Uptown developer Johnathan Russell will never look at old buildings the same way after discovering another historic facade hidden for decades by awnings and “modern” touches added more than 40 years ago.
Russell, who is developing the northwest corner at Walker Avenue and NW 23 into the upscale shopping center The Rise, previously joined restaurateur Chris Lower in celebrating the discovery of an intact 1920s era cast stone and brick facade at the future home of Pizzeria Gusto, 2415 N Walker Ave.
Russell is set to unveil yet another rediscovered facade Thursday night for the main building at The Rise, which once was home to a used hotel furniture and equipment store. The granite, streamline-modern style facade, stretches across the western three-fourths of the building.
“It’s 99 percent intact — it’s gorgeous, it’s amazing,” Russell said. “We knew there were some bones there, but we didn’t know what. So when we uncovered it, we needed to step back and make sure we knew how to preserve it right.”
With the latest discovery, Russell admits he bought the block really knowing the true appearance only of a mid-20th century Texaco gas station at 2425 N Walker Ave. that will be home to The Pump Bar.
Both Russell and his designer, Larry Pickering, say retail facades like the one that will adorn The Rise are rare.
“It’s cut granite,” Russell said. “And the suspended awning is still there. It’s insanely beautiful and to do that today, well, it’s just not doable.”
Pickering could not estimate the cost of recreating a granite retail facade in 2014.
“Nobody could afford it,” Pickering said. “It’s cost prohibitive. The materials that go into it, the craftsmanship, the shapes, it just can’t be done. There are so many buildings in Edmond and north Oklahoma City that do these classic details out of synthetic stucco. It’s the go-to product because it’s cheap. I hate that. Shopping centers don’t have to all look the same.”
Russell previously admitted that when he purchased the block, he initially considered razing the old Texaco and the building that will be home to Pizzeria Gusto. Even earlier, when the property was under different ownership, executives with Albertsons engaged in negotiations to buy the block and clear it for a new supermarket.
The Rise is set to open this summer, one year later than first hoped, but fully leased to a mix of restaurants, shops and bars.
“This project has been a series of discoveries,” Russell said. “Every time you find something like this, it slows us down a bit, and we need to figure out how to incorporate it into our designs. It has worked on our time lines some, but the outcome is just amazing.
Pickering, meanwhile, is happy that the old facades were simply covered up instead of being ripped off the buildings as occurred with several structures downtown.
“There was so much modernization in the mid-century,” Pickering said. “It was all about new materials and new looks. To discover these facades we lost so much to the Urban Renewal era in the 1960s and 1970s, to have it emerge like this, is fantastic. It gives us a glimpse of what we had. And hopefully it will encourage people to save what else we still have.”
It gives us a glimpse of what we had. And hopefully it will encourage people to save what else we still have.”