Nestled between two historic churches, First Baptist to the north and First United Methodist to the south, stands the “Grand Old Lady” of historic downtown Oxford at 100 Choccolocco Street. Her career of service to the citizens of Oxford has spanned almost 100 years and has been varied in its functions.
In 1920, the citizens of the community agreed that an elementary school must be provided for its children. Space at the old Oxford College building, which had been purchased by the City of Oxford in 1911 and was now called Calhoun County High School, was inadequate for the children who were meeting in an old store building located behind the bank on Choccolocco Street as well as in the Baptist and Methodist churches. However, the only money available for building purposes was the three-mill tax money, which was not sufficient. Therefore, it was decided to sell “Loyal Loan” School Bonds to the citizens to finance the building.
On April 5, 1921, children in grades one through seven moved into the new $40,000 steam heated building at 100 Choccolocco Street. The school was called Oxford Elementary School. After a new Oxford High School was completed in 1951, Oxford Elementary School moved in 1952 into the Fulton Hall building which the high school had vacated.
In 1953, the building at 100 Choccolocco, previously the Oxford Elementary School, became the Oxford City Hall, housing Oxford’s city government offices and police department. As Oxford expanded, however, this space proved inadequate. In December, 2001, city government offices moved to the new City Hall at 145 East Hamric Drive, and the Police Department then occupied the building at 100 Choccolocco Street until a new Justice Center was constructed in 2009 at 600 Stanley Merrill Drive.
Alas, the “Grand Old Lady” was empty for the first time in her career, but not for long. The Oxford Arts Council, formed by the City of Oxford in 1981 as a part of the Oxford Parks and Recreation Department, made known the need for a performing arts center to be used as an entertainment venue for musical and theatrical productions. And the “Grand Old Lady” was ready to embark on a new career. After hiring the Montgomery architectural firm of Goodwyn, Mills, and Cawood, Inc. with Mike Hamrick as Chief Architect, the Oxford City Council awarded a bid of $10.4 million to Hale Construction Company, inc., in May of 2011 to construct a Performing Arts Center. The original part of the building would serve as the lobby with offices and meeting rooms still preserving the antiquity of the building. The original pine floors, columns, and brick exterior would remain intact. The new part of the center, extending from the original building on Choccolocco back to Snow Street, would contain a state-of-the-art theater with approximately 1200 seats.
Now the “Grand Old Lady” is all dressed up with a new name: The Oxford Performing Arts Center. The first performance was May 17, 2013, by the Alabama Symphony Ochestra. Purchased originally by the citizens of Oxford to educate, she still fulfills her goals. Historic downtown Oxford will now look to 100 Choccolocco Street for leadership in the preservation of the history of the City of Oxford.
-Jane Hamric Batey