(Cushing) – For years it has remained empty. Empty of its content. Empty of its heroes. Empty of its original intent. In spite of its emptiness, it – like a well-trained soldier – stands ready. Ready for a new purpose.
After a cooperative effort by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Oklahoma Military Department and the Oklahoma Legislature, ownership of the armory has been returned to the City of Cushing. The transfer of ownership took place at the Armory on Friday afternoon.
The DEQ, through funding provided by the state of Oklahoma, has been doing the clean up on the 75 year old building that once was home to the 120th Medical Regiment -a part of the famous 45th Infantry Division.
“Most of the clean up on this building was due to lead paint and the shooting range located in the basement,” Steve Thompson, DEQ Executive Director, said. Not only did the shooting range need quite a bit of clean up, the doors had to be replaced. “It became apparent that it was more cost effective to replace them as opposed to stripping them and trying to make them environmentally safe.”
“We would have liked to have preserved some of the doors,” said Angela Hughes (also with the DEQ), “but because they are wood – the lead soaks in.” She went on to say that in some cases they have been able to preserve them, but not usually. “It’s a shame because some of them are so beautiful.”
New windows are expected to be installed next week, completing the project. Cost of the clean up was approximately $118,000 – which is in the midrange of the cost of other armory clean ups which ranged from $50,000 to over $200,000.
“It depends on the age of the building,” Thompson said. “The ones built in the 1930s and 40s typically have the lead problems. The newer ones didn’t have shooting ranges in them.”
The basement which once housed the shooting range, has some water seepage issues, but is expected to improve with the installation of a sump pump.
Thompson said there were 65 – 70 armories left vacant after National Guard closures that have received funding for clean up and are being returned to their communities to use as they deem best.
“Communities have been using their armories for years to host public events,” Thompson said. “We thought that was the highest use for them – returning them to the community.”
Cushing’s armory, like so many across the state, is rich in history.
“During the 1920s and 1930s, most Oklahoma Army National Guard units met in public schools and lodge halls,” said Colonel (Ret.) Dave Brown of the Oklahoma Military Department. “Sometimes they rented upper floors of downtown buildings for the storage of their equipment and trained in the open fields outside of the community. These National Guard units desperately needed a building dedicated to meet their training and equipment storage needs.”
And then came the Great Depression – and the WPA.
The Works Projects Administration (WPA) was established in 1935 by President Roosevelt as part of his New Deal. It created work for thousands of unemployed men. Many WPA buildings are still standing today – including the Cushing Armory.
“There is just something about the way they built them,” Col. Brown said. “Look at that,” he continued, pointing out portions of the structure flanking the front door of the facility. “They weren’t necessarily great craftsmen, but they cared about what they were doing.”
Col. Brown- who researched the history of the building- said on Sept. 5, 1935, Annie and Bessie Swartout sold approximately one half of the land upon which the armory now stands to the State of Oklahoma for the purpose of constructing a National Guard Armory. The price? Just $10. However, the rest of the land was deeded by Mr. and Mrs. Samuel R. Rice of Madison County, Illinois for just $1 – bringing the land cost to a total of $11.
“Why the owners lived in Illinois, I don’t know,” Col. Brown said. “That’s what the title said.”
In 1936, the armory was completed. Designed by architect and National Guard Major Bryan Nolen, Oklahoma’s WPA armories are immediately recognizable by their style. Major Nolen used standard plans for one, two, and four-unit armories – Cushing’s being a one-unit. Art Deco in style – they were designed to look like military castle battlements by the use of parapets and arched entryways.
“This armory is more than just concrete, mortar, blocks and wood,” Col. Brown reminded. “To the soldiers who were assigned here, this building was their home base. From here, National Guard soldiers went forth in times of flood, tornados, and other natural disasters to answer the cry for help from the citizens of Oklahoma.”
He concluded by saying, “The heritage of community service that surrounds the Cushing Armory is the result of the exemplary actions of these citizen soldiers who answered their community’s, their state’s and their nation’s call with hard work, sacrifice, dedication and compassion for those in need. It is more than appropriate, if not fitting, that this Armory, with its heritage for service to the community, be returned to the community, so that it may continue that tradition and history of service.”
As to what the city will do with it now, it has not yet been determined.
“We will continue to serve our community,” Mayor Henckel said, “We thank you.”