Fine Arts Building holds historical significance to Oklahoma

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Fine Arts Building holds historical significance to Oklahoma

January 27, 2012

Fine Arts Building
The Fine Arts Building, the oldest academic building on the Northwestern Oklahoma State University campus, recently was placed on the 2012 Oklahoma’s Most Endangered Historic Places List. This list is established to bring attention to preserving historic places across the state.

Fine Arts 1916
Fine Arts Building circa 1916

A part of Oklahoma history is located at Northwestern Oklahoma State University and has been selected for the 2012 list of Oklahoma’s Most Endangered Historic Places by Preservation Oklahoma.

The Fine Arts Building, home to the offices of Student Affairs, Recruitment, International student advising, Counseling Services, National Guard and other programs vital to the campus, was placed on the list to call attention to the importance of maintaining historic, landmark buildings across the state of Oklahoma.

In the early 1900s, enrollment at the institution – then known as Northwestern Normal School – grew rapidly. It became apparent during the administration of President T. W. Conway that a second campus building was needed. The Oklahoma Territorial Legislature began to seek funding for a new structure, and in a proposal signed by Territorial Governor Thomas B. Ferguson, $50,000 was requested from the federal government for that purpose. Approval was granted by the U.S. Senate and signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in June 1906. Construction by contractor L. F. Lee began in January 1907 and was completed in October of that year. Known originally as Science Hall, it housed science departments, a library, a gymnasium and training school for teachers.

Unfortunately, the building was allowed to deteriorate in the years that followed and was in need of extensive renovation in the late 1930s. It barely escaped demolition as suggested by Governor E. W. Marland, but instead was totally revamped in 1938. It was extensively remodeled again in 1947-49 in the administration of Ernest E. Brown. Steel girders and columns and concrete flooring replaced all wooden construction at a cost of $205,000.

Another major renovation, including the installation of an elevator, took place in 1975 when Joe J. Struckle was president. The cost was $440,667. The building has been utilized by various programs through the years, including different academic areas, the National Youth Administration in 1938-40 and the U.S. Army Air Corps aviation student program in World War II.

Science departments were moved in 1938 to the science annex (later named Carter Hall) of the Jesse Dunn Building. The name of Science Hall was changed then to Vinson Hall, honoring A.G. Vinson, an early-day professor, but became known again as the Science Hall a year later. With the music and speech departments and several offices functioning there in 1948, the name of the structure was changed to the Fine Arts Building.

Designed by Solomon Andrew Layton, architect of Oklahoma’s State Capitol, the Fine Arts Building is the oldest academic building on the campus and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
Kay Decker, professor of sociology and former president of the board of Preservation Oklahoma, nominated the Fine Arts Building for the endangered list.

“The Fine Arts Building is in need of preservation,” Decker said. “We hope to call attention to the need of preserving historical structures across the state.”

Decker explained that since the Fine Arts Building is in the public sector, there’s a lack of funding to preserve these categorized buildings.

“The hope of Oklahoma’s Most Endangered Historic Places list is to provide enough incentive to allocate enough funding so these places don’t fall into disrepair,” Decker said.

Preservation Oklahoma is a state-wide program established to help prevent demolition of historical places and to also reach these places before they are considered to be in poor condition.

For a list of endangered places in Oklahoma, visit www.preservationok.org.

-NW-