While many people walk the streets of Guthrie and fall in love with the city’s history and charm, Lynn and Sherri Bilodeau turned that downtown doting into advocacy for one of the city’s greatest architectural treasures.
The Bilodeaus became Guthrie residents less than three years ago and their involvement in the community has grown quickly as they grew acquainted with the State Capital Publishing Company Building just down the street from their home.
The four story building originally owned by Frank Greer was built to last with its brick exterior and quarried limestone front steps. Premium straight grain wooden floors and beautiful architectural detailing remain largely untouched along with a plethora of historically significant printing press equipment. At over 50,000 sq. ft., it is one of the largest old structures in Guthrie and was one of the first in Oklahoma to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The State Capital Publishing Company Building has only changed ownership a handful of times, but its fate is currently in the hands of Guthrie citizens.
The building was donated to the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) in 1975 by the Guthrie Chamber of Commerce, who raised private funds to purchase the building for $50,000 when printing operations ceased there. It then became home of the only printing museum in the United States operating out of the original printing building.
Unfortunately, no one had the foresight at that time to write a revisionary clause to give the building back to the city if OHS was no longer able to use it as a museum.
Legislators did create the Office of Management Services (OMES) to inventory all property owned by the state. They mandated that surplus property not in use be made available for suitors to purchase. “That’s how we got into the debacle of accepting bids for the building,” Bilodeau said.
Bidders intending to turn the building into apartments caught Guthrie’s attention. Concerned citizens fought very hard against it losing its historical integrity that way.
“I don’t think anyone intended this to happen. Sometimes legislatures pass laws and they have a domino effect,” said Bilodeau. “Fortunately, they fixed it.”
A new law to exempt the Oklahoma Historical Society from following OMES passed in May 2016 stating that the historical society must first offer the property for sale at fair market value to the original donor.
As the original donor, the Guthrie Chamber of Commerce had first dibs on the building.
“We do not wish to own the building, but would like to see it restored and functioning in a capacity that not only holds true to its original purpose but also benefit the community,” said Chamber President and CEO Tracy Zserdin.
“I think we owe a tremendous debt to Dr. Blackburn and the historical society for what they have done for the building by lobbying for this law, said Bilodeau.
“I was hoping to stay on the sidelines as legal advisor,” said Bilodeau, who was named Executive Director and CEO of the recently formed Guthrie Tomorrow Coalition that is conducting the effort to save the building in partnership with the Chamber and City of Guthrie.
Jan Goodyear, Chair of Guthrie Tomorrow Coalition and Lynn Bilodeau met informally with Dr. Blackburn on Friday, July 28. The meeting was upbeat with news that the local group is working to acquire, protect, restore, preserve and operate the building.
“We are all hopeful of the same thing: long term preservation of the building and its history,” said Bilodeau.
The Guthrie Chamber of Commerce, Guthrie City Council and State Senator, A. J. Griffin, all endorse the effort being made by GTC to save the building.
According to Bilodeau, the meeting with Dr. Blackburn resulted in an informal agreement to look at the possible hurdles on both sides.
“If we are successful and work out the details of future ownership and operation of the building, there will be a transition period,” said Bilodeau. “Our goal is to work with OHS, the Chamber, the City, Senator Griffin, and all our supporters to make the smoothest transition possible.”
“We have not discussed the actual details of how the final transfer would be made,” he added.
“We are going to have to raise a lot of money,” Bilodeau, who hopes to endow the building to provide a constant stream of income for the building so that it’s not a drain on anyone.
The building is in better shape than GTC members anticipated after years out of service, but it will require approximately $2-$4 million of renovations to become operational year round.
So what exactly does the GTC plan to do with the building?
“I think first and foremost the building needs to be a museum,” said Bilodeau. The coalition is considering a variety of other uses that could coincide with a museum.
“The treads in the stairs that are worn down from all the years of people walking up and down them. It fascinates me to think of all the lives that have been in and out of here,” said Nathan Turner from the Territorial Museum. “I love the stories surrounding (this building)."
Thanks to the concerted efforts of many, it looks like feet will continue to climb the stairs of the State Capital Publishing Company Building and make new history there for many years to come.