The Marionette

The implications of history: the Donnay building

Mitchell Stroud, Reporter

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The Donnay building, known for housing the HiLo club, the Drunken Fry, Charlie’s Records and Classen Grill is fighting for its life. In July, Braum’s filed an application to rezone the property for their further plans to purchase the Donnay building and demolish it to build a new Braum’s restaurant. They have seemed to have this plan for a couple years as Braum’s bought the property to the east of the Donnay building in 2015. Besides this property, Red Oak LLC owns the .48 acres that contains the Donnay building. Their original plans involved selling the property to Braum’s. Once Braum’s withdrew their application, Red Oak made a statement that they planned to demolish the building anyway. It seemed like the Donnay building went from the frying pan and into the fire until Josh Thomas appeared.

Josh Thomas, a local investor, placed the property under contract late October and he has 30 days to inspect the building before the contract will be final. In an interview with OKCtalk, Thomas described himself as a passionate investor that cares about Oklahoma’s historical buildings. His plan is to renovate the building while maintaining the established tenants during most of the process.

The HiLo club was established in 1956 and has always been regarded as a safe haven for those who don’t fit into social conventions.

“The HiLo is a place where any and everybody can come and be themselves. We’ve got a very diverse crowd. Drag queens, lawyers, bikers, punkers — everybody fits in here,” said HiLo bar manager, Topher Sauceda in an interview with the Gazette.

Another classic in the Donnay building complex is the Classen Grill. First opened in 1980, the Classen Grill has remained a staple among the community with a menu full of unique dishes for any time of day from migas for breakfast to the coyote chicken sandwich for lunch. It also serves a small art gallery, with new art being displayed every month from local artists.

Charlie’s records, a family run record store caddy corner to the HiLo club, was founded in the 1970s by the current owner’s grandfather, Charlie Nicholson. Nicholson aspired to open a record store after his time in the Air Force. Justin Daniels, the current owner, realized the importance of the record store and moved from Colorado to run the record store.

” My main goal is to let people know what music really is. This is where it all started,” said Daniels when interviewed by Newsok.

Thomas and many others consider the Donnay building an important historical building for Oklahoma City, yet it lacks any recognition as a historic building other than among the public of Oklahoma City. According to the National Park Service, an historic place is considered to hold “significance to the history of their community, state, or the nation.” Many would argue the Donnay building fits this criterion through the HiLo club’s reputation as being safe for members of the LBGTQ community in the past, the housing of The Patio, a popular burger joint from the 1950s to the 1990s and the success of Greg Burn’s painting of the building in the 1980.

The Oklahoma Historical Society, which is tasked with all of the preservation of history in Oklahoma, has all the forms necessary to complete the process of registering a building as historical but the forms are dated 2012. The process itself is quite tedious with a 12-page form with an average of 100 hours to complete the form. It covers the basics, such as the name and photographs of the building, as well as more specific characteristics such as building material and the geographical coordinates. After the form is completed, it must be signed by an official of a state or federal agency stating that the building does hold significance. Once submitted, the National Park Service will inspect the application and will confirm or deny the request for the historic title for the building. The National Parks Service does not provide plaques but they do encourage getting a plaque made for the building.

It seems like for the time being, all is well for the Donnay building. Its historical aura and interesting structural arrangement will remain poised over Northwest Expressway as Braum’s lurks in the shadows, waiting for the next opportunity to topple the community inside the Donnay building. Have no fear, for the hero Oklahoma needs, Josh Thomas will remain guard over the history and memories embedded in the Donnay building while also creating new memories.


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The implications of history: the Donnay building