The 78-year-old Duncan's Bindery building, a well-known but blighted building along a main entry into downtown, is to be renovated into an upscale home by a woman who admits she desires to become downtown's next urban pioneer.
The building at 36 NE 10 is seen by more than 12,000 motorists who exit Interstate 235 onto Oklahoma Avenue to travel to downtown and the Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Until recently, the white stucco building was best known for its large signage that once read “Jesus Saves.”
The future resident, Tarena Self, bought the building purposely looking for a fixer-upper, and her architect, Wade Scaramucci, believes that is exactly what they to work with over the next year.
“I got involved with this through Berg Belanger (a downtown broker), and he had mentioned she was trying to find a building, was interested in becoming an urban pioneer,” Scaramucci said. “She was not interested in a newer project — she wanted something that might need some work.”
Self, who lives at Regency Tower, said she long desired to live downtown, and first looked at a couple of properties on NW 7 and NW 8 near Broadway.
She then started talking to the Duncan family about three years ago.
The Duncans built the building and operated a binding company for Bibles and religious materials for several decades.
In addition to the Jesus Saves sign, they had a display along NW 10 depicting the resurrection of Jesus.
The Duncan family later moved their binding operation to newer adjoining buildings to the west.
At one time, the upstairs of the original building had seven sleeping rooms, each of which came with a bed, bathroom and desk, with access to a common kitchen.
The building was last rented to an antique store more than a decade ago.
“Quite a few people had tried to buy the building, but most wanted to tear it down for the location,” Self said. “That's how we started visiting.”
Self wanted to restore the building, and keep the Duncan's Bindery and Jesus Saves signs intact.
“I told them those were my favorite things,” Self said. “They've been there a long time; they built their business there.”
Self said she doesn't mind the power substation across the street, and growing up in the country she had one near her home.
Cleaning up the debris inside, however, has been an unpleasant task.
“When I saw the building, there had been pigeons living in there for 10 years,” Self said. “We had to do four 10-yard Dumpsters for the birds and dung.”
Family obligations caused the project to be delayed by a couple of years. Now that Self and Scaramucci are ready to start work, they are faced with a stucco facade that has deteriorated to the point that the Duncan's Bindery and Jesus Saves signs can't be restored.
That led Scaramucci to draw up new designs that create a new facade to match the old one — a facade that gives tribute to the both the Duncan family's business and their Christian mission.
The Jesus Saves sign, Scaramucci said, will be re-created in neon lights.
“We are not trying to recreate in a hokey way, but take the best of the original ideas and do it in a new way,” Scaramucci said. “It's such a quirky building. It's a real opportunity.”
The designs call for a new steel structure to be built within the original brick building, with 3,000 square feet of housing to be created on each floor. Self's home will be on the second floor, while a rental unit will be built on the north ground floor.
The new home will include an enclosed park and two terraces. The building also is being soundproofed to block out noise from nearby trains.
“It would be a lot more cost effective to knock it down and build something new,” Scaramucci said. “But Tarena feels what makes this building great is that it is not perfect.”