Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was born in Okemah, Oklahoma on July 14, 1912. Little did anyone know at the time that he would become one of the most recognized names in music in his century. Very few artists have left such a legacy, having written lyrics to over 4000 songs, written poetry, books and leaving behind hundreds of drawings and sketches.
When Woody was a boy, his mother, who was suffering from Huntington's disease, burned down the first house young Woody knew as his home. The family salvaged a few pieces of property from the flame-engulfed house and moved across town. Having insufficient insurance on the house and its belongings, Woody's father was forced to purchase the abandoned and run-down London House-- the only house Woody chose to discuss at any length in his autobiography:
"I remember the next house pretty plain. We called it the old London House, because a family named London used to live there. The walls were built-up out of square sandstone rocks. The two big rooms on the ground floor were dug into the side of a rocky hill. The walls inside felt cold, like a cellar, and holes were dug out between the rocks big enough to put your two hands in. And the old empty snuff cans of the London family were lined up in rows along the rafters.
I liked the high porch along the top story, for it was the highest porch in all of the whole town. Some kids lived in houses back along the top of the hill, but they had thick trees all the way around their back porches, and couldn't stand there and look way out across the first street at the bottom of the hill, across the first street at the bottom of the hill, across the second road about a quarter on east, out over the willow trees that grew along a sewer creek, to see the white strings of new cotton bales and a whole lot of men and women and kids riding into town on wagons piled double high-sideboard-full of cotton, driving under the funny shed at the gin, driving back home again on loads of cotton seed."
In 1962, Earl Walker bought the house in its dilapidated state with hopes of a restoration. Walker believed that one day the community would embrace Woody Guthrie and his accomplishments rather than villainize him. His uphill battle ended when the City of Okemah, joined by the school board, voted to have the house torn down in 1980. However, someone in town had the foresight to store the lumber for all these years. Our documentary will discuss and investigate all of the different opinions and stories about who is responsible for the lumber having been saved for all these years.
Thirty-two years after the house was dismantled I, Dan Riedemann, was interviewing for the restoration of the Johnny Carson Birthplace Museum in Corning, Iowa. Being a specialist in Historic Preservation, I have thrown my heart and soul into preserving as many of America's Landmarks as I can possibly have an effect on. An idea came to me on the way home from Iowa one day. I looked up the owners of the Woody Guthrie Childhood Home, and asked them if they were interested in reconstructing the house on the very foundation stones it once stood on as a monument and a museum to Woody Guthrie. The idea was a homerun. The story of the old London House had one more chapter yet to be written.
You can travel to Tulsa, Oklahoma; Pampas, Texas; Los Angeles, California; or New York and see museums and memorials built in his honor, but what's missing is the ability to walk where he walked, stand in the rooms where he played as a child; studied his books and ate his meals; and to be able to reach out and touch the very boards he touched as a boy and take in that amazing view. It is theorized that this is the house where young Woody Guthrie first learned to love the guitar and started experimenting with writing and composing lyrics to his own songs.
Nineteenth Century Restorations has teamed up with Executive Producer Scott Richardson, formerly with A&E network, along with Through-A-Glass Productions to bring to television the complete reconstruction of one of America's most sought-out celebrity childhood homes and the complete story of the London House, Okemah Oklahoma, and its most notable resident. Every day of the year fans and sightseers from all over the country trek to 301 South 1st Street in Okemah, Oklahoma to see what little remains of the great Woody Guthrie's childhood home. Today, few remnants of the rock foundation are all they discover, but with your help and generosity, they will soon find the reconstructed London House.
Our initial goal is to raise at least $93,000 to document, on video, the reconstruction of Woody's house. With the helping hands of his son Arlo, we will reconstruct the house from the piles of historic lumber so that it can act as a museum and a year-round music and arts venue, but most importantly, a tangible location for Woody Guthrie fans to visit. Imagine seeing Arlo Guthrie and others performing intimate shows during Woody Fest on the same second story porch from which his father once watched the farmers as he described in his autobiography. Along with Arlo Guthrie, who promises to help in the actual reconstruction, we will bring you the stories of Woody's life narrated by the likes of Mary-Jo Guthrie Edgmon (Woody's sister), Pete Seeger, Jimmy LaFave, John Fullbright and many more.
THE BIG PICTURE:
In addition to the reconstruction of the house itself, the overgrown 2.5 acre site will be turned into a park-like setting, complete with camping accommodations and multiple intimate outdoor music and event areas so that the site can become an artist destination during Woody Fest in the years to come. Our overall goal is to raise approximately $500,000 to make this vision a reality. Once completed, visitors to Okemah will have the option of camping right on the site where Woody played as a child, musicians and artisits will be able to express their medium on the very sight of the London House. Right now, our focus is on the house itself as well as the documentary. Please help us exceed our Kickstarter goal so we can recreate this amazing historic music venue.
MORE INFO AVAILABLE:
Please visit woodyguthriememorial.com and 19thcenturyrestorations.com for updates to the project and for any additional information. Soon there will be site-plans and blueprints on the web, and if we meet our goal, we will be posting teaser videos of construction of the house and site progress. We would also appreciate it if you would "Like" our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/WoodyGuthrieMemorial, and follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/19thCentRest (@19thCentRest).
Risks and challenges
If we don't take advantage of this great opportunity to reconstruct Woody's house, it will likely never be completed. Currently, if we dont use it in the reconstruction effort, the lumber that once was Woody's house is planned to be used to build birdhouses and garden benches. Let that sink in for a moment. Imagine the lumber that once was the Historic London House being spread accross the country in the form of garden bences and birdhouses rather than being reassembled on the site where it once stood so that it can be enjoyed for the next century or more. Eventually the property where his house once stood will be built on and forever forgotten. This is our chance, as fans of Woody Guthrie, to make sure that the house is rebuilt, given State and National Landmark status, and become an example of our great American History, where it doesn't matter where you are born, how wealthy your parents are, or who you are born to. All Woody needed was an old guitar and someone to listen to his music and the rest became history.
Once funded, the challenges are just beginning. The cameras will follow us into the Okemah City hall to record the community's response to our requests to demolish adjacent properties and create what will essentially be a privately owned park, within the Okemah limits. There are still vocal opponents of anything having to do with Woody Guthrie due to his alleged Communist ties, which always seem to make these types of projects more than interesting. There is also still a disagreement on how the lumber should be used, not to mention those who just do not want to see the house rebuilt. All of which will make for very interesting and entertaining television, though for the most part, you will get to see how a new generation of Okemah residents have embraced their town's namesake and how they are in full support of restoring the London House, Oklahoma's own version of Graceland and are ashamed that it was ever torn down.
WHO THE HECK IS DAN:
My company and I are uniquely qualified for this undertaking due to my extensive background in Historic Preservation. I have been doing restoration work and specializing in Historic Preservation for over twenty years. I have moved historic structures, restored historic structures, disassembled and rebuilt historic structures, and even have first hand experience in television restoration and production from the Extreme Makeover Home Addition show in which I acted as carpentry supervisor. I have faced every challenge from bad weather to stop-work orders. I have laid down in front of bulldozers and I have sadly watched homes be torn down after exhausting all avenues to save them.
During the winter/spring of 2012-2013, Nineteenth Century Restorations was the Prime Contractor for the restoration of the Johnny Carson Birthplace in Corning, Iowa. The small two-bedroom home in which the King of Late-Night was actually born will now and forever be a tourist attraction with National Landmark status as well as a museum honoring Johnny Carson. This was our stepping-stone to a long list of such restorations. See our website for a more detailed list.
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