A Window in Time: Revisiting the Pei Plan Model

by Lynne Rostochil.  Vintage photos from the History Center collection, current-day photos by Lynne Rostochil


7 pei plan model and people

Over 50 years after I.M. Pei revealed his plan for a modern downtown Oklahoma City, there are few fans of the Urban Renewal project that would see over 500 buildings obliterated to create “super blocks” of high rises, shopping centers, and a large park.  Many residents still lament the loss of the Criterion Theater…

criterion theater

criterion theater

criterion theater1

… the lovely Moroccan-styled Baum Building…

baum building

… and the beloved Biltmore Hotel….

biltmore hotel

To help OKC residents buy into his sweeping plan, Pei had a 120 sf, 10’x12′ model constructed showing the fabulous and shiny new city that awaited if we just had a little faith and knocked down about 70% of our downtown.

The area in red shows how many buildings would have to be torn down to implement the full Pei Plan:


As you can imagine, not everyone was thrilled with losing so much of our urban core, so this really flashy, sexy, and expensive ($60,000) model was unveiled to help sell the plan.  Here, Pei shows off the giant plastic and wood model during a presentation in OKC in 1964 – each inch of it equated to 50 feet of land:

I. M. Pei plan model doug hoke oklahoman 1964

As we all now know, Pei’s Plan was implemented to a degree over the next decade — about 40% of downtown’s buildings were demolished and several towers constructed.  The plan was completely abandoned in the ’80s, however, when costs ran too high and enthusiasm for the project waned.  As for the model, it was donated to the Oklahoma City/County Historical Society in 1986 and, except for making a brief appearance at the Smithsonian after the Oklahoma City Bombing, remained crated until History Center archivist Rachel Mosman located it in the basement of the Main Street Parking Garage in 2010.  She and her team reassembled the restored the model and then put it on display at the Cox Convention Center and later at a venue in Bricktown.

Recently, the model was set up on the second floor of the Hart Building in Film Row, where it will be on display for the next year.  Here are some images to entice you to make the trip to view this fascinating piece of OKC history.

The Myriad Convention Center is in the foreground with the then-named Tivoli Gardens beyond:

8 pei plan model panorama

This is Pei’s conception of the Mummers Theater that would be part of the Tivoli Gardens complex:

3_Pei Plan Model mummers theater

Yes, this is a far cry from John Johansen’s completed — and now demolished — theater.  Here’s a rendering of how Pei envisioned the Mummers:

mummers theater stage center early rendering

Notice from the rendering and the model that Pei intended for the Biltmore Hotel to remain.

One eerie aspect of the model is the reflecting pool and park exactly where the Bombing Memorial is today:

4 pei plan model bombing memorial site

Look at the detail of the model with buses pulling out of a new station closer to the highway:

2_Pei Plan Model_bus station detail

Another thing I find fascinating is the cluster of three buildings that look very similar to what Robert A.M. Stern is designing on the Stage Center parcel.  Here’s the model:

1_Pei Plan Model

And here’s a rendering of the ugly buildings we’re about to get — yes, I say ugly.  Not a fan of Stern’s lackluster post-modern architecture AT ALL!

oge center

The model was built to be lit at “night” to give viewers an idea of just how romantic looking our city could be:

5 pei plan model night lit up

6 pei plan model night lit up 2

Another perk of seeing the model is getting to view some original artwork of how the park and Galleria might have looked:

9 pei plan model illustration park myriad gardens

10 pei plan model illustration galleria

Notice the parking garages open up to the mall — I can only imagine the noise and carbon monoxide fumes that would have generated.

The model is on display at the Hart Building, 726 W. Sheridan, 2nd floor.  Go check it out!