Stan Lingo can finally sleep again when storms, strong winds and earth tremors hit the city overnight. But for months, the salvation of the Marion Hotel was anything but certain for the builder and the landmark’s owners.
The 110-year-old, three-story building is the oldest downtown, and was empty and boarded up for two decades before it was purchased by the Midtown Renaissance Group in 2006. It didn’t take long before partner Chris Fleming discovered why a series of owners abandoned any efforts to restore the hotel.
“The first thing we sought to do was to mitigate any deterioration that had happened,” Fleming said. “So when we bought it, we wanted to put a new roof on it to stop the water that was leaking into it. But there was so much damage that the structure couldn’t support a new roof.”
The developers discovered they would have to spend $1.5 million just to provide the structural reinforcement needed to replace the roof.
“The question was whether that would be throwing good money after bad,” Fleming said. “We determined it had stood this way for decades. There were other issues we had to address to make it viable, parking for one thing. And then we had to talk to neighbors to secure support for construction staging.”
‘We’re scared of this building’
The pieces came together last year when the city agreed to provide financing assistance for construction of a garage across the street that provided some justification for renovating the Marion and two large decades-old dealership buildings at the intersection of NW 10 and Broadway – the Buick Building at 1101 N Broadway and the Pontiac Building at 1100 N Broadway.
Lingo’s company Lingo Construction won accolades for its delicate handling of restoring the historic west facade of the Braniff Building at 324 N Robinson Ave. while tearing out the east alley brick wall and replacing it with a modern glass facade. Lingo also rebuilt the old Plaza Theater, now the home of Lyric Theater, in the 16th Street Plaza District.
Warnings about the Marion’s delicate state emerged immediately as Lingo talked with demolition subcontractors about how best to gut the inside of the hotel.
“The guys who have nerves of steel are the demo contractors,” Lingo said. “And when the demo guys say ‘We’re scared of this building,’ it’s time to perk up and pay attention. And as we were undoing this building, the masonry walls were such that we could just unstack the bricks without any equipment. They were just stacked and not bonded. The mortar was gone.”
Original plans called for using steel bracing to ensure the walls stayed intact. That plan fell short, and several new plans were attempted before Lingo, himself a structural engineer, determined the best plan of attack was to tear out the core of the building first, and then tear out rooms adjoining the outside walls one segment at a time.
Over the first few months, both Lingo and Fleming worried about whether the hotel would survive the renovation – and Oklahoma City’s sometimes harsh conditions.
“Right as we started demolition, we had some early spring winds – 50 to 60 miles per hour,” Lingo said. “There was many a night where I wondered what I would see the next morning.’
The slow and tedious process of tearing out one wall section at a time, rebuilding sections of those floors, and then moving on to the next section, continued through early spring.
“It was two months ago when I started feeling better about it,” Fleming said. “That coincided with the new structure going inside. We’re all getting better sleep now — I know Stan is for sure.”
Just staging the job site was a challenge. The Marion has no surface parking and no green space. The adjoining properties have different owners.
“We have more than inconvenienced our neighbors throughout the construction process, and we truly appreciate their cooperation,” Fleming said, adding the city was helpful in allowing lane closures along NW 10.
Lingo, meanwhile, oversaw yet another tedious task of removing 10 trailer loads of dirt from the building’s basement to lower the floor by six inches.
“It was all hand-work,” Lingo said. “There were no mechanical tools used. It was all bodies using buckets to put the dirt in and then haul it out. The slab, the walls, everything that came out came out in buckets. It was done with an assembly line.”
Fleming said initial interest in the project is encouraging. The building is being converted into 10 upscale apartments, though one potential tenant has indicated they might want one large residence on the entire top floor. Even if it opens fully leased this winter, Fleming adds, the Marion is far from being a profitable venture.
“It’s not much of a moneymaker,” Fleming said. “A lot of times historic tax credits are the only things that make restoring buildings like this financially viable. But even with the tax credits, the value of this proposition is unfavorable.”
The building’s age, Queen Anne-style design, and history, however, make it unique. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Preserving a long history
The Oklahoman archives indicate the building was first built as the 40-room Marion Flats. On May 23, 1909, the building was renamed The Marion, a “first-class European hotel catering only to the best and highest-class trade.”
The basement was enlarged and remodeled for the addition of a cafe. The woodwork was painted a dark mahogany, and expensive furnishings, including brass beds were placed in every room. An early-day photo shows an entryway with ornate railing and etched-glass windows.
Many of those early improvements were long lost. But the tile entryway and wood-post stairway have been kept intact through a jigsaw-puzzle approach to keeping that part of the first floor from collapsing.
“We’re firm believers in historic preservation where it makes sense, and where higher and better uses cannot be found,” Fleming said. “If the building goes away, what are you getting? It’s three parking spaces. We’re committed to preserving historic buildings in Midtown. The fabric is important to the neighborhood feel we’re trying to establish. The Marion might be the crown jewel from the historic fabric from that time period.”
Fleming believes a restored Marion will add value to the Buick and Pontiac Buildings and other Midtown Renaissance holdings in the area.
“It adds value more than demolishing the building or having surface parking,” Fleming said. “You have to look at it not just from quantitative perspective, but from a quality perspective. How much discussion and buzz is attained by restoring people’s favorite building, restoring a gem downtown? How much goodwill is attained? Neighborhood quality is restored by rehabilitating the Marion.”