Those of you of a certain vintage might remember that there was a #1 hit song by this name. It was sung by Petula Clark and she was the first UK female artist to have a US number 1 hit. It was so popular that it soared the charts worldwide after it was released in November of 1964. In the last lines of the song she sings “things will be great when you’re downtown; everything’s waiting for you.”
While the overall message of the song romanticizes about downtown life, the last of the lyrics seemed to be in line with suppressed desires of the Oklahoma City University School of Law. The school had been toying with the idea of moving lock, stock and barrel to downtown OKC. This has been an enticing thought for several reasons which could certainly include that:
- A number of major courts, municipal, state and federal are downtown.
- A large number of prominent laws firms are located downtown.
- The law library is an amenity that the law school makes available to the law firms in greater OKC. Being closer would make it more convenient for the law firms and it’s a desirable thing for the students to be rubbing shoulders with members of those law firms and for the school to build relationships with the same firms.
- And there may have been some romantic notion to it all after all.
To that end, law schools are somewhat autonomous from the main flow of the university campuses with which they are associated.
A unique opportunity presented itself to the OCU School of Law in 2009 when the old Ford Assembly Plant in OKC was available for redevelopment. In 1915, Ford Motor Company came to Oklahoma City and constructed one of its many assembly plants. The plant opened in 1916 and began to produce Model T’s for regional distribution. Within a year of opening it was turning out 244 automobiles per day. The county assessor was said to have professed that for the first time the cars outnumbered horses in OKC.
The Ford Motor Company hired prominent architects across the US to design their plants. The style for their facilities fit within what became known as Industrial Age Architecture. In the period of time that the OKC plant was originally built, Ford was busy building both manufacturing and assembly plants not only around the US but around the world. In 1929, however, the Great Depression inflicted a toll nationwide and the auto industry suffered as well. In 1931 Ford converted the OKC facility to be a regional parts distribution center. The plant was able to last until the day it finally closed in 1967.
This began the next saga of the facility when Mr. Fred Jones, an Oklahoma industrialist and civic leader purchased the 4 story building in 1968. It was in 1916 that Fred Jones found work in the OKC Ford plant as a timekeeper. He moved up to being a wholesale manager, realized he was good at sales and set his sights on becoming an auto retailer. Through innovative services to customers, in 1926 Jones established his business as the largest Ford dealer in the southwest. By 1955, he was the number 1 seller of Ford in the nation.
Along the way, Fred Jones began to recondition engines which in 1938 launched the Fred Jones Manufacturing Company. The operation grew to occupy 6 blocks of downtown OKC along with a new facility west of downtown. Along with the refurbishing of many automobile components, they became the largest automatic transmission remanufacturing operation in the nation. So it was in 1968 that Mr. Jones purchased and refurbished the old Ford assembly plant located at 900 W. Main Street and moved his company into the 4 story building. A significant number of the refurbished components were for the Ford Motor Company who in 1999 decided to refurbish its own parts and did not renew their contract with Fred Jones Manufacturing. It was in 2000 that Fred Jones Manufacturing reconditioned its last engine.
Fred Jones Manufacturing which eventually became Fred Jones Enterprises maintained its distribution and warehouse operation at 900 W. Main later adding corporate offices to the site as well. With the building no longer filled with activities which were now mainly on the first floor, the old Fred Jones Manufacturing plant was prime for being repurposed.
The floors were open and spacious. The exterior walls had large expanses of glass that shed natural light on the former assembly process. The building was located in what is developing as Oklahoma City’s Film District just west of downtown and was seen through developer’s eyes as an exciting place to be. Old Ford plants across the country were being saved and refurbished including this one in Seattle.
In 2009, Fred Jones Enterprises had a proposition for the OCU School of Law which is where the story of moving downtown became more than a notion and the dreams of being a downtown law school began to take root.