Renovation plan could save historic downtown building

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital

Pawhuska’s endangered Triangle Building may yet survive to see its second hundred years.

A spokesman for a group of investors entrusted with saving the deteriorating downtown centerpiece recently said he anticipates a renovation plan for the five-story, three-sided structure to be approved by March of next year. Construction work could then begin by next August (or sooner), he said.

Brian Bickell of Ponca City, an architect with Sustainable Design Solutions, said efforts to obtain authorization for starting the work have been “tied up by two levels of bureaucracy” because approval is required from both the Oklahoma State Historical Society and the National Parks Service.

Located at 114 W. Main St., the Triangle Building is one of several local structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Original construction was begun on the local flatiron-design building in 1913. According to Bickell, the Pawhuska edifice was touted as the “first fireproof building in the state” upon its completion in 1915.

Bickell addressed local officials and other citizens who were in attendance at the Oct. 6 Pawhuska City Council meeting, He spoke about his involvement with the Triangle Building project, which has lately been a source of serious concern among city officials because of its physical condition.

The city recently sent a letter to the project’s investors advising them that drastic measures would be considered if safety concerns were not addressed at the site. Bickell said emergency measures had been taken to rectify the problems. He said he preferred to speaking about the city’s concerns about the building at the public meeting, rather than through mailed correspondence.

“I hear a lot of things and I figured the best thing to do is to come down here,” said Bickell, who answered all of the questions posed by councilmen and other persons in attendance.

Bickell called the Triangle Building “very historically significant” and said the building is among only five in the U.S (and “the only one in Oklahoma”) with its unique architectural style. He said historic renovation projects involve many uncertainties. Problems are encountered in each step of the process that could derail a project, he said.

“There’s a million things that can go wrong with a building,” Bickell said.

He mentioned the aged structure’s extensive plumbing and electrical shortcomings, and noted a particular need for a fire-sprinkler system to be installed. (The building has never had one, he said.) Except for the wood used on the windows, the Triangle Building is made entirely of steel and concrete, he said.

Briefly discussed was the possibility of putting up signs to inform the public that work on the building was in progress.

“We could do that — what is referred to as “curb appeal,” said Bickle, who jokingly added (in reference to a sign for a nearby eatery that is currently in place at the site.): “I kind of like the hot dog sign that’s in there.”

Bickell described the historic renovation process as having three parts: 1) establishing the building’s significance (which has been done), 2) telling the federal and state agencies what they intend to do, and 3) showing them that the prescribed work has been done.

He explained that a considerable amount of work has already been done on the building and said several positive things have brought increased optimism about the future of the project.

“The environmental studies all came back negative — which, in this case, is good,” Bickell said.

The architect said a decision has not been made regarding what future use the structure might have. He pointed out, however, that the usable space would be adequate for 20 (apartment) units, or as many as 30 hotel rooms.

“I know there is a need for a hotel in Pawhuska,” Bickell said, adding that a couple of floors of the building could be converted to a “lock-over” design, which would allow for them to be used as a hotel.

Major issues that already have been confronted include the upper-story windows (which, he said, have been removed to the ground floor) and the demolition of interior walls.

Efforts to save the historic structure were started more than a decade ago. In recent years, the Triangle Building has been used in at least two movie productions — including “August: Osage County.”