Preserve America is a White House initiative announced by Laura Bush in 2003. The goals of the initiative include: a greater shared knowledge about the nation’s past, strengthened regional identities and local pride, increased local participation in preserving the country’s cultural and natural heritage assets, and support for the economic vitality of our communities. Major components of the initiative include the Preserve America Presidential Awards, Preserve America Communities, and federal support.
Oklahoma’s Preserve America Communities
Ardmore, Durant, Enid, Muskogee, Newkirk, Oklahoma City, Ponca City, Shawnee, and Tulsa have been designated Preserve America Communities. Each city will now benefit from this special program, and the State Historic Preservation Office extends congratulations to them.
The Preserve America initiative is a federal program to encourage and support community efforts for the preservation and enjoyment of America’s priceless cultural and natural heritage. The goals of the initiative include a greater shared knowledge about the nation’s past; strengthened regional identities and local pride; increased local participation in preserving the country’s cultural and natural heritage assets; and, support for the economic vitality of our communities. As of May 12, 2011, there are 867 PA communities nationwide.
Communities must complete a program application that features a special project related to historic preservation and economic revitalization. Summaries of the projects and activities highlighted in Oklahoma’s Preserve America Communities applications are provided below.
Ardmore, Durant, Enid, Muskogee, Newkirk, Oklahoma City, Ponca City, Shawnee, Tulsa, and other Preserve America Communities receive national recognition for their efforts. Other benefits include appropriate use of the Preserve America logo on signs and promotional materials; notification to media, state tourism offices, and visitor bureaus; listing in a web-based directory to showcase preservation efforts and highlight heritage tourism destinations, and eligibility for grant assistance when funding is appropriated.
For Preserve America Community program information or for assistance with your community’s application, contact Lynda Ozan at Lynda.Ozan@history.ok.gov. The Preserve America Communities application and other program information is available at www.preserveamerica.gov.
Ardmore’s Preserve America Community application featured the rehabilitation of its 1918 Santa Fe Depot, and the community received its official Preserve America designation in January 2005. The depot project demonstrates the community’s commitment to the preservation of its local landmarks, revitalization of its downtown commercial district, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and promotion of its many assets through heritage tourism. The project was the culmination of years of effort by the Ardmore Main Street Authority (now officed in the depot) and its many public and private partners.
Durant’s application featured its downtown revitalization efforts. Since Durant’s selection as an Oklahoma Main Street community, over $5 million in private funds has been invested in the central business district otherwise known as the Durant Main Street District. This does not include public reinvestment of over $750,000. The majority of the public reinvestment stems from Phase I of the Downtown Streetscape that was completed in November 2004. The project was funded with a TEA-21 grant (federal highway funds administered through the Oklahoma Department of Transportation) and supplemented by money and in-kind labor from the City of Durant as well as $50,000 raised from private sources by Durant Main Street. Subsequent phases of the project are now complete. Another project completed in 2004 was significant to their community heritage preservation efforts. The Three Valley Museum opened in June 2004 in Downtown Durant after a three-phase rehabilitation of a building on the verge of collapse. The second and third phases were jointly funded through TEA-21 and matching funds from the community. The total project cost was $880,600.
The same organizations and more were involved in sponsoring the 2002 Statewide Historic Preservation Conference. Durant Main Street worked with the State Historic Preservation Office, Oklahoma Historical Society, to host the event. Additional co-sponsors included the Oklahoma Main Street Center, Oklahoma Department of Commerce; Preservation Oklahoma, Inc.; Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma; the City of Durant; Durant Historical Society; and Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
Enid’s application featured rehabilitation of its historic Masonic Temple built by the Garfield County Masons in 1924. Today the magnificent building serves as the Enid Symphony Hall. The individual who had owned the building for several years donated it to the symphony. The Enid Symphony, the City of Enid, Enid residents, 40 local volunteers, and more than 50 artists from around the world recently completed a $3.2 million renovation project, adapting the building for a theater and event space. Public contributions, corporate sponsorship, and in-kind donations, particularly from artists, made the exemplary local initiative possible. Now the building boasts a symphony hall decorated with three Swarovski chandeliers and seats salvaged from a 1930s theater from Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Also renovated was an Egyptian style lobby, and the Eleanor Hoehn Hornbaker Banquet Hall, which are rented for weddings and other events. A virtual tour of the restored rooms can be found on the Enid Symphony’s website (http://enidsymphony.uniqhorns.com). The City of Enid participates in the State Historic Preservation Office’s Certified Local Governments Program, and, through this program, the downtown commercial district was recently listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Enid Main Street Program provides vital services and guidance for the revitalization efforts in the district. The Enid community supports the Museum of the Cherokee Strip and many other civic, cultural, and recreational activities.
Muskogee’s application featured its annual Azalea Festival. Each April, over 100,000 visitors come to see the Azaleas in bloom in the historic Honor Heights Park. The park dates to 1909 when the Muscogee (Creek) Nation ceded the land on Agency Hill to the city of Muskogee. For many years, it was merely a bramble of trees and vines with a winding wagon path around the hill that afforded a spectacular view of the city in the valley below. Gradually the city’s parks department, along with the Muskogee Garden Club, began a transformation of the park turning it into an English style garden. The park won the Better Homes & Gardens More Beautiful America Award after the WPA had added picnic tables, ponds and covered pavilions among its winding trails. It was a private donation of Azalea plants that gave the park its greatest feature. Today, hundreds of varieties of Azaleas bloom during April and bring visitors from around the world.
Many cultural and heritage tourism events are now offered during the Azalea Festival including the Native American Art Market at the Five Civilized Tribes Museum and a Downtown Trolley Tour offered by the Three Rivers Museum. A downtown parade sponsored by the Parks Department, the Exchange Club’s chili cook-off, a quilt show presented by the Muskogee Quilters Guild and Darkwood Film Art Institute’s international film festival are other events tied to the Azalea Festival. The economic impact of these events averages $3.5 million spent in Muskogee during the month of April and with 143 jobs directly relating to Honor Heights Park and the Azalea Festival.
Newkirk’s application featured a special effort on the part of young people to promote community vitality. The Newkirk community is extremely proud of its Junior Main Street Program. The first such program in the nation, it was organized in 1997 by four eighth grade students. Their slogan is “Living in the future to repair the past,” and their mission statement is “To improve and preserve the future of Newkirk’s downtown heritage and keep the pride the town has developed in the last 100 years.” They also created their own logo. Among Junior Main Street’s first efforts to promote Newkirk’s heritage were two publications: A coloring book designed for fourth graders that features drawings of buildings in the Newkirk Central Business District (listed in the National Register of Historic Places and protected under a local ordinance) accompanied by a brief narrative about each property; and a pamphlet entitled “Fun & Almost Free Things To Do In Newkirk” that also features the historic downtown district and is popular with visitors and local citizens alike.
In 2002 Newkirk Junior Main Street initiated its most ambitious project, the annual spring community-wide clean-up, and it has made a real difference over the past three years. To help emphasize the importance of the project, the students arranged for the Kaw Nation Environmental Specialist to visit the after school program and discuss the importance of keeping the community litter free. The Junior Main Street project has received awards from Keep Oklahoma Beautiful. Thanks to Newkirk Junior Main Street and its many volunteers, the town looks great, and the neat and clean appearance of the Newkirk Central Business District is a real point of pride for the community. It is a place where tourists want to come. One more effort of these outstanding young people is their special project to clean outdoor sculpture in the community in accordance with guidelines from Save Outdoor Sculpture.
Oklahoma City (2008)
Oklahoma City featured the rehabilitation of the landmark Skirvin Hotel in its Preserve America Community application. The hotel closed in 1988 and remained vacant and deteriorating until the City of Oklahoma City stepped up to facilitate its preservation. The City formed Skirvin Solutions, purchased the building with Community Development Block Grant Funds, and entered into a contract with Skirvin Partners LLC to redevelop the hotel. The $55 million project benefited the community in many ways including the generation of more than 400 construction jobs; the creation of approximately 170 permanent hotel jobs (FTEs); the elimination of an example of blight; the addition of 225 hotel rooms two blocks from the convention center; increased tourism and convention business; the preservation of one of the most historically significant structures in the state; increased ad valorem and sales tax revenues; improved property values; and direct and indirect impact on the state and local economy. Because the project involved federal and state rehabilitation tax credits, and the developers and their architects, Kahler Slater, Inc. worked closely with the Oklahoma SHPO and the National Park Service to insure the work would meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, the resulting rehabilitated property retains its historic integrity for generations to come. The Skirvin reopened for business on February 26, 2007, right on schedule.
Ponca City (2007)
Ponca City’s Preserve America Communities application featured its ongoing downtown revitalization program. The effort is led by Ponca City Main Street (PCMS). The City, the Chamber, local businesses, and citizens have given new life to the historic district. An increase in tourism and economic development in the heart of the city is a result of their efforts. The PCMS program began in 1987. Since that time the downtown district has benefited from a total of over $22 million in private investment and $15 million in public investment stemming from a sales tax and other city funds. The outcomes have been increased economic vitality, heritage tourism and community pride. The creation of the annual PCMS Birthday Bash and the development of the annual PCMS Iris Festival are just two examples of the program’s activities that stimulate the local economy and feature community heritage.
Shawnee, Oklahoma’s first Preserve America Community, received the designation in December 2004. Shawnee’s Preserve America Community application featured the revitalization of its downtown, including rehabilitation work, educational programs, and heritage tourism initiatives, as justification for the designation. The revitalization effort began in 1989 when Shawnee was selected as an Oklahoma Main Street project. Since that time over $10 million of public/private monies have been invested in the revitalization area. A few specific accomplishments of the Shawnee community include completion of its downtown streetscape project, development of a downtown walking tour and stained glass tour, and hosting Windows of Opportunity in Preservation: Oklahoma’s 16th Annual Statewide Preservation Conference in May 2004. Clearly, the strong public/private partnerships formed to revitalize downtown Shawnee are impacting the City’s overall economy while fostering the preservation of its heritage.
The City of Tulsa and Tulsa County recently collaborated with local property owners to infuse new life into a struggling downtown. The Philtower Building, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, occupies a pivotal position in Tulsa’s legacy, and the conversion of its upper floors into lofts assures that its place at the cutting edge cannot be consigned to the past. This important revitalization effort is the focus of the City’s Preserve America application. The building that has been a Tulsa icon for 80 years continues to adapt to modern needs with assistance from Tulsa taxpayers.
The history of the Philtower mirrors the history of Tulsa itself. In 1927 the Philtower’s iron skeleton rose at Tulsa’s core. From its Oil Boom origins to its contemporary rejuvenation, the Philtower has developed along with the city’s needs. Beauty and functionality coexist in a structure that remains remarkably faithful to the architect’s original concept. While the building’s contributions to commerce are impressive, the Philtower’s architectural significance is equally notable. Its Gothic Revival beauty, embellished with Art Deco details, endures. In 2004, The Philtower, LLC made the landmark decision to convert the upper floors to luxury residences, creating Tulsa’s first mixed-use high-rise. This pioneering project successfully combined Federal and State Rehabilitation Tax Credits, private financial investment, and public dollars funded by Tulsa County and the City of Tulsa’s local revenues. The local government contributed $1 million dollars of the $5 million in total project costs. The Philtower Lofts project makes the public statement that has influenced others to follow suit.