Beauty in the Abandoned
Boarded windows, overgrown foliage and an aura of mystery are just some of the features of the hundreds of abandoned historical buildings gracing the landscape in the state of Oklahoma. In an effort to chronicle and retain the history of these forgotten landmarks, the organization AbandonedOK travels to buildings that are no longer in use and documents their history and significance through photographs and research. While some of these buildings may not be preserved physically, AbandonedOK is making sure to remember these landmarks in history, as they continue to remain a part of Oklahoma’s cultural identity. Many of the most beautiful structures are former churches, full of detailed architecture and historical meaning—and they all have a story to tell.
Among the most notable of AbandonedOK’s projects is Hopewell Baptist Church in Edmond, which was designed by the renowned architect Bruce Goff. The church was constructed entirely by the local community using found materials related to the surroundings, as is typical of Goff designs. It is, according to AbandonedOK founder Justin Tyler Moore, “A really, really cool building,” which was unfortunately beaten to death by Oklahoma’s severe weather. The unique dome-like roof catches the eyes of all passersby and its architectural and artistic features have continued to be studied extensively throughout the years, even after its eventual abandonment in 1989. Hopewell’s community is working toward restoring it to its former glory, though it continues to sit empty as funds for its renovation are slowly being raised.
Another building left in limbo is the Center for Design Arts in downtown Oklahoma City, which was originally a church, but has since been abandoned after losing several of its key architectural points in the bombing of the Murrah building. These elements included elaborate stained glass windows and unique balconies original to the church. Since then, various groups of architects and designers have tried to raise the funds to restore it to its former glory with the idea of making it a hub for the city’s artists and architects, but to no avail.
Unfortunately, says Justin, the decision to restore buildings like this “boils down to money,” and many investors are most concerned with the potential return. “You have to build business where there is traffic,” says Justin. “Sometimes it’s easier to buy a brand new building than it is to take an old one and renovate it.” While it still sits empty, the prime location in downtown keeps turning heads and gaining value as OKC grows.
It’s inevitable that questions about the supernatural will come up when discussing old buildings with long (and sometimes sordid) histories, like that of St. Vincent’s Home, an old hospital and church with a rather gruesome and mysterious history. Very little information is readily available about the structure, but extensive research by the AbandonedOK team unearthed a past filled with creepy lore. St. Vincent’s began as a hospital in 1945, expanding quickly over the next few years and only treating male patients. In the 60s it was wracked with murders, as a female nurse inexplicably suffocated two patients. The tragedy didn’t end there. According to AbandonedOK, the founder of the facility’s alcoholism treatment center was found murdered in his home in the late 80s, possibly killed by one of the presiding priests, and a resident was shot and killed earlier that same decade. With all this scandal and violence, it’s no wonder there have been reports of supernatural occurrences.
However, AbandonedOK is absolutely not a ghost-hunting group. Their focus has always been strictly about recording historical fact and they have no plans to change that any time soon. “Any time you go to an abandoned building you get a creepy feeling,” says Justin, but they aren’t seeking out the supernatural. However, maybe the supernatural at St. Vincent’s was seeking them. When first visiting St. Vincent’s, he and his team were taking photos and audio, and in one of their recordings a distinct voice can be heard speaking. According to Justin, this was a very frightening experience and he “can’t really say that ghosts don’t exist.” Despite this one sensational experience, AbandonedOK is more concerned with the verifiable events in the building’s physical histories, and always will be.
AbandonedOK works in conjunction with the Historical Society, RetroMetroOKC, Preservation Oklahoma, and OKCHistory.org. The main members are Justin Tyler Moore, David Linde, Billy Dixon, and Johnny Fletcher. Thanks to these members and organizations, Hopewell Baptist Church, The Center for Design Arts, and the old St. Vincent’s Home will be preserved—in history, if not physically—and remain a part of Oklahoma’s cultural identity for years to come.
For more information on other abandoned historical sites, visit abandonedok.com.