Oklahoma City, the second time around

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Once upon a time, there was a famous architect of Asian descent who produced a plan that radically altered the center of a major Oklahoma city.

No, not Bing Thom and Tulsa, but I. M. Pei, whose plan to redevelop Oklahoma City resulted in the demolition of most of its original commercial district and the creation of the Myriad Gardens, the Myriad Convention Center, and that Habitrail-like thing just west of Myriad Gardens.

Via Doug Loudenback, we learn of a new book that puts Pei's plan in the context of fifty years of history of downtown Oklahoma City's decline and renaissance.

According to the book's blog, OKC, Second Time Around: A Renaissance Story, by Steve Lackmeyer and Jack Money, "chronicles a 50-year period in which hundreds of buildings were demolished in downtown OKC, the demise of Urban Renewal, early development of Bricktown, and downtown's recent resurgence."

Loudenback, an online chronicler of Oklahoma City history, gives the book five stars plus an infinite number of plusses, for providing both beautiful pictures and informative text covering the history of downtown OKC in detail, both positive and negative. I was especially interested in Loudenback's description of the chapter on Neal Horton, an early advocate for Bricktown, whose pleas for city investment in basic infrastructure fell on deaf ears, and who didn't live to see his visions come to pass.

I plan to pick up a copy of this book when I'm next in Oklahoma City. The same kind of book needs to be written about Tulsa.

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Paul Tay said:

Right, Bates. Pick on da chinaman.

An interesting aside that the book shows is that IF Pei's advice had been followed, particularly that part of it which would have constructed NEW facilities for significant downtown retailers, such as John A. Brown Co., before demolishing the old commercial structures so that the "old" could move into the "new", some part of downtown Okc's retail might have been preserved. But, then again, in the case of Brown's, the authors show that a location had been "nominated" for a new "Brown's", but that the family didn't like it ... hard to know what is true in this instance, as the owner's may have merely wanted to exit a then sinking ship, downtown, for the burbs.

This book is big-time good! Thought-provoking, full of details of history, and lots of eye-candy. What a combo! It doesn't get any better than that (for history buffs who like to "read" as well as "see"). This ain't no ordinary "coffee table" type of book!

G Webster Wormleigh said:

I grew up in OKC, and, after forty plus years in Tulsa, I'm here to tell you that downtown OKC did not have the class of our downtown. It was, for the most part, very ordinary: there were no oil barons building skyscrapers over there. Even the Biltmore Hotel was ugly! For a long time after Mr. Pei went to work, the downtown in OKC looked like East Berlin. And let us not forget, for the sake of comparison, that there is nothing about Tulsa which would turn our downtown into an Indianapolis, or an Oklahoma City: we are not the State Capitol and we are not in the center of the state. We do not have the Federal and State dollars to help us. And, most of all, our downtown is almost over in Osage County. Don't try to compare apples and oranges, because we have a completely different geographical and geopolitical situation to confront.

I don't think that Mr. Bates was doing any comparison at all ... all he was saying (I think) is that the authors' book is a fine accomplishment which choronicles Okc's past 50 year history and that it would be another fine thing for a similar book to be done for Tulsa, a fine and great city in its own right.

I'm an Okie, and I'm not interested in knocking Tulsa, which I regularly enjoy up the turnpike, and I enjoy it quite a lot.

I'm personally very impressed by what's going on in Tulsa today ... I noticed the fine arena being built on Denver (?) as well as some items that are not necessarily as evident ... such as the very fine Ambassador House which I enjoyed staying in just a few days ago during the Bar Convention ... a very fine place to stay.

I like both of Oklahoma's principal cities very, very much. I'd be thrilled to spend another night in the Mayo Hotel, and maybe that will yet come to pass.

G Webster Wormleigh said:

Don't hold your breath, waiting for the Mayo to open. And remember that, unlike the taxpayer funded BOK White Elephant on Denver, the Ambassador was created with private funding. The excellence you experienced there is due to the efforts of Tulsa entreprenuers, and this is quite unlike the Channels groupies, who want the taxpayers to build their river playground for them.

G Webster Wormleigh said:

And, speaking of OKC, I remember why they re-named all of the streets in the downtown area; the joke about the bum "who was on Reno and thought it was Grand".

Doug's right -- I'm saying there needs to be a book that chronicles the fifty-plus years of Tulsa's monkeying around with downtown and the inner city. For example: there are too many people who think that Greenwood was demolished by the 1921 race war and never rebuilt. They don't realize that urban removal destroyed all but a block of Greenwood the second time. The history needs to be documented while the people who lived through it are still around, and we need to learn these lessons from history as we start work on a new Comprehensive Plan for the city.

As for the Mayo, the Snyders have taken a very smart, incremental approach to restoration, with excellent results. You'll see a new coffee house open soon. (The place is already being used to roast beans for other coffee houses. Go peek in the window.) They have a loan from the downtown housing fund for redeveloping some of the floors as loft housing; those have to be ready for occupancy in 2007. Hotel rooms may not happen in the next year or so, but I'll bet you'll see it within the next 10 years.

G Webster Wormleigh said:

I'll take you up on that bet. If you can rent a room in the Mayo Hotel before New Year's Eve, 2016, I will foot the tab for it. And buy a cup of coffee for you in the coffee house downstairs!! We don't seem to be able to entice hotel developers into building a new enterprise, much less renovating an old hulk. And I won't even mention the Skirvin, the Biltmore, Hudson and the Huckins in downtown Okie City.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 19, 2006 10:25 PM.

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