The reconstruction project of Woody Guthrie's childhood home, titled This is Your House: The Woody Guthrie Childhood Home Reconstruction Project, launched on Tuesday, October 1.
The lot where the folk singer and Oklahoma legend grew up in Okemah was purchased by a team of Guthrie fans wishing to provide fellow fans and history lovers alike a glimpse into the home that once housed the influential American singer and songwriter.
Project leader Johnny Buschardt stated the overall goal of the project as providing the gift of a tangible, physical piece of Woody's life.
"I think everyone around the globe is familiar with his music, and we want to give those folks a chance to see where that story started," he said. "It isn't often you can provide someone the opportunity to walk down the same hallways Woody did and to step through the exact same doorways Woody did, and that is our goal."
The original structure of this home, which is referred to as the London House, was demolished in 1980. However, the original wood was stored in Okemah and will be used in the reconstruction project. This coincides with the goal of rebuilding the home to a "factually and historically accurate state."
Dan Riedemann, construction leader and owner of 19th Century Restorations, based out of Lawrence, Kan., has restored the birthplaces of Johnny Carson and Nina Simone. Now he has taken on the task of leading construction on Guthrie's childhood residence. As a historic preservationist expert, Riedemann brings experience to the project that means the Guthrie home is in capable hands.
Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, born in 1912, has influenced Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and many others -- too many to name here, actually -- so the preservation of his legacy is something that will benefit generations.
And, as Woody would probably want it, the house will be readily available to the public in a lot of different ways.
"The final museum complex will include everything from camping space to a small intimate venue that will allow artists to put on small, acoustic shows -- much like Woody did when he was touring," Buschardt said.
As for memorabilia, the reconstructed London House will provide insight into Guthrie's life through a multitude of items.
"Obviously, we'll have displays that range from notes Woody wrote to friends to items that belonged to him, both during his time in Okemah and afterwards," Buschardt said.
As for families, there are things for kids, too.
"We'll have educational programs geared at schoolchildren and display items that will be there for everyone to enjoy," he said.
One may question the timing of the project. The house was taken down over 30 years ago, yet rebuilding is only beginning. And come to think of it, it was only this year that the Woody Guthrie Center opened downtown. But Guthrie, hailed by people around the world, died 46 years ago.
The delay in honoring him in his home state, Buschardt said, probably comes down to politics.
"The fact is, as a state, we didn't embrace Woody as a native son," he explained. "So many people disagreed with what they thought to be his politics (which, in fact, were not) that he was practically shunned. Even Mary Jo, Woody's sister, mentioned that the family wanted to do this very project long ago, but they were afraid someone would burn it down."
However, the wait has made a powerful launch for the project.
"The time has now come where people are proud to claim Woody as an Oklahoman and again, I believe his legacy deserves to be honored properly," Buschardt said. And people are responding in a manner that would indicate that they agree.
Volunteer effort for this home construction has been tremendous, according to Buschardt.
"We have had everyone from local artists and celebrities such as Susan Herndon and Edge DJ Chuck Stikl support the project," he said. The project has received attention from non-locals as well. "We have had national touring acts like John Flynn ask if they can participate. And of course, we have had several true legends step up to ask how they can support it."
Musician and actor Kris Kristofferson even called and asked to help on this project after hearing the news of construction, and locals and celebrities have stepped up to ensure enough working hands are provided in multiple ways.
"This campaign was designed with the spirit of Woody in mind and we intentionally created it so that every single person who wanted to participate can," Buschardt said.
When asked why he took on the role as project leader, Buschardt provided more than one reason.
"This is just such a unique opportunity," he said. "It isn't often you can rebuild the childhood home of such an influential figure to a state of architectural, historical, and factual accuracy. This opportunity, to allow everyone the chance to visit such a historically important site, is one I just could never dream of passing up."
But it is Guthrie's influence that has proven to be the most important reason behind those who have chosen to be a part of this project.
"Whether you like his music or not, Woody Guthrie was a major influence on both American music and American culture," Buschardt said. "Without Woody Guthrie, there would be no Jackson Browne or Neil Young, and that is according to the artists themselves. I think his legacy deserves to be honored and to be honored properly."
The project fund goal is listed at $644,000, but excess funds will be accepted and put to use as well. According to the project website, the extra donations will be divided equally between future maintenance costs and operations as well as the Huntington's Disease Society of America (Guthrie died from Huntington's).
Riedemann said the project should be finished by next summer in time for the 2014 Woody Fest, but that will largely depend on whether they can get the house framed before winter, which will allow more work to be done inside while it's freezing cold outside.
"If we miss that deadline, well, the house will be finished," he told the Tulsa World.
Household contributions to the project are being accepted, but project leaders insist on historically accurate furniture and other items, and all donations are tax-deductible. Information, before-and-after pictures, and donation forms and protocol are all available at thishouseisyourhouse.org.
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