OKC Urban Renewal to acquire historic Deep Deuce mansion
The Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority, once seen as a precursor for a wrecking ball, is now set to save one of the few historic black landmarks still standing in Deep Deuce.
The Luster mansion, a fading reminder of the wealthy black upper-class that was once a part of Deep Deuce's glory days, was put up for sale in October 2016, but repeated potential deals fell through as the condition of the 1926 home and adjoining structures deteriorated.
Cathy O’Connor, director at the Urban Renewal Authority, said Monday the discussion on whether to acquire the Luster property at 300 NE 3 started with an inquiry by Ward 7 Councilwoman Nikki Nice, who also was looking to save another historic black property, the Brockway Center at 1440 N Everest Ave.
“The Luster mansion was on the market, and her interest was in making sure the historic home was saved,” O’Connor said. “It is in fairly good condition, though the roof will need extensive repair. It has leaks that are causing damage inside the home, and there is damage to the flooring.”
The agreed-upon purchase price, if approved Wednesday by Urban Renewal commissioners, is $700,000, which would be paid from agency funds. The property initially was listed at $1 million.
The mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the property at 300 NE 3 includes an adjoining single-story home and a red, wood-frame building that was home to one of the greatest forgotten business success stories of Oklahoma City's black community when it was hemmed in by the era's notorious Jim Crow laws.
The home was built in 1926 by S.D. Lyons, who established the East India toiletries company before arriving in Oklahoma in 1889. In 1909, Lyons moved from Guthrie to Oklahoma City and grew his company in the red building into an operation with sales both nationally and internationally.
Products including Sun-Ray Face Bleach, "pressing oil" for hair, face powder and perfumes made Lyons a wealthy man. His real estate holdings were once among the most prominent in the city's black community.
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Lyons' stepson, Melvin Luster, continued to maintain the family home and own the two adjoining properties as Deep Deuce went into a steep decline in the 1980s. After his death, the estate passed on to his sons.
One son of Melvin Luster, David Luster, was caught up in criminal activities at the home in the mid-1990s and was ultimately murdered.
Melvin Luster's second son, Frank Melvin Luster, maintained ownership and spurned all purchase offers until his death in 2015.
The East India building and the 1910 smaller home at 303 NE 3 are both boarded up and in bad shape, with the home listed as dilapidated by the city.
“I would like to save all the structures” O’Connor said. “They all tell a story together. What their ultimate use is, I can’t say right now. Ideally, we will try to find a private developer to help us with this. But we may have to find other options on how to redevelop and find a use.”
The Luster property recently was listed on Preservation Oklahoma’s annual Endangered Places list.
Cayla Lewis, executive director at the Preservation Oklahoma, called the Urban Renewal preservation plan “fantastic.”
“It’s one of the last remaining properties that serves as a reminder of the wealthy upper class in Deep Deuce,” Lewis said. “It’s been empty for years. The possibility of someone purchasing it who didn’t care about preservation was what made it endangered. The number of historic black properties we have in Oklahoma City is dwindling. The more we can save and preserve, the more of that story and legacy we can tell.”