View Full Version : Fairchild Winery Cellar

02-13-2012, 09:11 AM
Cool article from today's Journal Record.

These Walls: Fairchild Winery Cellar

by Heide Brandes

OKLAHOMA CITY – In the 1980s, Scott Weizerhof had no interest in abandoned winery cellars or old history. He had a lawn mower, empty pockets and a drive to make some money mowing other people’s lawns.

One day while on the way to a job, he and a friend traveled down a country road east of Interstate 235 near an antennae farm that hosted television and radio towers in Oklahoma City. His friend pointed out a structure tucked away deep in the field that not only held a piece of Oklahoma City’s history, but also would become a major monument in Weizerhof’s life.

“While driving down the street, he pointed and said, ‘There’s an old wine cellar out there,’” Weizerhof said. “I didn’t think much of it, but I told my parents about it that night, and they started looking into it.”

A little research led to the checkered history of the Fairchild Winery Cellar, and after locating the current owner of the land, the Weizerhof family bought it, even though the former glory had long since faded.

“It was just an overgrown field with 8-foot Johnson grass out by what’s known as Antennae Farm near the old Channel 34 building,” Weizerhof said. “But my parents wanted it, and it’s the longest-standing existing structure in Oklahoma City.”

It also has a heady history full of spirit, colorful characters and forgotten lore.

The Fairchild legacy

Edward B. Fairchild, a dandy from upstate New York, started the Fairchild Winery in 1884. Hailing from a prominent winemaking family, he knew that wine would be a coveted drink when settlers came. Using the sandstone that littered the area, he built an arched vault to store the wine, using a natural spring as the base.

“He owned a bunch of cafes with his partner, M.S. Warner,” Weizerhof said. “He never homesteaded until his wife passed away. After she died, he moved out here and bought the property. She didn’t approve of alcohol. So, he planted 1,500 fruit trees and started growing grapes.”

After building the wine cellar deep into the existing sandstone, he installed a hand-dug well and used a windmill with 6-foot blades to pump water out of the natural spring below the cellar into canals he had dug throughout his orchard.

“The floor of the cellar is carved out of the natural sandstone with drains going out of it,” Weizerhof said. “He had the only winery around here, and at the time, he was making 5,500 gallons of wine a year. I think he did mainly Concord and Wisconsin grapes.”

Fairchild had a nose for business. He had ties with the first Catholic Diocese in the city, and he helped build Wilshire and Grand avenues after naming himself road commissioner.

“I figure the Catholic Diocese was his biggest buyer,” Weizerhof said. “But, then statehood hit and the party was over. Prohibition passed and that shut it all down. Fairchild sold the property right after statehood.”

Prohibition didn’t stop Oklahomans’ taste for spirits, although it was not repealed in Oklahoma until 1959. After the winery shut down, the property passed through many hands, the little cellar becoming more and more decrepit as time went on.

The power of Shirk

George Shirk, who was Oklahoma City’s mayor from 1964 to 1967, had a passionate curiosity and a die-hard spirit for uncovering Oklahoma history. Head of the Oklahoma Historical Society, Shirk discovered the infamous Underground Chinese Tunnels in downtown Oklahoma City in 1969 and was on a quest to find the Fairchild Winery Cellar, as well.

“The property had changed hands about 14 times, and by time Shirk found the cellar, it had become a dumping spot at the end of an old dirt road,” Weizerhof said.

When Shirk discovered it in 1972, the cellar still stood with many of its canals still working. Shirk bought the property and began restoring the old cellar. He concreted the floors and added a Santa Fe Railroad caboose nearby. Both, according to popular legend, were used for the questionable meetings of the Oklahoma Wine & Rasslin’ Society.

“It was kind of a secret society,” Weizerhof said. “They had meetings here and a few of the old stones that the road was originally built on are still visible near Wilshire where Fox 25 is now. A county commissioner was one of the members, and he paved the road to the cellar so everyone wouldn’t get their Cadillacs stuck in the mud. It was a gentleman’s club with drink and cards and such.”

Shirk died in 1977, and the old cellar once again fell into the shadows of memory.

“My folks bought it from Shirk’s sister, Lucille,” Weizerhof said. “They built a house on the property.” “My dad passed away in the early ’90s, and my mom remarried, so I own the property now. Fairchild was quite a character. He insisted on wearing a three-piece suit and derby hat every day at the winery. Maybe I will do that to continue the tradition – or maybe not.

“The Fairchild Cellar is still out there,” he said. “It’s not going anywhere, but now it’s just an interesting old building built on a natural spring. It gets damp in there and moldy, so it’s not useful for anything anymore … except maybe storing grapes and wine.”

The Journal Record profiles a significant Oklahoma City or Tulsa building in “These Walls” every Friday and Monday.