Saving Historic Buildings Challenges State Agency

Article excerpt

Journal Record Staff Reporter

Preservation of historical buildings and districts can sometimes be a challenge to the State Historic Preservation Office, based in Oklahoma City.

The group is concerned about well-known buildings such as the First National Center and the Skirvin Plaza Hotel to churches and houses.

An area, once known as the black commercial district along NE 2nd St. between N. Central and Stiles avenues, was to be nominated as a designated historic district to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

"We have determined that the area is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places for its association with Oklahoma City's Black Community between the years 1924-1943," according to a memo presented in August by Susan Allen, preservation research assistant in the preservation office, to Melvena Heisch at the Oklahoma Historical Society.

The state preservation office at 621 N. Robinson Ave. is a division of the Historical Society, 2100 N. Lincoln Blvd.

"We are dismayed," that two buildings in the black commercial area are now being demolished, Allen said. Nomination for the site to be designated as an historical district was to be conducted this spring. However, unless there were federal funds for renovation of the buildings, the owner still could have torn the buildings down, Allen said.

Oklahoma County records show ESD Associates, with an address at 4816 N. Classen Blvd., is the owner of one of the buildings at 324 NE 2nd St. Allen said they came across Gary B. Homsey as the owner of both buildings during their research. Homsey has a business listed at 4816 N. Classen Blvd.

"We hate to see it destroyed since it is a part of history," Allen said.

The building at 324 NE 2nd St. was built in 1937 by Dr. W.H. Slaughter specifically to lease it to Roscoe Dunjee, who was the editor of The Black Dispatch, which was first published in 1915. The building housed the newspaper until about 1981. Dunjee used the paper as an "organ for racial reform." The building was one in the district eligible for individual recognition on the National Register of Historic Places.

The other building was on the southwest corner of N. Stiles Ave. facing NE 2nd St. The address was listed at 326-328-330 NE 2nd St.-225 N. Stiles Ave. There were more than 30 businesses in the area in 1936.

"There is no retail in the area right now," Allen said; most of the buildings are boarded up.

"Black resources are fragile resources," she said. In Oklahoma there were 27 historic districts or buildings on the National Register of Historic Places that were a part of a black community.

Four of those have been lost _ one was to fire and the others were demolished, she said.

In the black commercial district in Oklahoma City, there were seven buildings included in the proposal.

"NE 2nd St. was a viable commercial center up through the 1950s and into the early 1960s," Allen said.

In a matching grants program announced by the State Historic Preservation Office, preference will be given this fiscal year to properties associated with agriculture, petroleum related energy development or minority heritage.

Matching grants are available for preparation of individual Oklahoma property nominations to the National Register of Historic Places, it has been announced. A total of $10,000 has been set aside for the special grants program, said Heisch.

The money is part of the State Historic Preservation Office share of the United States Department of the Interior's Historic Preservation Fund for the current fiscal year.

Each grant will be limited to $500 and must be matched on a 50-50 basis under the regulations. Eligible applicants are local, county or state agencies, Native American tribal governments and non-profit organizations. …