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October 19th, 2011 - Kelley Chambers

Crown jewel

Norman builder teams with OKC architects to bring back ‘one of the most famous Art Deco buildings in Oklahoma City’

One of Crown Heights’ crown jewels was well on its way to a date with the wrecking ball until it was purchased in May by a Norman builder. Looking to do his first project in Oklahoma City, and his first condo project, Brent Swift paid $350,000 for an Art Deco fourplex with a garage and a neighboring duplex, all of which had fallen into disrepair.

The properties sit on the southwest corner of N.W. 37th Street and Olie Avenue.

“That is one of the most famous Art Deco buildings in Oklahoma City,” says Swift, owner of Brent Swift Design Build. “I’m in the business of salvaging old properties in a mindful and meaningful way.”

The fourplex, with its tan- and black-brick accents, corner windows and a glass cube feature above the entry on the second floor, had not been occupied in decades. In that time, it sustained weather damage, vandalism and deferred maintenance that left it a shell of its former self.

In 2008, it was included on Preservation Oklahoma’s Most Endangered Historic Places list. The main threat to the building at that time was listed as “deferred maintenance.”

After years of neglect, the city got involved. In 2009, the city was looking at demolishing the garage. Catherine Montgomery, historic preservation architect for the city, says the fourplex — with its caved-in roof and decaying condition – likely would not have been too far behind for demolition. But that was not the ideal solution with it being in a Historic Preservation neighborhood.

“It’s not like the city wants to tear these properties down,” she says. “We’re not anxious to do that.”

When Swift entered the picture, he brought with him Hans Butzer and Jeremy Gardner of Butzer-Gardner. The pair has an ongoing relationship with Swift and designs his projects in Norman. Butzer says that since 2008, three clients came to him independently to discuss possible plans for the Art Deco fourplex.

When Butzer joined forces with Swift, he assessed the properties and determined that, indeed, the garage would need to go. But rather than leave a hole, he came up with a design that would construct a building similar to the garage that would include one condo. In addition, he made plans for two additional units to be constructed running south of the garage to include about 2,700 square feet. His plan sought to create a happy marriage between old and new.

“It’s really about the new building, and learning from the existing fourplex to develop an identity that is inspired by the original fourplex, and that allows the new structure to create its own personality,” Butzer says.
Plans for the structure call for putting Humpty back together again. Swift says he will have succeeded if it is renovated to look exactly as it did when it was built in 1936. He has made similar efforts in Norman for historic residential and commercial properties.

“The goal always for me is to put it back the way it was,” he says.

The budget for the entire project easily will top $1 million, and is set for completion by next summer. Swift is targeting selling the units starting at $179,000 and going up to about $250,000.

With a large gash in the fourplex, and a pile of bricks out back, he began interior framing. He plans to use the original brick and matching brick from the garage to reconstruct the back of the building. The steel-framed windows are being cleaned and restored, and he is looking for matching glass blocks for the front of the building.

On the duplex, he is restoring the original wood-framed windows.

“On both buildings, every window will be salvaged,” Swift says. “They’ll be essentially new, but they’re old.”
He brought his plans to the Historic Preservation Commission Aug. 3. One concern was the replacement garage. He received approval from the commission, with the condition that he produce more detailed drawings of the new building, and that the new garage is consistent and compatible with the historic district. Looking at his plans, Montgomery says it looks like he’s on the right track.

“The new garage really does respect the historic character of the original garage,” she says.
Swift says the project will be a challenge, but he welcomes the opportunity to bring the building back to its former self, be a good neighbor, and let the end result speak for itself.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to the product you produce,” he says. “For me, coming up here and doing this project is a big deal.”

Editor’s note: Visit okgazette.com to learn about the history of this property.
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