OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA — Brick, mortar, and history.
Construction crews are still working away at this century old building.
“This building dates back to 1911,” says Progress Oklahoma Director Neila Crank -Clements.
Clements gave us one of the first looks inside what was once Douglass High School from 1934 to 1954, the Page -Woodson School up until 1994, and a vacant building until work started a year ago.
Of the conditions before work started, Clements describes, “It was terrifying. There were dead animals, live animals, you could tell people had camped out in here. People slept in here and made it their home.”
Developers, using special tax credits, built 134 low-income apartments from the old classrooms.
Clements says the apartments are, “Nice size, very New York loftish.”
Clements organization took over one wing to help serve a long neglected northeast Oklahoma City neighborhood.
“This is a $28 million project,” she says. “We see this as a true, cultural community center. That’s what we want it to become.”
A few short years ago the whole place was in jeopardy.
There were calls to tear down the school, but history won out.
“I’m so glad it wasn’t torn down,” she says. “That a developer came in and used all these different funding mechanisms to make this work financially.”
What was an eyesore for one generation was a beloved alma mater to another.
The old Douglass High School was home to one of the best music programs in state history, headed by a legendary teacher named Zelia Breaux.
Her students included guitar pioneer Charlie Christian, Blues singer Jimmy Rushing, and a trumpet player turned writer named Ralph Ellison.
Neila says she taught, “From 1918 to 1948.”
Clements says Progress Oklahoma has a dream of turning this space back into a working auditorium again.
After a two decade recess one of Oklahoma City’s historic schools has its hallways filled again.
“The community can enjoy music and dance performances, speaker series, etc.”
This brick, mortar, and history still has life in it.
For more information on the old Douglass HIgh and the fundraising efforts to bring back the old auditorium go to www.ProgressOKC.org