Catherine Montgomery decided to become an architect at age 12 after determining that her original career choice, cosmetology, wasn’t the best fit for her.

After moving to Oklahoma in 1999, she specialized in historical preservation and helped bring about some of the state’s more notable projects, including the Skirvin Hotel, Ambassador Hotel and Calgary Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. In this video, she discusses past preservation mistakes and future restoration opportunities.

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Videography by Ilea Shutler. Produced by Warren Vieth.

“Conversations” is a series of video interviews with Oklahomans about subjects that relate to some of the state’s important issues. The 2016-2017 series is sponsored by the Chickasaw Nation and is made possible by a grant from the Institute for Nonprofit News.

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When Montgomery and her husband relocated to Oklahoma from the Washington, D.C., area in 1999, she knew next to nothing about the state or its architectural legacy. She filled in her information deficit and has since helped oversee at least $300 million in Historic Preservation Act projects here.

Montgomery spent a decade working for the Oklahoma Historical Society, first as historic preservation architect and preservation tax incentives coordinator and later as director of construction and maintenance at the state’s historical sites and museums.

She founded her own architectural firm, the Preservation and Design Studio in Oklahoma City, in 2009. The firm has been involved in the renovation of about 100 historic structures in central Oklahoma and other locations across the state, such as the Aldridge Hotel in McAlester and Guardian Building in Alva.

Montgomery’s current projects include the restoration of the old Sunbeam orphanage building in Oklahoma City’s historic Mesta Park neighborhood. When it is finished, it will become a residential complex and community kitchen.

Some of her projects involved the use of state and federal tax credits, which provide taxpayer financing for about 40 percent of qualifying costs. Montgomery said the credits often are essential to the financial viability of historic renovations.

She said Oklahoma, like other states, has recognized mistakes made during the indiscriminate urban renewal era of the 1970s, when many historical buildings were razed. Successfully renovated structures such as the Skirvin in Oklahoma City and the Mayo Hotel in Tulsa are now considered preservation landmarks.

There is much work yet to be done, she said, citing potential preservation opportunities such as the former Hotel Youngblood in Enid, a Beaux Arts high school building in Ardmore and the Oklahoma City Public Schools administrative building.

Her idea list is a long one. Hairdressing is still not on the agenda.

In this bonus video, Montgomery talks about how she first became interested in a career in architecture.

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