Dan Riedemann of Nineteenth Century Restorations, a construction company that specializes in restoring historic buildings, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to restore Woody Guthrie’s childhood home in Okemah and create a documentary about the process.
On the Kickstarter campaign site, Riedemann writes that Nineteenth Century Restorations has teamed up with Executive Producer Scott Richardson, formerly with A&E network, along with Through-A-Glass Productions to bring to television the complete reconstruction of one of America’s most sought-out celebrity childhood homes: the London House, where Guthrie spent much of his childhood in Okemah.
Every year, music fans and sightseers from around the world trek to 301 S First Street in Okemah to see what little remains of the legendary singer-songwriter’s home. Today, a few remnants of the rock foundation are all they can find.
The initial goal is to raise at least $93,000 to document, on video, the reconstruction of Woody’s house, according to the Kickstarter pitch.
“With the helping hands of his son Arlo, we will reconstruct the house from the piles of historic lumber so that it can act as a museum and a year-round music and arts venue, but most importantly, a tangible location for Woody Guthrie fans to visit. Imagine seeing Arlo Guthrie and others performing intimate shows during Woody Fest on the same second story porch from which his father once watched the farmers as he described in his autobiography. Along with Arlo Guthrie, who promises to help in the actual reconstruction, we will bring you the stories of Woody’s life narrated by the likes of Mary-Jo Guthrie Edgmon (Woody’s sister), Pete Seeger, Jimmy LaFave, John Fullbright and many more,” Riedemann writes on the crowdfunding site.
“In addition to the reconstruction of the house itself, the overgrown 2.5 acre site will be turned into a park-like setting, complete with camping accommodations and multiple intimate outdoor music and event areas so that the site can become an artist destination during Woody Fest in the years to come. Our overall goal is to raise approximately $500,000 to make this vision a reality. Once completed, visitors to Okemah will have the option of camping right on the site where Woody played as a child, musicians and artisits will be able to express their medium on the very sight of the London House. Right now, our focus is on the house itself as well as the documentary.”
When the future folk icon was a boy, his mother, who suffered from Huntington’s disease, burned down the first house young Guthrie knew as his home. The family salvaged a few pieces of property from the flame-engulfed house and moved across town. Having insufficient insurance on the house and its belongings, Guthrie’s father was forced to purchase the abandoned and run-down London House — the only house Woody chose to discuss at any length in his autobiography:
“I remember the next house pretty plain. We called it the old London House, because a family named London used to live there. The walls were built-up out of square sandstone rocks. The two big rooms on the ground floor were dug into the side of a rocky hill. The walls inside felt cold, like a cellar, and holes were dug out between the rocks big enough to put your two hands in. And the old empty snuff cans of the London family were lined up in rows along the rafters.
I liked the high porch along the top story, for it was the highest porch in all of the whole town. Some kids lived in houses back along the top of the hill, but they had thick trees all the way around their back porches, and couldn’t stand there and look way out across the first street at the bottom of the hill, across the first street at the bottom of the hill, across the second road about a quarter on east, out over the willow trees that grew along a sewer creek, to see the white strings of new cotton bales and a whole lot of men and women and kids riding into town on wagons piled double high-sideboard-full of cotton, driving under the funny shed at the gin, driving back home again on loads of cotton seed.”
In 1962, Earl Walker bought the house in its dilapidated state with hopes of a restoration. Walker believed that one day the community would embrace Woody Guthrie and his accomplishments. His uphill battle ended when the City of Okemah, joined by the school board, voted to have the house torn down in 1980. However, someone in town had the foresight to store the lumber for all these years. The documentary will discuss and investigate all of the different opinions and stories about who is responsible for the lumber having been saved for all these years, Riedemann writes on Kickstarter.com.
The Kickstarter campaign will continue through Aug. 29, and the project will only receive the funding from the campaign if all $93,000 is raised.
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