Q&A - April 21, 2017

OSUIT intentionally chose to take on one of the more challenging projects in downtown Okmulgee because we wanted to encourage others who might be interested in renovating buildings of their own. We wanted to be a partner with this community to help restore the beautiful and historic district of downtown Okmulgee, and we wanted our students to have a worthwhile experience here.

Q: What was it like when you first found the Grand Old Post Office?

In 2014, we set out to find a suitable property in downtown Okmulgee that could be converted into loft apartments for OSUIT students. We looked at a lot of beautiful historic buildings but settled on the old two-story buildings along the north side of 5th Street between Grand Avenue and Central Avenue. When our team first toured this structure, it was in a state of major disrepair. Much of the property had been abandoned for decades. Windows were broken out and rotted. Pigeons and rodents had taken up residence where people once lived. The flat roof was sagging badly from years of neglect and was allowing water to pool and penetrate deep into the structure. Walls and floors in certain areas were unsafe and crumbling. It was not a place you would walk into and think to yourself, “Wow, this is really nice.” Quite the opposite—you had to look very hard to see the potential beyond all the shortcomings. The glory days of this old structure had come and gone, and it was declining rapidly.

When I first jokingly referred to it as the “Grand Old Post Office,” it sure wasn’t because of its appearance or existing state of repair. I called it this because it was the former Post Office building on the corner of 5th and Grand. But for some reason, the name seemed appropriate—there was something “grand” about this discarded and forgotten building. The haggard old complex was really showing its age, but there was still something grand about it that was undeniable—a latent stateliness, a noble posture, a dignified presence that had been concealed by time and a thick layer of dust. Its grandeur was now dormant but not entirely lost. This once proud building truly deserved to be preserved but needed a lot of attention right away.

Renovation on the Grand Old Post Office began two years after we first toured it, and for many of us, this has seemed more like a rescue mission than a remodeling project. I realize buildings don’t have personalities of their own, but as our extensive renovation has progressed, the building almost seems grateful. Its shame and embarrassment are slowly being replaced with dignity and pride.

The return of the Grand Old Post Office to its former prominence and grandeur is a symbol of what’s happening to Okmulgee. This town is experiencing a reawakening of its own—a renaissance to reclaim its forgotten dignity. We call it “Okmulgee Rising,” and believe me, it’s just getting started.

Wonderful question this week. Thank you for the opportunity to reminisce. Please keep your questions coming to osuit-president@okstate.edu.