The Auditorium at The Douglass
A small group of community leaders got to see up close the renovations of Page Woodson School. Developer Ron Bradshaw, along with businessman Russell Perry, Alliance President and CEO Cathy O'Connor and Progress OKC Executive Director Neila Crank-Clements spoke about their plans, passion and purpose for reviving the abandoned building.
Once a thriving community center, Page Woodson was a segregated school for black students in the 1960s. For the past two decades, the building sat abandoned and neglected.
“Every section of Oklahoma City came to this school," Perry recalled. "It prepared the boys and girls who attended to face the challenges outside of these walls.”
A prolific public speaker and Page Woodson alum, Perry said he gave his first speech on its stage, one of the major renovations of the site.
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Page Woodson Original Sign
It was home to many well-known artists including Charlie Christian, Jimmy Rushing, and the Pulitzer Prize winning author Ralph Ellison. The Douglass High School band, under the tutelage of Mrs. Zelia Breaux, performed at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933. Douglass was one of the first desegregated high schools in the state. The school was renamed Page Woodson in 1954 and operated as an elementary school until it closed its doors in 1994. Having sat abandoned and neglected for two decades, this historic building promises to see the light of day again.
In 2013, local developers Ron Bradshaw and his son, Jason, purchased the decaying school to renovate it into high-quality, affordable apartment housing for low income families, meeting a critical need in this area.
The Art Deco auditorium added in the 1930's is being rehabilitated to serve as a community space for use as both a performing arts venue, to provide musical and dance performances, as well as a gathering space for the community for education, celebrations, and other quality of life activities.
"Historically it was an auditorium," Bradshaw said, "but we want to make it more than that."
The $25 million project includes a complete structural overhaul of the space. The building is listed on the Historical National Register and will be returned to its original Art Deco grandeur. Bradshaw is using private funding and historic renovation tax credits to restore the performance space but it does not cover the expenses of new audio, lighting and curtains—things necessary to make it a worthy performing arts venue. Currently, Progress OKC is writing grants and asking the public to help raise the $500,000 needed to purchase these items.
Page Woodson is a mixed-use space of affordable apartments, community meeting space and an auditorium that will be leased and managed by Progress OKC.
This will be a performing arts venue to provide musical and dance performances to the community, as well as a gathering space for the community for education, celebrations and community engagement activities," Crank-Clements explained. She said several performing arts organizations, including the Ambassador’s Choir, had already expressed strong interest in utilizing the space.
"Turning this back into a true community space after decades of disinvestment and graffiti is a project I have been looking forward to for some time," O'Connor said. "Investing in this neighborhood is an investment in its rich cultural history and our city's prosperity."
Bradshaw credits the collaborative efforts of the community for making the renovation a reality. “From the community that lives here now, ancestors and Page Woodson alumni, to bankers, developers, the city, Progress OKC and the Alliance--this represents a collective passion."