Three months after designers of the MAPS 3 Core to Shore park insisted they had exhausted efforts to try to incorporate the old Film Exchange building into their plans, a very different history has emerged.
A series of discussions with city officials, and comments by the designers themselves at last week's MAPS 3 citizen's park subcommittee meeting reveals that Hargreaves Associates never saw the building at SW 5 and Robinson Avenue as being a compatible part of a future park.
From the start, Hargreaves Associates wanted a clear slate, save for the Union Station. Every rendering, every plan they drew up envisioned not a bit of the area's history surviving beyond the historic train station.
What's interesting is that this was a decision left up to out-of-state planners, with no real input from the Oklahoma City Council, which is supposed to hold the ultimate say on policy matters and how major capital improvements are to proceed.
It was Councilman Pete White, joined by local preservationists, who in July put plans to demolish the building on hold. He noted that Oklahoma City is a city that tore down hundreds of old buildings during the 1960s to 1970s Urban Renewal era, and that the current leadership has the burden of ensuring it doesn't move forward recklessly with demolishing remaining historic structures.
Bradley Wynn is widely regarded as the local expert on the city's Film Exchange community and authored the book “Film Row.” Over the past several weeks he has attempted to rally support for saving the structure.
Wynn's research shows the building was the second of three to be home to the Film Exchange, which include Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Radio Keith Orpheum Distributing (R.K.O. Pictures), Pathe Films, Producers Distributing, Fox Films, First National Pictures, Vitagraph Inc. and Warner Brothers.
The building opened in the early 1920s, and when the Exchange left for its better-known third home on Film Row on W Sheridan Avenue, the top floor was converted by the federal government into housing for families during World War II.
In its later years, the building housed the City Rescue Mission, and during that era it was painted yellow. When the mission moved out, the building was pretty much left alone and forgotten.
All along the fringes of downtown, similar buildings have been and are being renovated into housing, shops and restaurants.
And, as I noted, before it was acquired by the city, its former owner, Asset Group, sought to make the building its headquarters. The city objected, saying plans for the company to store its construction trailers on site were not a compatible fit. Asset officials then offered to change the scope of their project, to make the upstairs home to a group like the Boys & Girls Club, and the downstairs a restaurant.
That offer, Asset officials told me at the time, elicited no response from the city.
Since the public first learned of the designers' intent to demolish the building, I've heard from three groups eager to redevelop the building into housing and retail.
They just don't know what to do next. White is clearly their advocate. David Todd, head of the MAPS 3 office, wants such parties to contact him directly. But what, I asked, could be the downside in letting such proposals be aired in public, at a MAPS 3 subcommittee or city council meeting?
His response: let the proposals come forward — they will be heard. The next step after that is up to residents and the city council.