Construction crews will begin setting up at the Rock Island Plow Building in Bricktown next week as work ramps up on renovating the 105-year-old, boarded up building.
For Richard McKown, the $13.4 million renovation is unlike any project ever taken on for a man whose early career was spent exclusively building suburban homes. In more recent years, McKown has developed Level and the Mosaic apartments in Deep Deuce.
The Rock Island Plow Building, at Reno and Oklahoma avenues, is McKown’s first redevelopment of a historic building.
“This has definitely been the most intimidating building I’ve ever taken on,” McKown said. “But it’s beautiful. And when all the pieces started to fall together, it was then time to step on the gas, get everything in place and go for it.”
McKown’s team, meanwhile, is experienced in rescuing old buildings on the verge of collapse.
Wade Scaramucci, an architect with London-based Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, previously oversaw designs for redevelopment of the Duncan’s Bindery building at NE 10 and Oklahoma Avenue. Lingo Construction, meanwhile, is in the midst of carefully rebuilding the 110-year-old Hotel Marion at NW 10 and Broadway.
“These are very challenging but also very important projects for Oklahoma City,” Scaramucci said of the Rock Island and Duncan’s Bindery buildings. “In both cases, these buildings were largely gone. With the Rock Island Plow Building, we’re very carefully trying to leave as much as we can there, because it has a certain character and history to it. But we also have to make it a building for the 21st century, so there’s a delicate balance between the two.”
Neither McKown nor Scaramucci know how long the Rock Island Plow Building has been empty. But it was already vacant when original Bricktown developer Neal Horton bought it in the early 1980s. At that time, Horton and architect Don Beck toured the building and saw desks, chairs, typewriters and other furnishing intact, appearing as if the building had been occupied just weeks or days earlier.
But by the time the building was bought by its prior owners, part of the roof and floors had rotted through and were missing. Without some structural re-enforcements by the prior owners, Phil and Avis Scaramucci (Wade Scaramucci’s parents), McKown asserts the building would have collapsed.
“I wouldn’t be able to keep doing what I’m doing today if not for this amazing intervention that happened 10 years ago,” McKown said. “It was missing a third of the roof — water was pouring into it. Huge amounts of the wood inside the building had rotted out. They put a new roof on the building, got it watertight, and replaced all the rotting heavy timber structures.”
Had the intervention not happened, McKown said, the property would be a surface parking lot today.
McKown and Scaramucci say their goal is to respect the building’s history, while creating an adaptable modern building that could be converted to other uses, including housing or a hotel.
Lingo Construction is tasked with building a new, 21st century building inside an early 20th century building. Scaramucci said the contractor will fix any damaged brickwork – a task complicated by the lack of any existing comparable brick. Renovations are expected to be completed within one year.
“It’s very difficult to match that brick today — they don’t make this brick today,” Scaramucci said. “It’s a source long forgotten and size no longer made.”
Scaramucci said careful collaboration has been key to a successful partnership with Lingo Construction, which also renovated the Braniff Building at 324 N Robinson and is set to renovate the Mideke Building at Oklahoma Avenue and Main Street.
“These are very difficult projects because you can’t go in with large crews,” Scaramucci said. “You have to go in and take one piece off, put one piece in, and move very carefully. It’s very time consuming, laborious and expensive to do these things. (Owner Stan) Lingo and his team are magnificent. They are very thorough and very proactive.”