Oklahoma City downtown hotel has "character"

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Doug Loudenback has a nearly comprehensive history of downtown Oklahoma City hotels from the beginning to the present day, illustrated with postcards, vintage photos, and present day photos. The fate of each hotel is described. One of the more interesting "whatever happened to" stories involves the Holiday Inn (built in 1964) on the west side of downtown, which last operated as a hotel in 1993, closing for good just before the launch of MAPS. Here's what Doug found when he rang the doorbell:

A pleasant young lady came to the door, spoke with me, did not invite me in, but, after a time, she allowed (at my request) that I enter the lobby since it was so damn cold outside! The lobby area was beautifully appointed just like a fine hotel would be. At the lobby desk, we were joined by another pleasant young lady. There, I asked a few but not many questions (understanding that I was an uninvited guest and not wanting to be too pushy) and not necessarily in this order:

(1) Was the building owned/used by the City of Oklahoma City (given the OKC flag flying in the frontage)? Answer: No.

(2) What is the building used for? The young woman who allowed me in said something like it was a character development center. I said, "You mean, like a rehabilitation center?" She said, no, it had nothing to do with rehabilitation. I asked her to explain a little. I don’t recall her exact answer, but it had to do with training programs to build character. Not really understanding and not wanting to be too nosey, I asked if I could have a brochure or something simple, and she gave me a single sheet "flyer" type of paper with the name "Character Council of Oklahoma City" at the top and which contained a picture of Mayor Cornett at the bottom. I asked if there was a website where I could read more, and the young lady gave me this address: http://www.characterfirst.com and, later, I noticed another name on the "flyer", http://www.characterok.org. She also said that a monthly breakfast and lunch was available, the next being 1/24 at 7:00 a.m. and 1/26 at 11:45 a.m., and that I would be welcome to attend (after telephone a fellow to let him know for planning purposes). I asked about the condition of the building above the lobby level and I was told that most of them had been reconditioned, all but 2 or 3. I did not ask what they were used for but didn't get a clear answer about that. That was pretty much the extent of my visit and I left with good feelings generated from the pleasant ladies but still not knowing a lot more than I did in the first place.

Doug did some further digging and learned that the Character Training Center is part of the Bill Gothard empire. The heart of Gothard's teaching is that God's blessing is to be found in unquestioning obedience to the God-ordained authorities to which you are subject. (Here is a pretty fair Time story on Gothard from 1974.)

A version of his teaching that has been sanitized of any religious content has been adopted by many cities, including Owasso. Owasso City Manager Rodney Ray is quoted on the Character Cities website about the program's results:

In the three years prior to our character initiative, we had 42 labor grievances and employee grievances, and seven different lawsuits. In the three years since we put the character initiative in place we have had two grievances and no lawsuits from employees.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sandy Garrett also provides a testimonial:

From experience, I have found this program to be an excellent tool for filling the void of moral character within our state's youth… I recommend the implementation [of this program] within every level of state and local government.

Oklahoma is a "State of Character," which would explain why we have a state-sponsored lottery and public officials going to jail at regular intervals.

During my time as a member of the Oklahoma Republican Committee, many of our quarterly meetings were held in the center's meeting rooms. While there were always a few staffers around the lobby desk, I noticed that they were always polite but never outgoing, and they never seemed to talk to one another. For young people, they seemed emotionally buttoned up.

The walls of the lobby are decorated with framed posters of each of the 49 character qualities that Gothard has identified, each illustrated with an animal who exemplifies that quality. (Some of the connections are quite a stretch, but it would be disobedient to point that out.) If you run in Tulsa's River Parks, you've seen the names of these qualities stenciled on the storm sewer blocks.

(Gothard has also identified 49 "general commands of Christ", each of which he assigns to one of the 49 character qualities.)

Teaching good character is a fine thing, but there doesn't seem to be any need in Gothard's system for grace, atonement, and forgiveness. Jesus appears only as a lawgiver, not as the one who perfectly fulfilled the Law's demands on our behalf. It's a good moral system, a fine civic religion, but it isn't the Gospel.

If you can filter all the Christian content out of a program without substantially changing it, it wasn't all that Christian to begin with.

UPDATE: Doug Loudenback adds a comment and a link to a lengthier account of his research into the owners of the old downtown OKC Holiday Inn. And his article links to another account of someone who wondered what was going on in that building.

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Thanks for noticing and expanding on what I said, Michael. In my "draft" post, the Holiday Inn segment was 4-5 times longer than it turned out to be ... but, after thinking about it, all of the Gothard stuff I initially included seemed to detract from the focus of my post, which was, of course, Okc hotel history, not religion or politics. So, I decided that the post wasn't the time or place to elaborate on those topics, particularly since I try to keep my blog non-political and/or religious most of the time, and I severely cropped out large chunks of my original draft even though I did try to keep enough "kernel" info about the Gothard stuff in the post for those who were curious.

That said, your thoughts mirror my own.

When I was doing my initial research more than a year ago, I posted a rather lengthy post at OkcTalk.com ... which you can read here. Be sure to read to the end of that thread where you'll find a nicely put piece of humor by The Old Downtown Guy!

Some parts of the research were just "fun" like when you find out something you never knew before but which has been "under your nose" for years. I mean, a LIMO at a defunct (I supposed) downtown building? It didn't compute. Some parts of the research were scary ... I don't know that the comparison is fair, but, whether he should or not Jim Jones comes to mind as does the old phrase, "a wolf in sheep's clothing" ... also scary is the fact that not very many politicos (at least, I presume so) who have endorsed Gothard's character stuff have done their own research to see exactly WHAT it is that they are endorsing. I again note that NO signs identify the building, and, unless you're shivering cold and talking to a pleasant young lady who answers the doorbell, it's darned hard to get inside the front door! I must have talked to the 1st young lady mentioned in the post for 10 minutes before she reluctantly allowed me to come inside out of the bitter cold that was present on that day.

I'm very glad you made this post. All the stuff just didn't fit in with my own purposes in the blog post. I tried to give some links so that the curious could look further, and you've gone well beyond that.

Good job!

writerranger said:

Michael, You do a fantastic job with your blog. Doug Loudenback pointed me to your post about the old Holiday Inn in OKC and its Gothard connection. For a fascinating look into the Character Training Institute,
take a look at this article from IN THESE TIMES from about a year ago

Doug does a great job chronicling downtown history in Oklahoma City without going into a lot of controversial political stuff and it made sense for him to not go too deeply into this Gothard thing in his post on OKC hotels. I am glad you took the time to point people in the right direction for further info on CTI.

Again, from over here in OKC, it's clear you have done some great things with your blog. Keep up the good work!

Brenda Mann said:

We would like any information you might have an an old hotel that was taken by urban renewal 30-40 years ago. It was near downtown OKC and called either "Hotel Oklahoma" or "Oklahoma Hotel". Any pictures or information would be great. Thank you.

M. Murphy said:

I've only got a minute but I think your site is fairly conservative so I'll speak to you as a brother in Christ.

I was a little surprised at your making fun of submission to authorities as it is a godly thing, not blind obedience but submission with watchfulness. Authorities could be your government, boss, parents, or pastor.

But I mainly wanted to point out that Gothard teaches you should submit to your authority or change it. Submit to your pastor or if you don't trust him for some reason, find a new church. If you can't submit to your boss find a new job. And he goes thru a very helpful list of how to say no to an authority when he's asked you to do something you can't do in good conscience. This would include saying no to a government authority but there you can't change it but you'll just have to take the consequences of saying no to them.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 28, 2007 11:39 PM.

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