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A time capsule in India Temple building could hold mementos from early days of Oklahoma City



The former India Temple building in downtown Oklahoma City at the corner of Robert S. Kerr and N. Broadway Avenue may be knocked down, but could the historic building contain a cornerstone and possibly a time capsule?

As SandRidge Energy, the owner of the property, and representatives from Preservation Oklahoma duke it out before a city board as to whether that building and others should come down as part of the energy company's plans to create a corporate campus, some believe a time capsule presumably added to the structure by members of the India Temple could hold mementos from the city's early days. But first, members of the Board of Adjustment must determine if the building and five others will stay or become just a memory in downtown.

Gene McKelvey has no opinion on whether the India Temple building should be torn down or not, but as administrator with the India Temple, he believes a cornerstone and time capsule are likely in the southeast corner of the building. He has no solid evidence other than a 100-year-old photo and a postcard of the building that shows what looks to be a cornerstone in that spot. The building received a modern concrete face in the 1960s that masked its former appearance.

"It looks to me that that cornerstone was left in place, and they covered it over," he said.

The India Temple has had six Oklahoma City homes in its 116-year history in the city. The building, which housed the Oklahoma Legislature from 1913 to 1917 while the Capitol was being built, was the group's second home. Temple members built the structure and occupied it from 1902 to 1910 before moving to a larger building at N.W. Third Street and N. Broadway Avenue. When the group leaves a building, McKelvey said they do not customarily take the cornerstone. The only other two in the city he knows that are still in existence with cornerstones intact are at the group's former home downtown in what is now the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum and at its current home on N.W. 36th Street near Portland Avenue.

"When we build a building, we put one in," he said. "Historically, I don't know if they've retrofitted any of them."

If Preservation Oklahoma has its way, however, there will be no cornerstone and time capsule to remove, as they will remain part of the structure. The battle over the demolition plan rages on Thursday when SandRidge officials and members of Preservation Oklahoma will once again meet before the Board of Adjustment. In a tense hearing in May, both groups made their case, but board members voted to delay the item.

The demolition was initially approved by the Downtown Design Review Committee on April 8 in a 6-1 vote. At that point, Preservation Oklahoma appealed, and the matter was referred to the Board of Adjustment.

Preservation Oklahoma has held a protest at the buildings and brought in support from its partner, the Southwest Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In a packet presented to Board of Adjustment members in May, Jonathan H. Poston, director of the southwest national trust division, wrote that his group believes the buildings set for demolition, and especially the India Temple, retain historic integrity and significance and that the demolition would constitute an irretrievable loss for the city.

The board will be charged with deciding if further review and structural reports should be conducted. The national trust has offered to pay for a historic building assessment, but Katie McLaughlin Friddle, Preservation Oklahoma's executive director, said SandRidge declined.

"We feel that more analysis of the buildings is needed before determining that they are not historic, not viable and not structurally sound," McLaughlin Friddle said.

SandRidge officials did not comment on the upcoming meeting, but stated that if it is determined a cornerstone and time capsule exist, the India Temple group will be able to reclaim it and its contents.

"SandRidge is unaware of the existence of a time capsule buried in the former India Temple building," said Marsha N. Wooden, SandRidge vice president of administration. "If it is determined that such a time capsule exists, we would be pleased to carefully excavate the time capsule and provide the capsule to the rightful owners."

McKelvey does not have a dog in the fight other than a desire to reclaim the cornerstone and time capsule if they exist and if the building is torn down. He said, traditionally, items placed in those include newspapers of the day, business cards from members and trinkets and objects future excavators might find of historical value.

 "It's like Christmas," McKelvey said. "You never know what will be in there."

The administrator of the former India Temple building (photo top/Shannon Cornman) believes the southeast side (photo bottom/Oklahoma Historical Society) could hold a cornerstone and time capsule. The structure is being considered for demolition.

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