The Douglass at Page Woodson in Oklahoma City won a 2018 Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Award.Photo by Justin Clemons Photography / Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation
The sun rises over the Douglass at Page Woodson like it does over all apartment buildings in Oklahoma City. Dishwashers are running. A child plays in the courtyard. A cat curls up on the couch. These activities aren’t unique. The difference being, they’re occurring at a prestigious historic preservation award winner.
At the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s PastForward 2018 conference in San Francisco this month, the Douglass at Page Woodson was presented with a Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Award, one of only three awardees chosen from a juried competition of 50 nominations. The annual awards recognize historic preservation efforts that demonstrate excellence in execution and a positive impact on the vitality of their cities and towns.
In a released statement, President and CEO Stephanie Meeks of the National Trust said, the vacant-school-turned-affordable-housing-development is “remarkable not just for its historic and architectural character, but for the many ways it puts community first.”
Situated in northeast Oklahoma City at the corner of 6th and High, Douglass High School was the city’s first facility during legalized segregation to serve as a high school for African Americans citywide. Named commemoratively for Frederick Douglass, whose name has graced schools in the vicinity from before statehood up to present day, the school’s tenure at this spot lasted from 1934 to 1955. Prior to Douglass, the original building housed Lowell School, an all-white elementary. To become the 90,000-square-foot, full-service high school for Douglass, the site underwent substantial expansion, almost ten times the size of the former elementary building, with additions for classroom space, a gymnasium and auditorium.
The courtyard at the Douglass at Page Woodson.Photo by Justin Clemons Photography / Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation
During segregation, when the remainder of the city was not freely open, Douglass High School took on even more importance as a community gathering place for African-American students, educators, and parents. Some of Oklahoma City’s most acclaimed citizens called Douglass High School home, including principals Inman E. Page and Frederick D. Moon, and Zelia Page Breaux, the school’s first music teacher and director of the band, to name a few.
Built in 1910, the original elementary school building was designed in the Classical Revival style by architect Solomon Layton and his firm, known in circles as the state’s premier architect of his era, and whose influence on Oklahoma City was extensive. The red brick and limestone building is three stories in height in a rectangular footprint. Facing westward toward downtown, it’s perched on a knoll above the sidewalk where, from the beginning, a concrete retaining wall stands, as if raising up the edifice, analogous to the role of public education advancing pupils.
Layton’s later firm also designed the transformative additions built in 1934 for Douglass High School. The expansions on the north and south extended eastward, embracing the city block in a U-shaped footprint. Deftly matching masonry materials between two eras, and fusing the earlier building’s Classical Revival style with the contemporary Art Deco—which in itself was an intentional break with revival precedents—Layton’s firm maturely illustrated its artistry with time. Douglass High School was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
For the historic rehabilitation of the Douglass at Page Woodson, Smith Dalia Architects served as architect of record. Based in Atlanta, Smith Dalia began their connection with Oklahoma City on the mixed-use redevelopment of the 1923 Layton-designed Masonic Temple, which later was home to the Journal Record newspaper. The Heritage, as the redevelopment is known, is directly adjacent to the Oklahoma National Memorial.
“The privilege of working on the Heritage led to our introduction to developer Ron Bradshaw and the Page Woodson project,” recalled Julie Dalia, marketing manager at Smith Dalia.
After the board of education closed the Page Woodson school facility in 1993, the next 20 years saw the property suffer the severity of vandalism, fires and weather damage. The building needed sensitive treatment to retain as much historic fabric while converting the space into apartments, including the restoration of the Art Deco auditorium. Smith Dalia brought a meticulous approach to assure certified historic tax credits would assist in financing the repurposing of this community asset.
A vestibule at the Douglass at Page Woodson.Photo by Justin Clemons Photography / Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation
To contribute to the apartment unit total, a value proposition, Smith Dalia innovated by creating an additional floor level inside the former gymnasium. “Threading a new steel structure to support the floor, unseen, from the basement through one level without impacting the existing structure required close coordination between architect, structural engineer and contractor,” said lead architect Amanda Warr of Smith Dalia. “This type of teamwork resulted in tremendous satisfaction in being able to pass the National Park Service tax credit review and still end up with 60 historically-rich, affordable apartments and a community auditorium.”
Inside the building and out, the unique artisanal detailing is what drew its restoration close to an architect’s heart. “Limestone ornamentation consisting of stone window surrounds, stone coping on the parapet wall; stone pilasters with decorative capitals between windows; stone lintels and spandrels with decorative medallions on all façades, and more, showed the love that the builders put into this building,” Warr said.
“To be at the heart of this extremely comprehensive restoration process, relying on the combined years of expertise from preservation experts at Smith Dalia, and to have it all come together was an unforgettable experience. We felt we were truly communicating with the past.”
Affordability And Income
The Douglass at Page Woodson is 60 units of affordable housing, with studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments. The apartments are accessible to residents who earn up to 60% of the area median income adjusted for household size.
According to the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency, area median income (AMI) for the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Statistical Area in Oklahoma County is $67,300. A household of four making 60% of adjusted AMI equates to $40,380. For a household of one making 60% of AMI, that’s $28,320. At time of press, rents marketed on the Douglass at Page Woodson website for a studio, one-and two-bedroom are $645, $685 and $820 per month, respectively.
Allure Of The Auditorium
As part of the 1934 additions, a special feature endeared the community to Douglass High School, and afterward to F.D. Moon Junior High and Page Woodson School: the auditorium. Physically restoring the auditorium and its Art Deco architecture proved no small feat, since it had decayed in dormancy for more than a generation. Restoring activity to the auditorium involves reconnecting to the neighborhood and beyond, not unlike its heyday.
Douglass High School was a draw for many guests who traveled across the country for musical and theatrical productions, as well as addresses on social justice, politics and literature. This legacy included visits from jazz legend Duke Ellington, singer Marian Anderson, and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. The auditorium also hosted performances by Douglass alumni Charlie Christian, Jimmy Rushing and Ralph Ellison.
The auditorium at the Douglass at Page Woodson.Photo by Justin Clemons Photography / Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation
The Auditorium at the Douglass is leased and managed by Progress OKC, a community development corporation. Progress OKC believes the auditorium is on its way to becoming a versatile community center, to serve as a performing arts venue, but also a gathering place for education, celebrations and civic engagement. Although the space has been restored as part of the development, expenses remain to turn it into a top performing arts venue. Progress OKC is leading the $500,000 fundraising campaign to which the public may contribute.
“Progress OKC is actively fundraising for the auditorium’s audio and visual equipment,” said Executive Director Neila Crank-Clements. “We have received generous support from local foundations and individuals, but need to raise $180,000 more in order to meet the goal.”
The Driehaus Foundation Award continues the honors bestowed on the development, a joint venture by Colony Partners and SCG Development. Other awards include:
2018 – ULI Oklahoma IMPACT Award – Large Scale Rehabilitation & Restoration
2018 – Oklahoma Historical Society/SHPO – State Historic Preservation Officer’s Citation of Merit
2017 – AIA Georgia Residential Design Award – Adaptive Use
2017 – Apartment Association of Central Oklahoma – Renovation of the Year
Developer Ron Bradshaw of Colony Partners said, “When we began, back in 2013, we had no idea this would turn out to be an award-winning project at all. We did it to respect the past and revitalize the present, by providing housing choices.”
Headquartered in Oklahoma City, Bradshaw and his son, Jason Bradshaw, secured the site in 2013, working in conjunction with the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority. The Bradshaws proceeded to invest a year of honest dialogue with neighbors in the John F. Kennedy neighborhood and city officials. After the community’s and design team’s input, the objective was set to save the old Douglass High School building, repurpose the space to become affordable apartments, and utilize excess space, like the auditorium, for community programming.
The Douglass at Page Woodson is the nucleus of new multifamily housing investment in the JFK neighborhood, increasing the supply of quality rental units. In addition to the 60 affordable units at the Douglass, the joint venture partners also developed on the same block the logically-named the Douglass Next Door, which provides 68 affordable apartments. To the north across Northeast 6th Street, the Seven at Page Woodson is 80 units of new-build, market-rate apartments.
This density of residential development at Page Woodson is located just south of major employers like the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, the Children’s Hospital and Oklahoma City VA Health Care System. It’s also within minutes from commerce and entertainment options in Bricktown, Deep Deuce and downtown.
For the $32 million Douglass and Douglass Next Door, the Bradshaws partnered with SCG Development, a leading national tax credit developer. The project used federal historic tax credits, and affordable housing tax credits and multifamily bonds through the Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency. Additional project financing was provided by Wells Fargo, Freddie Mac, Arvest Bank and Oklahoma City.
“I’m a developer,” Bradshaw simply put it. “I like being a developer.”
About the waterfall of awards, the demure Bradshaw attributed credit to his partners, project team members, the neighborhood, alumni, lenders, and city, state and federal government.
“I was just the instrument.”
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