my general opinion is that, overall and in balance, what Sandridge proposes would be a good step in Okc downtown development, though I say this with caveats and some caution.

I say this as one interested in historical preservation on one hand, but having an equal interest in making downtown more spiffy on the other. That mix does present some degree of conflict, but only qualifiedly so.

According to the images at the link, the view from west of Robinson presents a very nice image of that eastbound view ... the former Oklahoma Savings & Loan is gone but, as much as I like hugging old buildings, the replacement view is better, imo ... the saved Braniff building is at the left, but the less significant Ok Savings & Loan, which obscured SandRidge's view from/to and integration with the core of downtown, is gone ... and SandRidge is immediately drawn into having a more integrated identity with downtown's core, at least as I see it.

Actually, the OK S&L building can be seen as being a barrier which obscured and prevented SandRidge/Kerr McGee's integration with downtown in a more intimate way. Seeing the above, I'm inclined to see it that way. "Walls" of urban-ness strike me as a cliche and mean much less to me than does overall integration -- the "wall" concept strikes me as a predisposition favoring "walls" with a lesser importance, at least in this case, with a major downtown's integration into the whole. But, I'm not one who sees "urban walls" nearly as important as some do, and I'll opt for SandRidge's plan in the above image against such an argument. The next 3 views, east looking west, show the integration.

[DL note: images not shown here ... they are above]

Only one item in the pictures at the link puzzles me and gives me my greatest and only pause in wholeheartedly embracing what is shown at the website. All of the following relates to the 1902 India Temple building located at the NW corner or Couch & Broadway.

Do we, or SandRidge, really want to do away with a building which (1) is Okc's oldest remaining structure and (2) which has the historical significance of housing the State Legislature from 1913-1917 until the State Capitol building was done?


Probably the answer depends upon whether the old building has a realistic and economically feasible capacity to be restored. The answers about both those factors are not presently known, as far as I know.

The website images do not contain explicit images showing what would become of that building's space (that I can see), even though it would clearly be destroyed by this development (by all previous announcements).

I'm one who wants to know more about this matter before jumping on board, full speed ahead. If the 1902 building has a reasonable capacity of being restored, then I'd want SandRidge to act in a responsible historic way. If not, then go for it. But we just don't know about that, one way or another, as we speak.

[Emphasis and spelling correction supplied]
Until this article, I've not particularly commented on this topic since making the above post on January 28, 2010.

But, now, I do.

Why? The reason has to do with information conveyed in Steve Lackmeyer's OkcCentral.com where he has closely covered these developments on behalf of the Oklahoman.

The 1st such information was stale-data, reported in 2006, and it was unconfirmed. Although Steve doubtless reported accurately, it was yet to be confirmed. In his March 17, 2010, blog article, "To Tear or Not To Tear Down, That is the Question," he wondered out loud whether the home of the state legislature as still hidden underneath the concrete face. About that, he said,
      That’s the question in today’s story on the plans for SandRidge Commons facing a potential roadblock at Thursday’s Downtown Design Review Committee. The city’s planning staff has sent a report to the committee recommending they reject SandRidge Energy’s plans to raze four buildings on the campus, including the above 111 N Robinson building (shown above with, and without, a fake concrete facade added in the 1960s). You can read the report here.
      An intriguing part of the report is a plea by Preservation Oklahoma sent to SandRidge CEO Tom Ward asking that they delay deciding whether to tear down 111 N Robinson and invest in determining whether the original building is still hidden behind the facade.
      When the deal between Kerr-McGee and the Triangle development group fell apart, leaving the fate of the older buildings on the campus in jeopardy (prior to the properties sale to SandRidge), I wrote this column in August 2006. Note the comments about the contractor who installed the facade at 111 N Robinson, and what they had to say about chances of finding the original building still intact:
      I wanted to share Bob Maidt’s story at a triumphant moment.
      Maidt and his son Bob Maidt Jr. were veterans in the plastering business, and I was first introduced to Bob Maidt Jr. when he helped me understand the pros and cons in the use of EIFS stucco in new construction.
      In March, I wrote a story about a building on the Kerr-McGee campus that was to be part of a condominium development. At first glance, the building at Broadway and Robert S. Kerr Avenue in Oklahoma City is hardly spectacular. But developer and architect Anthony McDermid was aware that the concrete facade covered up a historic facade that dated back to 1902. The building, far from a forgettable Urban Renewal addition to downtown, is a true gem — and its restoration would give back a bit of history in an area that lost much of its past in the 1960s and 1970s.
      But McDermid had no information on how the fake facade was added or whether the original India Temple facade was still intact. Before and after photos were printed with my story, and Bob Maidt Jr. immediately recognized the project as one completed by his ailing father. Maidt Jr. later e-mailed saying he approached his father, who was bed ridden, and memories started to flow.
      The elder Maidt, 82, had been released from the hospital a couple of weeks earlier, with doctors telling the family they could do no more to relieve the man’s failing health.
      “He did most of the Kerr-McGee work, so I figured it was his job,” Maidt Jr. said. “I went over in the afternoon, after work, and he seemed pretty excited. It perked him right up — put a gleam in his eyes. He said, ‘Oh yeah, I remember doing that.’”
      Maidt Sr. not only recalled the job, but also told his son where to find the job files and photos of the new facade’s installation. The original building, he said, wasn’t seriously damaged during the 1960s-era renovation.
      For Maidt Jr., the conversation was a chance to relive the days when the pair worked together, running the family business. Their plastering business had been started a century earlier by Maidt Jr.’s grandfather’s uncle, Albert Maidt (who also was one of the founders of Twin Hills Golf and Country Club). The family business had passed from one generation to another until it closed in 1997.
      The visit about the Kerr-McGee campus building would be their last. That night, Maidt Sr. died. Ironically, the story that sparked the Maidts’ visit had been written a couple weeks earlier — intended to run at a later date. Had the story been delayed one more day, the information needed to restore the India Temple building to its original facade might have disappeared forever.
      I’d hoped to tell the Maidts’ story once McDermid and his partners started on the property’s renovation. Now that renovation, and the future of two other old buildings on the former Kerr-McGee campus, appear to be another unfulfilled downtown dream. A deal between McDermid’s Corporate Redevelopment Group and Kerr-McGee fell apart last week.
      As the two sides go to court, hundreds of new residential units are being added to downtown, leaving the prospect of the planned Braniff Towers a question of will, timing and demand.
      Meanwhile, if someone does decide to bring the old India Temple building back to life, Maidt Jr. is waiting to share more details about his father’s last discussion about what’s under the concrete facade.
Steve Lackmeyer's December 6, 2009, blog article contains a fascinating bit of discussion from architect Anthony McDermid (also a member of the Downtown Design Review Committee who voted to approve SandRridge's proposal last week) and other relevant information. Earlier, McDermid was involved in what was an almost-done purchase from Kerr McGee before it was absorbed by Anadarko Petroleum of Houston in 2006. Purchase agreements had been entered into to purchase from Kerr McGee the old Braniff, Oklahoma City Savings & Loan, and India Temple. The announced plan was to convert these properties into downtown residential units, but the plan went south upon Anadarko's acquisition of Kerr McGee.

Here is most of the content of Lackmeyer's December 6, 2009, blog article:
      Architect Anthony McDermid was once part of a team chosen by Kerr-McGee to redevelop these old buildings into housing. The team did a lot of work – they obtained TIF money to tear down the old YMCA building and replace it with a modern garage for the Kerr-McGee workers and the future residents of the Braniff Tower and neighboring KerMac Building. The deal fell apart just as they were about to seek building permits. From the start, McDermid shied away from stating any plans for the India Temple Building.
      Three years later, McDermid admits they likely never would have pursued housing for the 107-year-old building.
      Here’s what didn’t make today’s paper:
      The building at 111 Robert S. Kerr, would, at first glance, seem to be most historic property on the block. The building, built in 1902, briefly housed the state legislature and its ornate fa├žade, if it still existed, would be a unique reminder of an era that was removed entirely during the Urban Renewal era.
      But McDermid, who surveyed the buildings extensively, said he came to the same conclusion reached by SandRidge Energy – the former India Temple building was too far damaged by Kerr-McGee to be restored.
      “We even had someone from the State Historical Preservation Office look at it,” McDermid said. “He came, we walked the entire building and evaluated what was going on with it. It had been so altered – a new floor had been added into the two-story lobby, it had been torn up inside, and while we never pulled the outside panels, we had eyewitness reports the exterior features had been sawn off.”
      McDermid has no involvement with SandRidge Energy, the campus makeover, or any of the old buildings. So one might conclude he’s a good neutral judge of whether the India Temple Building could be brought back to life.
      Consider this account by yet another team of respected developers who looked at the building in the early 1990s:
      Mark Ruffin, Nicholas Preftakes and Jim Parrack looked at the odds of renovating the buildings and walked away.
      “The bones weren’t really that conducive,” Ruffin said. “They had low clearance heights, they had significant asbestos issues. From a functional standpoint, they just weren’t that conducive.”
      That’s a lot of damning expertise. And yet something else makes me wonder if more should be known before calling out the wrecking ball. Consider the testimony of a dying man I reported in a column three years ago as McDermid’s housing project was falling apart due to the demise of Kerr-McGee:
I wanted to share Bob Maidt’s story at a triumphant moment. Maidt and his son Bob Maidt Jr. were veterans in the plastering business, and I was first introduced to Bob Maidt Jr. when he helped me understand the pros and cons in the use of EIFS stucco in new construction.The visit about the Kerr-McGee campus building would be their last. That night, Maidt Sr. died. Ironically, the story that sparked the Maidts’ visit had been written a couple weeks earlier — intended to run at a later date. Had the story been delayed one more day, the information needed to restore the India Temple building to its original facade might have disappeared forever.
      In March, I wrote a story about a building on the Kerr-McGee campus that was to be part of a condominium development. At first glance, the building at Broadway and Robert S. Kerr Avenue in Oklahoma City is hardly spectacular. But developer and architect Anthony McDermid was aware that the concrete facade covered up a historic facade that dated back to 1902. The building, far from a forgettable Urban Renewal addition to downtown, is a true gem — and its restoration would give back a bit of history in an area that lost much of its past in the 1960s and 1970s.
      But McDermid had no information on how the fake facade was added or whether the original India Temple facade was still intact. Before and after photos were printed with my story, and Bob Maidt Jr. immediately recognized the project as one completed by his ailing father. Maidt Jr. later e-mailed saying he approached his father, who was bed ridden, and memories started to flow.
      The elder Maidt, 82, had been released from the hospital a couple of weeks earlier, with doctors telling the family they could do no more to relieve the man’s failing health.
      “He did most of the Kerr-McGee work, so I figured it was his job,” Maidt Jr. said. “I went over in the afternoon, after work, and he seemed pretty excited. It perked him right up — put a gleam in his eyes. He said, ‘Oh yeah, I remember doing that.’”
      Maidt Sr. not only recalled the job, but also told his son where to find the job files and photos of the new facade’s installation. The original building, he said, wasn’t seriously damaged during the 1960s-era renovation.
      For Maidt Jr., the conversation was a chance to relive the days when the pair worked together, running the family business. Their plastering business had been started a century earlier by Maidt Jr.’s grandfather’s uncle, Albert Maidt (who also was one of the founders of Twin Hills Golf and Country Club). The family business had passed from one generation to another until it closed in 1997.
When I last spoke to Bob Maidt Jr., he indicated the paperwork and plans from the job were safe and could be provided to anyone wanting to delve deeper into whether the building could be saved. SandRidge reports the building’s facade was shaved off and is lost forever.
      These two accounts, at first glance, appear to be in direct contradiction of each other. And as we know from the example set by Steve Mason along NW 9, what may appear to be a hopeless cause may simply be a question of commitment. I don’t think anyone would blame Tom Ward or SandRidge for wanting to get rid of the India Temple Building. But it’s up to the members of the Downtown Design Review Committee (some of whom read this blog) to decide how much diligence is needed to see whether the India Temple Building, as with the original first two stories of the Skirvin, can be restored.
      And now for the final target for demolition – the old KerMac Building. Standing at 135 Robert S. Kerr Ave., the 11-story, 155,911-square-foot building was built in 1921 and was once Kerr-McGee’s headquarters.
Now, to be sure, that's one heck of a lot of words for you to evaluate but I did not want you NOT to see this part of what I was basing my opinion about the India Temple on.

Draw your own conclusions, but my take from this 3-year or so discourse is this:
  1. Bob Maidt Sr., Kerr McGee's contractor for the India Temple project, gave first-hand reports to a reliable reporter about the viability of the India Temple.
  2. Bob Maidt Jr. said that the paperwork and plans from/for the job were safe and could be provided to anyone wanting to delve deeper into whether the building could be saved.
  3. During the 2009-2010 reporting phase, Bob Maidt Jr. has not been reported as being contacted by principles who are wishing to demolish the India Temple; so, accordingly,
  4. One is left to wonder, "Why not?"
That was pretty much the state of things when I was ambivalent about being supportive or not of SandRidge's proposal to demolish the India Temple building. The information was conflicting and neither the pro or con positions were corroborated by anyone who had actually inspected the building (and that includes the venerable Bob Blackburn who appears to have offered offhand comments without actually done first-hand research to to obtain first-hand personal knowledge).

Hence, I waited to form an opinion.

Next Question. Is there any corroborating information relevant to the above ... reasonable viability of preserving the India Temple as opposed to demolishing it? Frankly, I'm disappointed that what available information we have to answer the question is not more specific than it is. The only information I have knowledge of is from Steve Lackmeyer's columns and blog articles. Consequently, some degree of scrutiny is called for when reading and evaluating what he (or any journalist similarly placed) has to say when it is otherwise uncorroborated. On the other hand, journalists are sometimes impressed with considerations which mitigate against reporting on all of what they know. And that's fair. I've not spoken with Steve about this so I'm not trying to mask anything at all, I'm just saying.

Did Steve saying which falls into the same category, "just saying," which is relevant to this discussion?

Yes, he did.

In his April 8, 2010, blog post, Letting the Days Go By, he said,
I’m hearing that the tours last week of the India Temple Building revealed the original brick facade is very much intact under the fake facade, though some of the protruding granite window sills were shaved off and windows were removed. This would appear to be a very similar situation to the Skirvin prior to renovations a couple years ago.
As a reader, would I have wanted to know "who" he had heard such report(s) from? Absolutely. I always want to know the names of the 1st hand sources ... that adds enormously to credibility in reporting. But, maybe, for reasons that I'm not privy to, he chose not to name names.

So, what does it boil down to, when evaluating the above information from Steve Lackmeyer? It certainly doesn't boil down to something that either you are I are able to objectively evaluate since he didn't give it to us in his report.

In the end, for reports which present but do not identify source statements believability boils down to one thing, posed to the reporter: "Do you trust me to be accurate in what I am saying?"

And, so, Lackmeyer is asking for us all to make a leap of faith ... for him to be accurate, honest, and objective, regardless of his personal opinion or point of view.

I'll take that leap. I have complete confidence that what Steve said above has a completely solid basis in fact. The reasons that I am willing to do that relate to my first-hand knowledge of him and of my personal knowledge of his penchant for accuracy when he writes anything for publication. He may mumble when I talk with him on cell phone calls, but I have known no instance that he has not reported anything objectively and accurately. Would I much prefer to know who said what to him and know the verbatim conversation? Absolutely. But the fact that he didn't do that does not diminish my confidence and trust in his summary statements.

Now, to be sure, if we are going into a courtroom, what has been said on-line here or in Steve Lackmeyer's articles, quoted above, would not prove a damn thing about anything. There's a lot of tippy-toeing going on here, I'm thinking.

But, while wanting more detail, I am content in reaching the opinions and conclusions that I have. Whether you are, or are not, is for you to decide.

April 8, 2010, Approval By The Downtown Design Review Committee. As noted above in Steve's March 17, 2010, blog article, a Downtown Review Committee staff report recommended that the Committee reject SandRidge's plans to raze four buildings, inclusive of the India Temple.

After the fact (of the April 8 vote), I wondered to myself, "What IS the Downtown Review Committee?" Now, belatedly, I know. According to this page in the City's website,
      The Downtown Design Review Committee was created in 2007 to review proposed projects within the Downtown Business District, the Downtown Transitional District Limited, and the Downtown Transitional District General.
      Committee review includes buildings and parcel development over 20,000 gross square feet involving new construction, expansions, or alterations to the exterior of existing buildings. In addition, the Committee reviews signage, requests for demolition, and City projects such as street furnishings.
      The Review Committee applies the regulations and criteria outlined in the new ordinance which are intended to promote the development and redevelopment of the downtown area in a manner consistent and compatible with the existing unique and diverse design elements of downtown Oklahoma City. Downtown Design Distric[t] requires a seperate[sic] design review and approval.

An excerpt from the staff report prepared for the April 8, 2010, meeting appears below but you can read the full staff report here.


The report related to a special meeting called by the Downtown Design Review Committee scheduled for April 8. Minutes of the special meeting are here -- approval of those minutes is on the committee's April 15 agenda.

Steve did live blogging of the April 8 meeting giving us developments play by play (so to speak) ... see
Steve was much more complete when he wrote the Oklahoman story the next day. A snapshot of the story is shown at the right but the full article is here.


Some of the more fascinating and/or troubling items in his story are set out below.
      The committee originally planned to tour the buildings Thursday [April 8] — but those plans were changed without public notice and committee members were given tours in pairs so as to avoid meeting quorum requirements that would have allowed the public to see the buildings, as well.
      * * *
      Betsy Brunsteter, chairwoman of the Downtown Design Review Committee, cast the lone "no" vote to SandRidge's demolition plan. "When the city council created the Downtown Design Review ordinance and this committee, their intention was to place the central business district in safe hands," Brunsteter said. "We were to help guide future development of the downtown area. In my opinion this committee was appointed to carefully consider development options. The ordinance only allows demolition under very special circumstances."
      Brunsteter asked fellow committee members and SandRidge officials to consider potential negotiations, a request that was ignored. She also asked whether SandRidge might consider phasing demolition or putting up a “bond” to ensure that it wouldn’t tear down buildings only to leave the areas unfinished afterwards. Those requests also went unanswered.
      Committee members Dick Tanenbaum and Jim Loftis led the charge to tear down the aging structures. Tanenbaum confirmed he once sought to redevelop the buildings for housing as he has previously with the Park Harvey and Montgomery buildings. He said the tour changed his mind about the viability of the structures. "After the tour, it struck me there is no way to retrofit those buildings," Tanenbaum said. "They might just fall down if you do nothing with them."
      Loftis, an architect who participated in the planning and design of the Myriad Gardens and the Murrah Federal Building in the 1970s, said he doubts the market exists for the buildings to be converted into housing or offices. "From a historic preservation standpoint, in touring the buildings, it appears they’ve been horribly neglected, horribly altered on the outside, and what's there has been butchered," Loftis said. "They sat there for a long time. They just sat there. I’m ready to see someone have this stuff improved. I’m ready to see the city move forward."
      McDermid and developer Chuck Ainsworth both indicated they were conflicted in their votes.
      "We're all struggling with Oklahoma City’s history of tearing down buildings and downtown, and how important it is to save as many buildings as we can," Ainsworth said. "As a developer I went through those buildings and asked if they are functional and are they worth saving. And I couldn’t come up with a reason to save them. It distresses me these buildings are in the condition they are in."
* * *
      McDermid was once a part of a development effort to turn the buildings into housing — an agreement with then-owner Kerr-McGee that was severed by the company when it was acquired by Houston based Anadarko Petroleum. McDermid voted for the demolition after arguing at least one of the buildings, 135 Robert S Kerr, remains a good candidate for redevelopment.
"I think that some of us will feel that we will have blood on our hands at the end of this decision,"
McDermid said. "I have seen a lot of terrible mistakes made in this city from an urban design standpoint in my lifetime as well as before my arrival in Oklahoma City. I fear some of us will become a part of that legacy."
One last thing and I'm done with this. After the committee's April 8 meeting, Steve reports here on something he learned the day after the vote had already been taken. He learned of a pair of letters sent to SandRidge, which in turn passed them along to the committee, by two of the city's heaviest hitters, Larry Nichols (Devon's chief executive) and Clay Bennett (Thunder's chief executive). About these letters, Steve merely observed, "Here are letters that the Downtown Design Review Committee members, consisting of architects, developers and business executives who must do business in this town, received prior to their vote on SandRidge Energy’s plans to tear down six buildings." (Emphasis supplied by me.) Click on either thumbnail below to read the respective letters.
Larry Nichols' March 25 letter
Clay Bennett's April 6 letter

Were the letters just from one friend to another and not written to influence the decision? Uh-huh uh-huh.

The deed is done. Absent an appeal from the committee's decision, or absent a thoughtful reconsideration by SandRidge itself, Oklahoma City's oldest existing downtown building, the very same building that housed the Oklahoma Legislature from 1913 -1917 after the city succeeded in moving the state capital from Guthrie while our existing State Capitol building was being constructed, add the loss of this building as another brick in the wall. Damit. Where is Flash Gordon when you really need him? It finally dawns on me that he doesn't exist. And, quite possibly, neither does a committee, when the heavy hitters are involved, which matches the committee's description given by committee chair Betsy Brunsteter who stood alone on April 8 when she said,
When the city council created the Downtown Design Review ordinance and this committee, their intention was to place the central business district in safe hands.
The committee's members are Betsy Brunsteter (Chair), GiGi Faulkner (Vice-Chair), Richard Tanenbaum, James Loftis, Charles Ainsworth, Mark Grubbs, and Anthony McDermid, but a shout out goes only to the committee chair, Betsy Brunsteter, AIA, ACHA, with Architectural Design Group, Inc. For her efforts and backbone, she has proven her mettle and her worth.

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

From Judy: I grew up in OKC and have been gone for many years. I knew that a major urban renewal project had begun and agree that it is needed. But the sight of most of these buildings brought specific memories to my mind--and the sight of the beautiful old Criterion Theater being destroyed brought tears. Many cities in Europe are trying to preserve the facades of old buildings plus as much interior as practical. How wonderful if that philosophy could have been applied in some of these cases. This seems more like annihilation than renewal. How very sad.

justin said...

Excellent Post doug! I really liked your flash video! I mean WOW. It really gets the point across well!

Doug Dawg said...

Thanks, Justin. It will interesting to see what developments may occur tomorrow (Monday, the last day for an appeal to be filed).