Old school

An historic schoolhouse has had various uses since closing in the ’70s.



Irving School west of the Inner Dispersal Loop was built in 1909. The schoolhouse is now vacant, though the campus is utilized by Blue Sky Supply Co.

Evan Taylor

With plants pushing through the walls and bricks crumbling, the property at 18 N. Maybelle Ave. is a ghost of its former glory.

The second Tulsa public school to open outside the downtown area, the four-story Owens School was built in 1909 to honor pioneer merchant and hotel owner Chauncey Owens. It was later renamed Irving School in honor of American writer Washington Irving

Neal Pascoe, director of education at the Tulsa Historical Society, says the property most likely functioned as an elementary school serving first through sixth graders.

Students continued to run the halls until Irving School closed on May 24, 1974. They were then reassigned to the Johnson, Lombard and Pershing elementary schools, according to Chris Payne, executive director of communications for Tulsa Public Schools.

An undated postcard (likely from the 1910s) shows the school when it was called Owens.

 

An alternative school operated in some of the buildings when Cowen Construction took ownership in 1983, says John Cowen, the company’s CEO and owner.

“We originally purchased it with the intention of redeveloping the property into HUD-sponsored housing, which did not materialize,” he says. 

When the company received an offer on its main property off East Sixth Street and South Lansing Avenue, and after basic rehab of the former schoolhouse, Cowen Construction moved its offices to Irving School by 1984. 

John Cowen even developed and used two apartment units on the lower level as his personal residence.

Sticking with the school’s spirit, the former gymnasium building housed basketball courts and trampolines for employee use. 

“When we left the campus, the primary four-story building was in very good condition, as was the gymnasium,” Cowen says. “The perimeter buildings (likely former classrooms) were in various states of disrepair.” 

Nearly 20 years later, the former school appears vacant except for a fleet of vans in the parking lot. In 1995, Cowen Construction sold the property to Buford Properties, which owns Blue Sky Supply Co.

 The vending machine company has used the campus for office space and warehouse-related storage since the late ’90s. 

“We refurbished quite a bit of it and laid concrete down, but in 2006 we vacated the four-story building because we weren’t utilizing it,” says Matt Bingham, Blue Sky general manager. “There was nothing wrong at that point, but we didn’t need it.”

The company has no plans for the former schoolhouse, according to Bingham. Although Blue Sky is considering a new building in west Tulsa, he says the former Irving School site will likely stay in the same hands for the foreseeable future.

 

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August 2019

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