Amidst office towers in the heart of Oklahoma City sits an incongruous ensemble of multicolored boxes, tubes, concrete skywalks, and corrugated metal painted in shades of red, blue, orange, and chartreuse green. One cantilevered rectangle precariously perches at the edge of a swooping concrete form whose interior holds a theater in the round, once home to the Mummers Theater troupe. Architect John M. Johansen, of the so-called “Harvard Five,” completed the project for the Mummers in 1970, but the troupe folded just one year later. The building would go through several incarnations as a theater/arts center called Stage Center until a 2010 flood put it out of commission. Vandalism and decay ensued, and now the AIA Central Oklahoma chapter has put out an RFP for the renovation, hoping to spur design-world interest in their Save Stage Center Campaign.
One group, organized by Tracy Zeeck with Rees Architects, envisions a children’s museum modeled with a play café, like the soon-to-close Moomah in TriBeCa. The design would need little alteration to capture the imagination of kids. “I grew up here and I remember it as kinetic; I thought it moved,” said Zeeck. She added that the group got Johansen’s blessing to restore the space for kids and support from the Phoenix Children’s Museum. There’s a concern that the rapid development might threaten the building. Directly across the street is the Picard Chilton– designed Devon Energy tower to be completed in 2012. The 50-story glass-clad tower dwarfs the comparatively quaint arts complex. “I think as a city we tear ourselves down to build ourselves up,” said Zeeck. “I just want my son to share the same memories of the place that I have.”
Deadlines for the proposals are due to the AIA Central Oklahoma Chapter by February 29.