Oklahoma City seems intent on entirely transforming its downtown into a grid of glass and steel towers, some with very good contemporary architects. But sadly, in order to make way for this reflective glass city, it is also destroying much of its architectural heritage.
In 1998 the city’s modernist YMCA was torn down to make way for a parking lot. One of the city’s first outstanding post World War II modern buildings, it was designed by Oklahoma architects Sorey Hill and Sorey in 1948, but was damaged in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and was vacant at the time of the demolition. The Oklahoman’s Steve Lackmeyer reported that it was destroyed even though “Serious developers believed it could be saved and converted into housing.”
Then in 2014, developers demolished one of the icons of 1970s architecture, John Johansen’s Mummers Theater (later renamed Stage Center), which was a terrible loss for fans of this unique structure and modern architecture. Now comes word that two other architecturally significant Oklahoma City buildings have met the wrecking ball to make way for the new glass city: The Hotel Black and the adjacent American Motor Hotel were imploded in September. Constructed in 1930 and designed by Blackburn, Henderson and Thurman, it “was only one of several ornate hotels constructed in Oklahoma City after the oil boom of 1928” according to the Oklahoma Historic Society. “One feature that distinguished the Black from other hotels was its blend of geometric and Indian-design ornamentation.”
In addition, the 1941 Art Deco-styled Union Bus Station was denied any protection by the Downtown Design Review Committee, and the city along with Dallas-based developer Hines both claimed the building was not historic and argued for its destruction to be replaced by a 27-story tower and two garages.
These buildings are not only a loss for architectural preservationists but for the city, which needs a range and array of styles and building types to give it texture and urbanity. But all is not lost in Oklahoma City as The Oklahoman (particularly the aforementioned Lackmeyer) seems to argue for the need preservation in the city and several local preservation groups and blogs are rallying to save more buildings from meeting the fate of these modernist structure.
Finally we reported on the effort to preserve and re-use the 1958 Route 66 gold geodesic dome, whose owners offered to sell it to anyone who would remove it. But after a deluge of offers, the owners decided to preserve the structure and now it is the home to a local engineering company. It is just the sort of building that visitors will seek out. It gives Oklahoma City a profile and a character and makes one hopeful the city will hold onto its uniqueness and save its heritage from the wrecking ball.