Gibbs Faculty Featured in Women in Historic Preservation Video Series 

Gibbs College faculty Vanessa Morrison and Lisa Chronister were recently featured in the Women in Preservation video series by the Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office. The series was launched during Women’s History Month in March to recognize women’s contributions to historic preservation in the state. Morrison and Chronister were among a select handful of women preservationists who were highlighted for their outstanding efforts. 

The series was produced by Lynda Ozan, deputy state historic preservation officer, with whom Morrison and Chronister have both previously worked. Ozan and Chronister initially teamed up to organize tour events on behalf of the American Institute of Architects and the Oklahoma City Foundation for Architecture, and Chronister was excited to join Ozan for another project. “She is always happy to share her knowledge and interest in Oklahoma’s mid-century architecture,” Chronister said. “Lynda and I have a shared interest in promoting the contributions of women in architecture and design, so it’s easy for me to say yes to these types of endeavors.”

The historic Jewel Theater in OKC.

Morrison’s first official collaboration with Ozan and the SHPO began with the ongoing Jewel Theater revitalization project. “They have been an amazing partner in helping us navigate the complexity of the historic preservation process,” Morrison said. “They’ve been a great resource for us in making sure that what we’re designing aligns with the criteria of the Jewel Theater being a historic site.” 

For this series, Chronister and Morrison had candid conversations about their experience in Oklahoma’s historic preservation industry. “I was excited because women are very underrepresented as professionals in this space,” Morrison said. “Even though we contribute to our communities every day in these ways, we’re not always recognized as professionals. And when we are, we don’t always get the platform to speak about our experiences.” 

Chronister and Morrison also shared their passion for historic preservation and emphasized the impact of these projects on communities across Oklahoma. Chronister has long been an advocate for saving historic treasures, beginning her work as an architect in the late 90s. Since then, Chronister has completed various preservation and adaptive reuse projects, including the Federal Corporation headquarters, the Department of Environmental Quality building and 811 N. Broadway in Automobile Alley. She was also a co-leader of the citizen protest group “Citizens for the Golden Dome,” which held weekly protests in 2001 to save the historic Citizen’s State Bank Building in OKC.

“Preservation has been an important aspect of my career as an architect since its very beginning,” said Chronister. “In my work at the Oklahoma City Planning Department for the past decade, I have overseen the implementation of historic preservation guidelines and demolition regulations that protect the built environment. Historic structures are often threatened with demolition or neglect, and it takes many people to help save them.” 

While Morrison is newer to the historic preservation space, she has completed a variety of impactful projects as a professor in Gibbs College and co-founder of the Open Design Collective. “It’s been fun getting to do master planning and co-design work to help communities cast visions for the future. I also love exploring the historical context of these communities through the process. Connecting those two worlds and being able to learn directly from people who have lived through some of that history has been a very meaningful experience,” Morrison said. 

“It’s been wonderful getting to bring in some of these projects to our students – many whom are deeply interested in this intersection of cultural preservation, inclusion and community. These are topics that have not been traditionally covered in academia. To be able to design my classes around some of these projects and give students a tangible experience to learn from and contribute to in real-time has been really exciting for me,” Morrison said. 

Morrison and her students’ work on the Jewel Theater will be featured in an upcoming documentary, “The JEWEL,” by Prairie Surf Creative. View the trailer at vimeo.com.

Watch Morrison’s full interview at facebook.com. Watch Chronister’s full interview at facebook.com.