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The Berry Law Building

If tradition was an Olympic event, a large gold medal would hang from the broad shoulders of theBerry Law Building Photo Berry Law Building that stands tall atop the grassy knoll at 19th and Classen Blvd. If legal longevity was an Oscar category, a gold statue would protrude from the well groomed lawn on that corner.

The Berry’s have been in the personal injury business continuously since the 1930s and for the last 25 years have operated out of a building that is now over 100 years old and on the distinguished National Register of Historic Places. One step into the Berry Law Building and you know you are someplace very special.

The property was part of OCU when OCU was on 18th street and named Epworth University. OCU allowed the government to use the grassy knoll near Classen to build a weather observatory. From the roof the weathermen had an excellent 360° view of the horizon and that was important in those days. Trolley cars ran along Classen as part of a system that linked Norman and Guthrie. J.P. Slaughter, Harry Wahlgren and W.E. Maughan were dispatched to Oklahoma City to predict the weather and publish that information. With much less advanced techniques and information than available now, the weathermen were good naturedly ridiculed as much as praised, as their predictions were often wrong. “The weathermen were the ‘guys that you loved to hate’ types in those days,” says Howard K. Berry, III, “but they all had a good sense of humor about the unreliability of their efforts and often made fun of themselves. Kind of like lawyers predicting jury case outcomes.”

The Weather Building was also involved in some excitement in 1933 when the FBI converged upon it. “We recently found out that when Charles Urschel was kidnapped from Heritage Hills by Machine Gun Kelly in 1933 and held captive for eight days in Texas (while the Kelly gang collected $200,000.00 ransom) that the FBI called upon the Weather Bureau Observatory to help solve the crime. The government men debriefed Urschel upon his release and fed his careful recollections about the weather and plane flight patterns to Harry Wahlgren, local weatherman. Wahlgren figured out that there was a small area in Texas that had weather sequences exactly like Urschel remembered. That’s where they then went, and sure enough, found the Kelly gang” says Berry. Kelly eventually got convicted in Oklahoma City and Wahlgren got a letter of commendation from J. Edgar Hoover. Newspaper articles documenting this event are in frames on the walls of Berry’s building.

When it was the weather station, school kids routinely visited the property as part of field trips to go to see the weather instruments that were all over the place. “We still have a few teachers bring their students over here for field trips but they have to settle for pictures of the old weather instruments and some souvenirs of our cases like the scissors some doctor left in a clients stomach during an operation or the dead mouse a woman found in a soft drink can.”

In the 1950s, after the government moved weather operations to the airport and the land rights reverted to OCU, bids were let to tear the building down or move it. Moving a building with 13 inch thick brick walls was as preposterous as moving a Wal-Mart so demolition was considered. “Fortunately for me,” says Berry, “the cost of destruction was $1,000.00 and the value of the disassembled bricks was $600.00 so OCU offered to pay the government $600.00 for the bricks and just keep the building standing.”

In the 1960s and 1970s the building was a variety of schools, small offices and even storage but in 1980 Howard K. Berry, Jr. saw the potential in the place and transformed it into the Berry Law Building. Hundreds of thousands of dollars was spent replacing all the plumbing and electrical, meticulously restoring it.

Mixed in with all the exquisite antique furniture, light fixtures, and building memorabilia are plenty of Berry family photos. A Berry cousin named Richard Jones is a genealogy expert and has generously provided Berry with plenty of old documents and photographs from the 1800s showing the Berry family migration by ship from Europe to North Carolina, then by mule to Kentucky and by train to Oklahoma City in 1910 where Berry’s great grandfather “J.W.” became a policeman and later a local politician, businessman and civic leader.

One room is consumed with photographs and memorabilia of famous criminal lawyer Moman Pruiett who was at the height of his powers at the time Oklahoma became a state in 1907 and who was the subject of a renowned biography written by Howard K. Berry, Sr. During the celebration of the Oklahoma Centennial, Berry, III continues to make himself available for public speaking engagements on this book titled, “He Made It Safe To Murder” authored by his grandfather.

Another room or two is dedicated to memorabilia of the building itself, which was built in 1905 and for 50 years was a landmark in Oklahoma City. It housed the Gary England’s of yesteryear, prominent men who predicted the weather as best they could and reported it in colorful ways to the newspaper and from a radio station in the building.

One way Howard K. Berry, III and his law firm commemorated the centennial of the building was by stepping up their search for more information about the property. “The local search for information and pictures is ongoing but recently we sent an investigator to the Regional Archives at Ft. Worth and they brought back a file full of information”, said Berry. “We plan to search for more in the National Archives at Washington, D.C. sometime in the future.”

When asked what the future holds for the building, Berry grew ponderous and momentarily fretful. “I hope someone comes along to take over for me someday and keep this place shined up. I really do. It was a wreck when we bought it in 1980 and it should never be allowed to get rundown after all we’ve done for it. I can do it another 10 or 15 years but another preservationist must be found. How old will Paris Hilton be in 15 years?” Berry asks with a laugh.

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