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Base Vines and Cattle repurposed an old school building into a “different kind of farm.”


Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Base


A Second Chance


Bringing new life to older Oklahoma buildings


By Elaine Warner


his is an age when many things are disposable. Still, there are some instances in which old items can be adapted to new uses—these items can be as big as some of the state’s great old buildings. Here are a few in Oklahoma that got a second chance.


T School Days


Cimarron Electric Cooperative members Jennifer and Aaron Base own 140 acres of land near Geary where they raise grass-fed cattle, pastured pork and, when the summer weather cooperates, pastured chickens. Jennifer teaches 7th through 12th grade math in Geary. And they grow grapes and make wine. They describe their operation, Base Vines and Cattle as “trying to be a differ- ent kind of farm.”


Their winery/tasting room is housed in a 1928, one-room school building that they purchased and moved to its present site.


“We stumbled across the building and knew it was ours,” Jennifer says. The derelict building was west of Greenfi eld where it had been moved in the 1950s from its original site near Watonga. The old sign from the school says “West Mount Pleasant” and Jennifer’s research indicated that it was a Rosenwald school.


In 1910, Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute and Julius Rosen- wald, philanthropist and president of Sears, Roebuck & Company, collabo- rated to improve facilities for the education of black children. Many south- ern communities built schools according to Rosenwald’s standardized plans. West Mount Pleasant, though not a black school, was one of these. Jennifer describes the restoration process, “The building was unpainted with many windows broken out. It was built with sheetrock rather than plas- ter and lath so we removed the bead board wainscoting and took it down to the studs.”


The dark, stained fl oor is original except for the bathroom and kitchen area, which they covered. The walls are sunny yellow and “chicken orange.” “My brother has chickens and one of them, a heritage breed Buff Orping- ton, was this color. We took a picture of it and matched the paint,” she says. The business has only been open since February and there are still some


24 OKLAHOMA LIVING


fi nishing touches the couple wants to add. Nevertheless, this restoration al- ready deserves an A+.


Tidal School Winery inhabits another deserted Oklahoma school. You’d never know it from looking at the beautiful red-brick, Georgian-Revival-style building with its pristine white trim, but this National Register of Historic Places structure was once on the “endangered list.” The building opened in 1930 as a “wing school”—the term for rural schools built to serve children of workers in the oil fi elds because local schools couldn’t handle the infl ux of students brought by oil booms.


Tidewater Oil Company, which held the lease on the land where the refi nery and oil camp were located, funded the two-story, 8,000-square-foot school. The company was a subsidiary of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil of New Jersey. The school was abandoned in the ‘40s but not forgotten. Scott Schroeder, co-owner of the winery, which opened in 2004, says, “We have people who have ties to the building coming in all the time. On one wall there’s a picture of two little girls taken in 1938. One of the women came in bringing the dress she was wearing in the photo. It’s on the wall by her picture.”


Not a school but part of an organization that served children, an unused chapel near El Reno has also been rescued. In 1909, Oklahoma Masons bought property that had served as the Darlington Agency for the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes since 1870. They built a Masonic home for orphans and the elderly. In 1913, the Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star built a chapel on the property. In 1922, following fl oods on the nearby North Cana- dian River, the Masons moved their facility to Guthrie and the land reverted to the state. Over the years, the collection of buildings served a number of purposes. From the 1950s through the 1970s, the chapel was used as a state sign shop. By 1996 when Redlands Community College took possession, the chapel was in disrepair.


Cimarron Electric Cooperative member Andrew Snyder, professor of viticulture and enology at the college, describes its condition, “There was plywood over the windows and holes in the roof.” He continues, “We spent $250,000 on the exterior and a million dollars on the interior.” Remaining pieces of stained glass were lovingly protected and reinstalled. An acoustic ash ceiling was added along with wi-fi and other equipment need- ed for business meetings. The chapel re-opened in September ready to host conferences, weddings and other special events.


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