On the picket line


It's been a while since I joined a protest, but there I was, with my seven-year-old son, on the sidewalk in front of the Skelly Building at 4th & Boulder, along with the hearty souls who organized the protest on the TulsaNow message board.

We brought some signs with us:

Enough asphalt already! Stop tearing down Tulsa! [With a wrecking ball demolishing the letter "a" in Tulsa.]

$200 million of public investment in downtown -- and this is the thanks we get?

Tulsa Whirled has no faith in downtown's future

Knocking down history is not an "improvement"

Downtown's future? Acres of parking, but nothing worth parking to see.

Someone else took the prize for a clever slogan:

Tulsa World's
Vision 2025:
Asphalt parking lot

KRMG, KJRH, and KOTV all covered the story, as did Urban Tulsa. The Whirled sent city reporter Brian Barber out to talk to us, and later on his colleague P. J. Lassek came out to say hello. The organizer had me do much of the talking -- I have some recent experience with that sort of thing.

It was a hot morning. We showed up about 9:30. Neptune74137 and sgrizzle -- that's the handles they use on the TulsaNow forums, don't know if they'd want me to use their real names -- were already on the corner. Neptune74137 was the principal organizer of this event. When my son and I left about 11 there were about a dozen folks on the corner (a few were sympathizers who weren't carrying signs). We got thumbs up from passers-by -- no negative responses. At one point, while the Whirled and Urban Tulsa reporters were there, a police officer pulled up onto the sidewalk in his Cushman cart. He was cordial, wished us well; he advised us not to keep anyone from entering or leaving the building.

One of our number was familiar with the downtown parking situation, and he pointed out that the parking garage just across 4th Street from the Skelly Building is now open for daily parking -- it isn't fully used by people paying by the month for parking. We could look up and see that the upper level and part of the next level was vacant, at least along the 4th Street side. Surely the Whirled could work with available existing parking facilities to meet any need for customer parking.

There was some conversation about restoring older buildings. The Ambassador Hotel was in terrible shape, nearly ready to be demolished, when Paul Coury restored it as a top-of-the-line hotel. The consensus was that the Skelly Building couldn't be as bad off as the Ambassador was.

I'm hoping for at least enough coverage of the event to raise awareness. During my runs for City Council, I talked to plenty of people who were dismayed at the continued demolition of downtown and wished that something could be done about it. There are steps our Council should take, but what is more urgently needed is a change in attitude, especially among Tulsa's business leaders, from a culture of demolition to a culture of preservation. If someone with influence and money were willing to advocate for preservation, that could do a great deal of good.

As we walked back to the car, we peeked in the window to the basement of the Mayo Hotel, which is currently being used as a very nice covered parking garage, while the 1st and 2nd floors have been restored as a banquet facility. I know of another building -- I think it's the old Renberg's building on Main between 3rd and 4th -- that is used as a parking garage. It's well concealed -- the entrance is on the alley. Couldn't the Whirled do the same thing with the Skelly Building? The first floor or basement could be converted to parking, while the rest of the building is mothballed until it becomes valuable for office, retail, or residential use.

There are ways to preserve and reuse these buildings -- the Whirled has the money, they just need the will and the imagination.

UPDATE: Preservation Online -- the web edition of the magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation -- published a story about the Skelly today. Here's the link.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 21, 2004 6:30 PM.

What they promised if we opened the Main Mall to traffic was the previous entry in this blog.

Letters to the Whirled: Do you have to tear old buildings down? is the next entry in this blog.

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