Tulsa needs tools for preservation
Oklahoma City's Downtown Guy has posted the last installment in his series on a recent visit Tulsa, which features a photo of the demolition of the Skelly Building. He says it's been years since a significant historic building has been demolished in downtown OKC, and he mentions one badly-damaged building that the owner chose to restore because, like the Skelly Building, it sat on a prominent corner. About the Skelly, he writes:
Protests were held, much like those for the Gold Dome in OKC. But they weren’t victorious (the Gold Dome, on the other hand, was a big win for preservationists here).
Saving the Gold Dome was a hard-fought victory, but OKC preservationists had some tools at their disposal that are missing in Tulsa. The building is in an urban design review district, and the owner of the building had to seek a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the building and build the new Walgreens and bank branch to replace it. The Urban Design Commission denied all three applications, and ultimately a buyer was found to restore and reuse the landmark.
Here in Tulsa, we have nothing in our ordinances to stop or even slow the demolition of historic commercial buildings or to prevent the continued erosion of what remains of our urban streetscape. If there were a consensus among the powerful that preservation is a good thing, such laws wouldn't be needed, but the fact that we don't have such laws is a clear indication that the folks who really run this town don't get it yet. They see a new arena and a new convention center in Oklahoma City, and they think that's all we need to achieve the same sort of revitalization. What they don't notice are all the old buildings that weren't knocked down in the '60s for urban renewal or in the decades since for parking. These old buildings were available when people were ready to take risks and start businesses in Bricktown. Tulsa is starting off well behind Oklahoma City in the old buildings department. If we expect great things to happen in downtown Tulsa, one of the first steps is to stop tearing down buildings. A private effort to rescue endangered buildings, paralleled by public policy decisions to encourage preservation, are the first steps.