|City/Town: • Oklahoma City|
|Location Class: • Residential|
|Built: • 1934 | Abandoned: • 1990|
|Status: • Abandoned • Endangered|
|Photojournalist: • AbandonedOK Team|
The Red Ridge Mansion, also known as the R.J. Edwards Home, was built in 1934 as one of the most amazing examples of Spanish-Italian architecture in Oklahoma City. The home was designed by Norman architect Harold Gimeno and constructed by Raybourn H. Smiser. The foundation was built upon a red sandstone ridge which is where it got the name of Red Ridge Mansion. The mansion is around 6,400 square feet equipt with 26 rooms and 4 1/2 baths, 11 rooms upstairs, 15 rooms downstairs, a basement, a well house, and an incinerator. Arguably the best room in the house is that of one of the third-floor bedrooms that offer a 360-degree view of the Oklahoma City skyline. Other intriguing features of the mansion include the marble floor living room fit with a large fireplace, a library with clay tile flooring, a formal breakfast room, and a porch with a portico.
Robert J. Edwards at the time was one of if not the wealthiest men in OKC. He was the founder of R.J. Edwards Inc., allegedly the first municipal bond firm west of the Mississippi, in 1892. As a result of his wealth, he was able to build the substantial house and acquire the many acres with it. The Red Ridge Mansion cost o f$50,000 which is equivalent to $1,049,059.70 in 2022. In addition to building his own home he offered each of his 6 children 15 acres and would build them a house as well upon their marriage. As time went on three of the children married and lived on the acreage making a compound of four mansions, all of which are abandoned today.
One of the mansions nearby is that named the Preachers Wall Mansion, owned by Archibald Cason Edwards, an investment banker with R.J. Edwards Inc. and arts supporter. Robert passed away in 1946 leaving his widow in the Red Ridge Mansion to occupy the huge house alone. The children had grown and even though three lived nearby having a huge house like that to yourself would be pretty lonely. His widow, Sadie Cason Handy Edwards passed away in 1966 leaving the residence unoccupied for a few months.
Oklahoma Museum of Conservative Art at Red Ridge
In 1967 the Oklahoma Museum of Conservative Art made their home in the Red Ridge Mansion, leasing the property from the Edwards Family. It was the only private museum to serve Oklahoma City specializing in traditional artists. The OMCA at Red Ridge provided the community with sponsored classes in addition to exhibits. They didn’t stop there either offering traveling exhibits, a lending library and high school drawing competitions. The art museum was free to the public with the exception of special exhibits. They resided in the mansion until July 1975 when the museum had the new interest in getting a bigger and newer building.
The home remained in the heirs’ hands who attempted to revive the property. The home had been overridden with ivy which after being removed had left the walls pockmarked. Also causing issues was moisture, the home had many brass features as well as an iron railing on the staircase. Grandson of R.J., George Edwards was especially excited about the work to the house noting that exterior walls were being prepped for painting and plans for upgrading the mansion. It had in recent years been offices for an advertising firm, a magazine publisher and a postal mailing company. George Edwards was happily ready to see it through that the home be refurbished and the remaining acreage turned into an office park while still keeping the foliage.
He can remember how his grandmother rode to the property in a chauffeured limousine, tossing daffodil bulbs, and having a gardener plant them where they fell. They can still be seen scattered throughout the land today. “My great-grandfather happened to be a gardner/handy man/chauffeur hired by the wife of RJ Edwards, Sadie. He first was hired to watch over the construction supplies while the house was being built in 1935. Once completed, he worked at the mansion for 8 years,” said Heidi Shelley.
Red Ridge in Danger
But in the early 2000s the 90-acre tract of land with 19 different heirs between Robert J. Edwards children and their children, experienced a familial divide. “Secretly” Duncan Equipment Co. of OKC and CJW Family, a limited partnership led by Charles Jefferson Watts II, had bought the interests of 2/6 groups of heirs to the estate. Neither of the entities had any connection to the family and instead had their own developmental plans in mind for the property. Those plans included an upscale New Orleans-style restaurant in the Red Ridge Mansion, offices, and an upscale housing and hotel.
The entire “game plan” of Duncan and CJW was something not well thought out, being as the 90-acres was split up into six fifteen-acre plots deeded to the six Edwards children. They were only able to acquire 30-acres and even though they were able to successfully gain control of that land, they were unable to make any developmental decisions without the approval and support of the remaining heirs on the estate. Upset by this roadblock the Duncan Equipment Co and CJW Family pushed back at the remaining four groups of heirs that had wished to keep the family in their name. They filed a partition suit in 2001 asking a judge to separate the heirs’ interests. District Judge Carolyn Ricks seemed to side with Duncan and CJW ordering a sheriff’s sale leaving it open to them to fully acquire the land. This is the only fair way to go about splitting the interest so that the proceeds of the sale could be split evenly between heirs.
Less than a month later the public auction was held, the Edwards family that had not sold their share of the estate were present as well as representatives of the Duncan Equipment Co. and CJW Family. The property was appraised during court proceedings at $1.725 million and the minimum bid to be accepted would be two-thirds of the appraised value, or $1,138,500. Calls continued coming out and the reps for both entities stayed quiet. The Edwards family sat in shock, then placing a bid just $34 over the minimum, and then regaining ownership of the estate. The representatives had not bid when contacted after the auction president David Ragland of Duncan stated they had not bid because the appraisal of the property was far too high.
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