USAO News Bureau

Jourdan Makes USAO House a Home

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

 

With quiet consistency and deliberate planning, Lonnie and Dell Jourdan have left their mark on the USAO campus – from stained glass windows in the Student Center to the lovingly restored Home of the President. Renamed The Jourdan House, the president’s home has been painstakingly revived to its classic early 20th century design with private gifts from the Jourdan family.  Sharing in the unveiling of The Jourdan House was, from left, USAO President John Feaver, Lonnie Jourdan and Marilyn Feaver, first lady of USAO.

 

His fingerprints are everywhere on the campus but his name is barely known.  And that’s the way benefactor Lonnie Jourdan likes it.

But his name is no longer a secret. With no fanfare or public event, the Home of the President – as it has been called since its construction in 1919 – has been re-christened “The Jourdan House,” by the USAO Board of Regents, giving its generous underwriter a little credit finally.

Now their cover is blown.  For more than a decade, philanthropists Lonnie and Dell Jourdan have given generously and discreetly to one cause after another at the University of Science and Arts in Chickasha. All the while, the Jourdans wanted no headlines.

Now, President John Feaver has asked the USAO Board of Regents to name the meticulously and colorfully restored Home of the President to honor the legacy of this devoted couple.

“Their devotion to each other through 61 years of marriage is a great inspiration to everyone who knows them,” Feaver said. “And their generosity – toward students first through scholarships – and to the college through thoughtfully designated gifts toward meaningful projects, will be indelible in our history. From this day forward, the president’s home will welcome future generations of alumni, faculty, community members and friends under a new name, The Jourdan House.”

“The university has no greater friends than Lonnie and Dell Jourdan,” said Dr. Michael Nealeigh, vice president for university advancement. “Their insight, creativity and initiative have been critical to the college’s success in recent years. Lonnie’s leadership in the USAO Foundation has been visionary.”

Historical Research

Through more than a year of research by First Lady Marilyn Feaver, The Jourdan House has been reborn to carry the very essence of its rich history as home to every president of the college since George Washington Austin moved in with his wife Pearl, and their children, in 1920.

“We’ve worked together to make this home as historically authentic in detail as possible,” said Marilyn Feaver. “It’s not just another structure and it’s not merely symbolic. The president’s home is a critical point of entry to so many friends of the university, a welcome center to many outsiders and a kind-of living room for campus discourse.”

Light fixtures are period antiques from the 1910s to 1930s, carefully restored to reflect the period. Kitchen light fixtures are newer but feature a 1920s design and period halophane glass. Modern carpets are gone and oak hardwood floors have been restored throughout in natural oak tones. Emancipated from layers of paint and carpet is a staircase with quartersawn oak newel post, handrail and baluster.

An upstairs restroom looks out on the USAO Oval. Limited window coverings are used in the house to let in the natural sunlight. The new upstairs has three bedrooms, two baths and a living area.

Paint colors are bold but harmonious with period and furnishings: warm brown in the “smoking room,” brushed gold in the living and dining rooms and dark teal green in the breakfast room.  Trimmed in white, rooms both upstairs and down are wearing warm, earthtone colors of fall.

The downstairs, designed primarily for entertaining, has been modernized with a wholly re-imagined kitchen but restored with little change to the interior floorplan. Upstairs, the living space has been reconfigured to bring in more light. Designed for an earlier time, the upstairs living space offered former occupants two bedrooms and four small baths. The new space is reconfigured to create three bedrooms, two generous baths and a living area.

Unique Interior Features

The most radical change upstairs is the restoration of the south “sleeping porch.” Before air conditioning in the 1950s, many large homes had a sleeping porch, surrounded on three sides with large windows, so that cooler night air could pass through unobstructed. While the 8-by-18-foot room appears to have served that purpose in earlier years, later occupants covered all the windows with sheet rock to get more closet space. The Feavers opened up the eight windows to recapture the space as a sunporch.

“We lost two large walk-in closets, but what we gained is absolutely beautiful,” Marilyn Feaver said. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the result.”

Conceived in the Prairie School style of architecture, the president’s home is one of eight buildings on the USAO campus designed by Solomon Andrew Layton, author of the domed Oklahoma Capitol Building and many other notable state architectural treasures.  It was built by Kreipke-Schafer.

At 3,000 square feet, the home is modest as a residence for entertaining, but its origin is modest too.  When he came to the institution in 1914, President George Washington Austin and his wife, along with their children, Miriam and Marsden, moved into Nellie Sparks Hall and served as dorm parents. But when the State Legislature appropriated $100,000 for construction of Willard Hall in 1918, Austin convinced the OCW Board of Regents to carve out $10,000 to build a residence for the president’s family.

Considered modern, with cutting-edge technology at the time, its basement originally contained a fuel plant for mixing gasoline and air to feed a cooking stove and fireplace.

Welcoming Sunlight

Easily the most radical change is the unqualified approach to welcoming sunlight in the house. “Absolutely no barriers for sunshine,” Marilyn Feaver explains. “This house is surrounded by trees on every side. Even if it abuts the busy Grand Avenue on the south, the view from almost every window in the house is serene and park-like.  Why would you want to cover that up?”

Heavy draperies on the huge windows – the house has 50 windows in all – have been replaced with art glass for diffusion, or stained glass, or limited window treatments for privacy. “With its 9-foot ceilings and generous oversized windows, this house welcomes light so effortlessly,” Marilyn Feaver said. “In a remarkable home like this, light itself becomes as important a feature as furniture or finishes.” Many windows will have no coverings at all, maximizing sunlight, visibility and openness.

 

A solid wall in the dining room was removed to expose a hidden dooorway, which was reopened for light.

“The home offers so many windows that furniture and art are insubstantial due to limited wall space,” Marilyn Feaver said. “We found this both a challenge and a blessing.”

In defense of previous occupants who covered up many windows, Marilyn Feaver explains the rationale. “They got more closet space, more built-in cabinets and easier furniture placement when they covered up windows, but a true historic restoration requires some sacrifice and compromise.”

In their bold campaign to capture light or restore access to it, the Feavers ordered 14 windows previously covered by brick or sheet rock to be exposed and restored. At the north entry, two coat closets were removed to make way for a new door surrounded by large sidelight windows and a transom window nearly 10 feet long above. All four exterior doors on the home were solid but have been replaced with doors that have large windows. A solid wall in the dining room was removed to expose a hidden doorway, which was reopened for light.

A favorite design feature to the Feavers is a stained glass transom window light that is being created by renowned artist Jim Triffo of Oklahoma City. The spectacular stained glass throughout the Oklahoma State Capitol is Triffo glass.  Known for his imagination and bold use of color, the artist was commissioned by the USAO Foundation to create a piece especially for this unique space. Later Triffo will create three art-glass creations for the oversized dining room and living room three-panel windows.

“The design is highly original,” Marilyn Feaver said. “This piece of art will welcome many friends of the university in years to come. His work will distinguish the north entry with colorful light and an artistic warmth.”

About the Jourdans

As its primary donors, the Jourdans tackled this project because of its history and the special role of the president’s home in the life of the college, Lonnie Jourdan said.

“I felt the president’s home was a structure that really needed special love and care.  People wanted to see it re-done, but it wasn’t attracting any special gifts to the USAO Foundation. We discussed it at length, Dell and I, and decided this is one we could accomplish.  I’m not sure why they named it after us. We’re honored, but our feeling is this – if the good Lord blesses you with the funds to accomplish things, He should get the glory.”

Details of the renovation have been an ongoing conversation for years, with the two couples chatting about interiors and landscaping concepts.

“Marilyn has done a marvelous job with this restoration,” Lonnie Jourdan said. “I have seen it gradually as it unfolded over the last two years.  It is gorgeous in planning and detail. The Feavers have thoughtfully avoided grandeur, which others might be tempted to pursue, but instead sought a truly historic restoration.  It’s absolutely perfect.  Marilyn is very knowledgeable too about historic structures. For example, I might have created a lavish fireplace, but she kept it appropriately and elegantly simple. The light fixtures are period and fit very well.  Her choices in color are bright, fitting and visionary without being overdone. The interiors are clean, open and uncluttered. This is an imposing structure. Yet when you walk in, you want to sit down and rest. She has achieved a warm and peaceful environment for entertaining.”

Many of Jourdan’s gifts to the college have gone unannounced. The 130-year-old stained glass windows just outside the Student Center Ballroom are gifts from Lonnie and Dell Jourdan. The 19th century English walnut console just outside the Regents Room is a Jourdan gift. The classic stained glass light fixture -- New England period and design circa 1905 -- above the Alumni Chapel foyer is a Jourdan gift.  Even the massive presidential desk and credenza in John Feaver’s office were quiet gifts from the Jourdans.

The fireplace features a heavy oak-beam design with handmade green ceramic tiles.

When the Owens Flag Plaza ran short of funds in 2003, the Jourdans stepped in to finish it. When the Greek Theater needed additional funds in 2006, the Jourdans accepted the challenge.

While the campus environment has been beautified by their generosity, far more significant is the Jourdan’s commitment to learning itself on campus. Together they have given more than $250,000 this decade to scholarship programs in the USAO Foundation. And they have pledged $1 million towards an expansion eastward of Nash Library – with a challenge to other friends of USAO to help raise the $4 million needed to complete the task.

“We believe in USAO as a great investment,” Lonnie Jourdan said. “I am proud to partner with its Foundation and its leadership in worthy projects.”

Lonnie Jourdan was born in Texas but lived much of his adult life in Chickasha. He and Dell –  the former Dell A. Galindo of Anadarko – were married in 1948 in Oklahoma City. He worked as a certified public accountant most of his professional life, while building Chickasha’s Alliance Oil and Gas Co., which they acquired in 1970, and developing antiques dealerships here and in Denton, Texas. They have two sons, Michael, of Chickasha, and Keith, of Denton. A concert trumpet player, Keith also is an educator. Their daughter, Michelle, operates Proflex Personnel Services in Denton.

The Jourdans may be best remembered in Chickasha for their commitment to special needs children. Back in the 1970s, Lonnie and Dell helped to establish Chickasha’s Opportunity Workshop.  In fact, Lonnie Jourdan served as state president of the Oklahoma Association for Handicapped Children. Besides children’s charities, the Jourdans have undertaken various civic causes in Chickasha, including the Chamber of Commerce and the Jaycees.  Lonnie has served several terms as a trustee for the USAO Foundation and for other local nonprofits.

What’s a Prairie Box?

The Home of the President was part of an early construction boom on campus that included the Fine Arts Building, later known as Davis Hall, and a women’s dormitory, Willard Hall.  All three were built in 1919. 

The original furnishings were lavish in their time and more than 100 rolls of wallpaper were used in decorating it.  President and Mrs. Austin selected the furnishings, an inventory of which are detailed in the college archives.

“This beautiful structure is an American Foursquare-Prairie Style,” Marilyn Feaver explains. “You may have heard the term Prairie Box or Seattle Box, designated by the cities where this style emerged.  This style reflects the transition away from the Victorian style, which was much more ornate in design, floorplan, roofline and detail, but offered smaller rooms with more useless hallways.  The Prairie style offers larger, more open rooms, square shapes, with very little ornamentation. That’s what you see in this house: square brick columns on large brick porches. At a time when people’s tastes were moving away from the complicated Victorian styles, they wanted something refreshing.

Furnishings reflect the Prairie theme: strong, simple lines with expanses of hand-rubbed oak. Most pieces in the living and dining rooms were built by the Simply Amish Co. of Indianapolis, and the Stickley Furniture Company of New York.

 

Paint colors are bold but harmonious with period and furnishings.

“These beautiful wood floors show their age,” Marilyn Feaver admits. “But the stories! These floors have been walked on by the bare feet of all the presidents and families before us. That’s the beauty of exposing and restoring them.  So what if imperfections and nail holes are visible, especially on the stair treads. That’s not damage. It’s history. Why cover that up?”

It’s not as if Marilyn Feaver came to this project with no real interest or experience.  She and John Feaver have spent the last 15 years restoring every room and every feature of their classic 1927 Federalist-style home on Seventh Street.

“As my friend Dorothy Martin says to me about her 100-year-old house, ‘you know, we’re not the owners. We’re just the caretakers.’”

While the downstairs floors were oak, the upstairs floors were inexpensive pine – probably the result of budget limitations in 1919, Marilyn Feaver speculates. “Solomon Andrew Layton designed and built this house for only $10,000, so I suspect that budgetary considerations were no less significant then.” To bring the upstairs living quarters into “period” style, new oak was installed to the match the downstairs.

The OCW Historic District

The Jourdan House is listed as one of 15 core contributing structures on the Oklahoma College for Women National Historic District.  It achieved that status in 2001 when the campus was adopted by the National Park Service as the first and only college campus in Oklahoma to be featured in whole on the National Register of Historic Places.

While it was unoccupied at the time, John and Marilyn Feaver were imagining an elaborate restoration with all-new infrastructure but period furnishings and interior design. Surprisingly, the original floor plans for the president’s home are not on file in the college archives, where the college’s 100-year history is evident in detail.  Marilyn Feaver suspects the structure was “put together quickly and on a shoestring.  That’s why so much of our research has been on similar structures of the style and period elsewhere – because there are few photographs or plans for this house.”

The Feavers took few architectural liberties in the interior, with the possible exception of the living room fireplace. Heavy, white plaster framing and a small, low mantle have been replaced with a markedly different, heavy oak-beam design, featuring handmade 4-by-4-inch, green ceramic tiles in art nouveau style and a stamped tin marker that reads “Family-Faith-Friends.”

“This fireplace is one of the restoration’s biggest changes,” Marilyn Feaver explains. “But truthfully, this new design is not new at all. It is more consistent with the period and the architectural style of this home. This is larger in scale than the original fireplace but it fits the home like a glove. The original was more in the Federalist style and seemed odd sitting here. We spent considerable time studying the design of fireplaces from this period and in Prairie structures like this. It fits perfectly. It feels right.”

 

The staircase was emanicapted from layers of paint and carpet. "So what if imperfections and nail holes are visible, especially on the stair treads. That’s not damage. It’s history. Why cover that up?”

On the mantle sits original pieces of Oklahoma art the couple has purchased through the years, including a plaster of Paris casting of their granddaughter Katy’s hand and a clock given them by former Alumni President Aleta Smalley. Above the mantle, and throughout the house, are works of art loaned from the USAO Art Gallery’s permanent collection, pieces that “capture the history of this home, western Oklahoma and the college’s unique story.”

As a former president of Preservation Oklahoma, and a longtime supporter of state and local historical societies, and historic preservation initiatives, John Feaver has established a statewide reputation for identifying and preserving historic structures and artifacts. For this reason, the college president has carefully overseen every feature of this restoration project himself.

On the roof is a perfect example. Starting this project in 2007, the original clay tile was removed and carefully restored. The original tile firm, Ludowici Roof Tile of New Lexington, Ohio, provided identical new tiles manufactured under the same design specs as 90-year-old tiles. “Every undamaged tile was reinstalled alongside new ones and the colorful result speaks to the our vision of integrity in historic restoration,” John Feaver said. In similar “green” fashion, wood removed from the north entry demolition was used elsewhere in the home’s renovation.

Alumni got the first peek at progress in the two-year reconstruction of the home during last fall’s USAO Alumni Reunion.  More than 150 alumni guests gathered for tea and a tour, including Mignon Shaffer of Chickasha, a local business owner and chair of the 2009 alumni homecoming committee. “It is an important tradition and very meaningful to the alumni, students and faculty to have the president and his family living on campus.  The restoration of the home was done beautifully. Like the new Stevens Alumni House, it will be a remarkable and inviting place to welcome alumni for special events in the future.”

A ‘Remarkable Transformation’

To complete The Jourdan House, a landscaping plan is underway on the east and north, including an outdoor patio for entertaining on the west. Inside, carpenters and electricians have a list of final details before the project is considered complete.

 

A favorite design feature to the Feavers is the stained glass transom window light.

Community members will be welcomed with a public open house when the project is complete, probably this fall, John Feaver said. “We want the community and friends of the institution to see what has been accomplished. It’s remarkable.”