Iconic Tulsa

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One of my Urban Tulsa Weekly columns was about the idea of the new downtown sports arena as an "icon", and what it means for a building to be iconic:

An icon is a symbol. In the computer world, itís a small image that has enough detail to help you remember what program that will be launched when you click on it. In religious terms, itís an image of a saint, depicting details of the saintís ministry or martyrdom which identify the saint and remind the viewer of his or her story. For both meanings of the word, an icon is supposed to bring to mind the thing or person being iconified.

When you see an ďiconicĒ structure, you immediately know its location. Think of the U. S. Capitol; the domes of the Kremlin; Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament; the Colosseum; the Parthenon; the Statue of Liberty; the Eiffel Tower; the Gateway Arch; the Leaning Tower; the Pyramids.

Television shows and movies use iconic structures to set the scene without a single word. An iconic structure works because it is distinctive and it connects with a famous location. The less famous the place, the more distinctive the structure needs to be to work as an icon. Like it or not, Tulsaís most iconic structure is the Golden Driller. It works because people still associate Tulsa with oil. The American, if itís ever built, could be an icon for our state because people associate Oklahoma with American Indians.

Proving my point unintentionally, the Tulsa Whirled's website has been running an online poll, asking readers to pick their top four Tulsa scenes out of 16. The winning scene will be used on the box of a Monopoly-type game called Tulsa on Board, which is being developed by Leadership Tulsa. The text of the poll reads:

As a sponsor, the Tulsa World will provide artwork, but we need your help. The box should visually reflect what it means to live in Tulsa; and we thought who would know better than Tulsans themselves?

As I write this, the top vote-getter among the photos is the Golden Driller (816 votes), followed by the Cain's Ballroom (673 votes), an aerial photo of downtown, with the refineries, the river, and the setting sun in the background (619 votes), and Art Deco (529 votes -- the photo is of the Boston Avenue Church tower). The "iconic" arena is in 6th place, but well back of the leaders, with only 341 votes. (The Philtower was 5th, with 445 votes.)

8 Comments

Joseph Wallis said:

I am moving to disqualify the Golden Driller because it does not reside within the Tulsa city limits. Expo square sits on county property and so does the Golden Driller.

That is such a hokey icon....Cain's is MUCH more deserving.

Good point, although the issue isn't that the Driller is on county property, but that it's on unincorporated land. The county owns LaFortune Park, for example, but it is in the city limits of Tulsa. Some of us have been arguing for a long time that there's no reason for Expo Square to be excluded from the city limits, and that it would benefit the city and the surrounding neighborhoods and businesses for Expo Square's operations to be under the same set of laws and taxes as everyone else.

susan said:

Michael Bates is right again! The Expo Square's operations should be under the same set of laws and taxes as everyone else.

The Golden Driller has already been used a lot
for Tulsa P.R. -- what Tulsa "used" to be.
It was very common to work for drilling companies and oil companies for many Tulsans and back in better Tulsa days, we certainly were not worried about the companies we worked for going bankrupt or moving to Texas and leaving downtown
like a ghost town.
Way back in the booming oil days, there were not enough hotels when oil events came to Tulsa so there were some Tulsans that rented out their homes for a few weeks so the big oil guys could have a decent and extremely comfortable place to stay! My grandparents took a nice long comfortable trip to California for helping out and still had money left over -- that was in the boomin' oil days of Tulsa.

Joseph Wallis said:

I guess I should have been more clear....by county property I meant unincorporated, but not owned by the county. As in, if there is a crime committed on the property you have county sheriff's responding, not TPD. Man Microtel must make a killing not having to pay Tulsa property taxes.

Every time I go to Expo Square I hear that big sucking sound of tax dollars going away from the city because it is not inside the city limits.

XonOFF said:

As an aside directed to MB's latest comment. Where you aware _any_ formerly city property purchased by the county then 'becomes' county property, excluded from city? All the descrete little buildings the county purchases suddenly change from being city property to county property and somehow 'move' outside city limits.

Brian Biggs said:

It's interesting that a new Tulsa-themed monopoly game is being made... this will be the second one. The first was Tulsa-in-a-Box, which was retired in 2004. I wonder why they are making a second one and if it will fare any better then the first.

W. Author Profile Page said:

I love Cain's. But I also have no trouble with the Golden Driller winning the contest. It's instantly recognizable, and it's so kitschy, it's cool.

I wouldn't vote for the arena. But the only reason it isn't grading higher is because it's not built. It's hard for anything to register in anyone's consciousness if it doesn't yet exist.

As a native Bostonian - I think of Cherry Street, the river and a few buildings downtown as things that represent Tulsa. I also enjoy looking at the skyline from way up North here in Owasso!

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on February 15, 2006 1:39 AM.

Planned shrinkage: The Do Not Resucitate approach to urban revitalization was the previous entry in this blog.

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