Oklahoma: August 2008 Archives

BatesLine reader Jimmy Hamilton has noticed something strange in the list of Oklahoma lottery winners:

I normally don't care much about what goes on with the lottery, but found it interesting that a trust had claimed the most recent jackpot: Specifically, the Zorro Trust.

That name rang a bell, so I started to research it online. I quickly remembered why it was familiar. The Zorro Trust belongs to Jeffrey Epstein. I don't know how familiar you are with Jeffrey Epstein, but he is (was) a billionaire money manager who is close friends with many high-profile politicians (like Bill Clinton) and cultural elite, was a major investor and former employee of the troubled Bear Stearns hedge fund, and most recently was convicted of soliciting [details of immoral and illegal behavior snipped in the interests of decorum -- see the Wikipedia entry if you must know], for which he is currently serving 18 months in prison. There's much more, but that should give you an idea, if you weren't already aware.

My question is if the Zorro Trust that claimed the lottery prize is, in fact, the same Zorro Trust owned by Jeffrey Epstein. If so, I find it a strange coincidence that someone involved in the Zorro Trust, which allegedly doesn't have any clients that aren't billionaires, would end up with an Oklahoma Lottery Ticket, purchased at a convenience store in Altus, worth $85 million.

Is this the same Zorro or some other swashbuckling trust?

Following some links from Brandon Dutcher's blog, I came across the blog of the Absalom family. Alex and Hannah Absalom and their three boys moved from Sheffield, England, to the Oklahoma City area in 2007, where Alex joined the staff of Bridgeway Church.

It's always interesting to see your own culture through new eyes, especially when those new eyes are connected to a frank and funny voice. The Absaloms are immersing themselves in local culture and reporting their reactions on their blog. Here are a few of the experiences they've had so far:

Home appliances:

We now own a washing machine and dryer that are large enough to wash not only all of our family's clothes in one go, but also the children too. However those machines are topped by our new fridge/freezer, which comes complete with a whizzy dispenser on the front that makes three varieties of ice and a colony of penguins on the second to bottom shelf.

Upon hearing our report back after a hard day in Lance & Stacy's pool, Joel's summary was "Why is everything in America so large, especially the people?".


Joel came dashing in to find me the other day.

"Daddy! Daddy! For the first time I've just seen someone actually walk past our house!"

In a later entry, they are stopped and interrogated by a man with a "huge handlebar moustache, worthy of Asterix the Gaul" who found their strolling on a country lane highly suspicious.

Public transport:

We must have driven the best part of 1000 miles in the last 6 weeks (for our European readers: it's a very scattered city!), but that was the first time I'd seen a regular bus running....

I've done a little research and it turns out that the buses run on just a couple of routes, themselves selected by a strange process that defies natural logic for where they should start or finish. Bus usage is also not helped by the way that the bus stops are camouflaged in a manner that would impress Jack Bauer.

The Wildlife Expo:

There was an unwritten dress code that involved checked (plaid) shirts, old baseball hats and anything with something printed on it indicating support for either John Deere, the U.S. military or huntin', shootin' or fishin'. A few of the experienced types managed all three at the same time, receiving many sartorial nods of approval....

Thus it turned out that the wildlife in question was there to be fished, hunted, shot, eaten or stuffed. All very interesting for something that was being run by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and "a coalition of conservation organizations". Clearly here the word conservation has a different meaning to the sense in common usage in the rest of the world.

OU football:

The referees - all seven of them - originate from English Morris Dancing, since they tuck their trousers into their socks and throw handkerchiefs into the air whenever they are excited. Locally this is called throwing a flag, but really it's a hankie.

Silver Dollar City and a timeshare presentation in Branson:

Branson is a town that has grown up entirely, and I mean entirely, around the entertainment business. In many ways it is a Mid-West/Bible Belt version of Las Vegas. This means that the overarching Vegas theme of entertainment-around-gambling is replaced by entertainment-around-God'n'country. Thus you have shows full of country music, 60s tribute bands, country music, crooners, country music, dancers (less can-can, more line-dance) and cutting edge comedy, if your edge was cut in the 1940s. Did I mention they also like country music a great deal?

Mall walkers:

Instead of enjoying such risky things as grass, fresh air and the sun, they instead choose to exercise by marching briskly around the shopping mall. Now this might make sense if Oklahoma City was labouring under 2 feet of snow or a 40C heatwave, but yesterday was 14C, dry and a very pleasant day. However, the big scary outside doesn't have such basic fundamentals as seats every 50 yards, five fast food outlets and exactly the same experience every time.

The ice storm:

People have seemed remarkably stoical and positive. From the various conversations we've had in shops and our neighbourhood, as well as through the church, there is what we Brits would call the Blitz spirit shining through! People have been helping each other out and sharing homes and resources, and so far we've not had stories of people dying through lack of care from others....For lighter distraction we've also enjoyed the antics of the local weathermen, with each channel outdoing the other with their forecasts. The local stations even have special little logos and stirring music to go with reports, and we have rolling lists on screen of cancelled events and closed schools, businesses and churches (this being the South).

Devon spire

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Oklahoma City bloggers are agog at the unveiling of Devon Energy's plans to build the state's tallest building. Steve Lackmeyer, who blogs about downtown OKC development for the Oklahoman, has been covering the story extensively. Some of the land in question is owned by the city's urban renewal authority, which voted yesterday to approve the plan. The tower will be 54 stories, 925 feet tall, the 21st tallest building in America. At the moment the state's two tallest buildings are in Tulsa -- the Bank of Oklahoma Tower at 667 feet and the central tower of Cityplex (née City of Faith) at 649 feet.

Over at TulsaNow's public forum, some participants are feeling tower envy, wishing for some deep-pockets oil company to build some new skyscrapers in downtown, but we have to recall that Oklahoma City took a pass, for the most part, on the building frenzy of the late '70s, early '80s oil boom. While OKC's tallest building is of that era, the next tallest is from the '30s. From the late '60s to the early '80s, Tulsa built five new skyscrapers: Fourth National Bank (now Bank of America), Cities Service Building (now 110 W. 7th), 1st National Bank (now First Plaza), the BOk Tower, and the Mid-Continent Tower -- the addition that stands beside and is cantilevered over the original Cosden Building at 4th and Boston.

There are rumors of even more tall towers in Oklahoma City, and some OKCers are giddy at the thought of "filling the gaps in the skyline."

The thing about filling those gaps is that the new skyscrapers have to touch the ground at some point, and how these towers meet the street is what matters most to downtown's vitality. It may look beautiful from five miles away, it may have a great view from the top story, but how does it look to someone walking by on the street?

David Sucher is fond of saying, "Site plan trumps architecture."

Putting it yet another way, what happens more than 30 or so feet off the sidewalk is of only secondary importance.

The important thing it to create an urban, walkable space at sidewalk level by following Sucher's simple Three Rules -- build to the sidewalk, make the building front "permeable" with doors and windows you can see through (no blank walls or mirrored glass, and, preferably, with spaces that are open to the public along the street, such as storefronts), and put the parking behind the building.

It took a while to find a site plan of the Devon building; Doug Loudenback has it. The building will be on an existing 2-by-2 superblock, just north of another 2-by-2 superblock where Myriad Gardens is located. A public park will occupy the southwest corner of the site. A six-story building will be connected to the tower by a rotunda. There will be retail in the six-story section, but it's unclear if it will be accessible along the exterior of the building. Only a small portion of the six-story section will front the street; the tower itself will be surrounded by a moat.

Somewhere I saw it mentioned that this building will anchor Harvey St. as a north-south axis which will ultimately connect the downtown core to the North Canadian River's shore. In fact, Harvey will remain closed through this superblock, a missed opportunity to correct a planning mistake from the past. Like the Williams Center in Tulsa, it will act more as an obstacle than a link.

Some things I wrote elsewhere about Devon's plans:

On TulsaNow's public forum, I had this initial reaction:

I don't care about how far this thing sticks up as much as I care how it meets the street. I haven't seen pictures yet, but the descriptions indicate some sort of plaza and moat. A work of high art rather than a working part of a walkable urban streetscape. Bleh.

We got our allotment of skyscrapers in the '70s and early '80s. Oklahoma City built a few towers during that period, but none as tall as Tulsa's.

Tulsa would be far better off to fill all our parking lots with four-story buildings -- storefronts on street level, offices on the second level, apartments on the third and fourth floors -- than to build even one new skyscraper.

Tulsa's skyscraper boom may have satisfied some corporate egos, but it hastened the conversion of downtown from a real downtown to an office park. Buildings that used to house people and small retail were cleared away for the towers and for the parking that the towers required.

In response to a comment that you can build towers and pay attention to the street at the same time, I wrote:

Yes, you can, and it was done all the time before WWII -- e.g., the Empire State Building has street-level retail -- but I'm hard-pressed to think of an example from the last 40 years of a skyscraper that conforms to the Three Rules for generating urban places....

No one else could think of one either. It sort of goes against the starchitect code of honor -- you have to put a plaza around your masterpiece, create some distance between the street and the building so people are able to see more of it and admire it. Plazas -- unless they are surrounded on all sides by some sort of wall to create a kind of room -- don't work well. They are rarely done the right way in America. They may look nice as you drive by at 30 mph, but name me one plaza in Oklahoma where people choose to linger.

I posted this comment on an entry at Steve Lackmeyer's blog about the possibility of other towers in downtown OKC.

What happens at street level is far more important to the long-term health of downtown than how tall the buildings are. Go ahead and build a skyscraper, but make sure you don't clear out block after block of three and four story buildings to make room for the parking. Make sure the ground floor relates well to the street, with human scale elements, like street-fronting retail space.

Tulsa's 1970s skyscraper binge hastened downtown's conversion from a traditional mixed-use downtown to a 9-to-5 office park. We're only now starting to recover, with the renovation of the handful of old low rise buildings that weren't razed for the sake of parking.

TRACKBACK: Steve Lackmeyer responds with a post called "Blank Walls," which mentions urban critic William Whyte's observations of Oklahoma City in the early 1980s. Whyte's ideas influenced pioneering Bricktown developer Neal Horton. Quoting Whyte from a 1983 article in Time:

"The Blank Wall is on its way to becoming the dominant feature of many United States downtowns," Whyte complained. "Without the windows or adornment to relieve their monotony, the walls are built of concrete, brick, granite, metal veneer, opaque glass and mirrors ... designed out of fear - fear of the untidy hustle and bustle of city streets and undesirables - the walls spread fear."...

"By eliminating the hospitable jumble of shop fronts, restaurant entrances and newsstands, the walls deaden the very city the buildings claim to revitalize."

(This appears to be the Time story: "Drawing a Blank Downtown" by Wolf von Eckhardt, which quotes Whyte and mentions a collection of his photographs illustrating the problem.)

Steve has photos of Leadership Square and the Pioneer Telephone building, which illustrate the point about blank walls, and there is a thoughtful discussion underway in the comment section.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Oklahoma category from August 2008.

Oklahoma: June 2008 is the previous archive.

Oklahoma: March 2009 is the next archive.

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