Oklahoma Preservation Conference: Mid-Century Modern Successes and Failures

by Lynne Rostochil

 

Last week, I got to speak about Oklahoma’s mid-century modern architecture at the annual Oklahoma Preservation conference, which was held in lovely Enid this year.  My topic was MCM Preservation Successes and Failures — fun stuff, except when I had to talk about the failures, of course.  Here’s the presentation:

 

Union Bus Station

Designed by Noftsger & Lawrence

OKC

1941

union bus station 2013

With its elegant curves and deep blue vitrolite facade, the Union Bus Station was certainly one of the nicest examples of Streamline Moderne architecture in the Metro.  It opened in 1941 and boasted such amenities as “elaborate lighting, lounging rooms, waiting rooms, baggage rooms, a concession stand, and a coffee shop.” (The Oklahoman)  There were also enough bays to serve the nine bus lines that stopped at the station.

The Union Bus Station proudly served the community for over 70 years and survived workers’ strikes, Urban Renewal, rising crime rates in the area, and finally the resurgence of the downtown core.  Many thought the station was ripe for revamping when a new station was built in 2013.  Several restaurateurs expressed interest in converting the still viable building and into a trendy eatery, but as months then years rolled by with no action, it became apparent that the owners had something else in mind … and that was demolishing the downtown icon.

Union Bus station and several of its friends along Sheridan and Main Street were levelled to make way for two parking garages.  I guess the only bit of good news is that the Union Bus Station sign and vitrolite were saved and will be incorporated into the design for one of the garages.

union bus station parking garage


 Nuway Cleaners

Designed by Norman Byrd

Moore

circa 1963

Nuway Laundry - Byrd

With its shimmering gold dome, the iconic Nuway Cleaners building on the I-35 service road has been an OKC landmark since it was constructed in the early ’60s. The original round building was topped with a smaller and louvered cousin of the Citizens Bank dome and anchored by an easy-to-spot, towering sign spelling “Nuway” in giant black letters.

In 1999, ODOT informed Nuway’s owners that the cleaners would have to be demolished by May 3rd of that year to expand I-35.  Although they were very attached to the little round building, they knew they had no choice but to comply.  They decided to save as much of their beloved laundry as possible and had the aluminum gold dome painstakingly dismantled and stored until they could construct the new building.

Ten days later, the monster May 3rd tornado raged through Moore, destroying everything in its path, including the already doomed Nuway Cleaners building.  So, in an interesting twist of fate, if the building hadn’t been slated for demolition, the roof never would have been saved and we wouldn’t be driving by it today.

In 2001, the new Nuway Cleaners opened just 50′ east of the original building.  No longer round, the new, now-square structure still paid homage to the original by being comprised mostly of glass and topped, of course, by the dome.

nuway cleaners

The celebration didn’t last long, however, and Nuway closed for good around 2005.  Granite City soon took up residence and remained until 2015, when the building was up for lease and looking for a new caretaker.


Oklahoma Playgrounds

playground equipment slide mike bumpass park

Intact mid-century modern playgrounds are becoming more difficult to find as older equipment is being replaced with much more boring plastic creations.  There are, however, several intact older playgrounds throughout the state that remain, and the Mod Squad has contacted several neighborhood associations and municipalities to encourage them to maintain their vintage playgrounds.

Rocket slides were all the rage in the early 1960s, just in time for Kennedy’s announced space race to the moon.  They came in various sizes and many were designed by the Jamison Manufacturing Company.  This one can be found in Ada:

playground equipment rocket ada park

Jim Miller-Melberg created a variety of modern concrete sculptural climbing pieces in the 1960s, and there’s a great collection of them in the Lansbrook addition in Oklahoma City:

playground equipment lakehurst park 1

The Kiddie Park in Bartlesville is a completely intact vintage park dating back to the 1950s.  Located on the outskirts of downtown, every ride is a vintage treasure and a small child’s greatest thrill.  Definitely worth checking out.

bartlesville kiddie park playground ride cars

The swing man can be found in a great vintage park in Ponca City.  Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find out much about him or his maker, but who cares … he’s fantastic!

playground equipment  cowboy swing bars ponca city

(We’ve written an entire blog dedicated to Oklahoma’s fun vintage playgrounds — go here to read it.)


Pei Plan Model

5 pei plan model night lit up

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 hoped to see over 500 buildings obliterated to create “super blocks” of high rises, shopping centers, and a large park.

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. 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.

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 is currently on display and open to the public.  One interesting thing many people have noticed about the plan is that a public space and reflecting pool was planned for the exact spot where the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial is now:

4 pei plan model bombing memorial site


 Mummers Theater/Stage Center

Designed by John Johansen

Oklahoma City

1970

stage center mummers theater

Constructed in 1970 in the midst of Urban Renewal, the Mummers Theater (a.k.a. Stage Center) replaced a square block of 19 older buildings to become the first of the Urban Renewal projects to be completed.  The building’s unique design won Harvard Five architect, John Johansen the coveted AIA Honor award in 1972, and it is often cited as his masterpiece, but from Day 1, the structure was controversial.  Although it was instantly considered a classic in architectural circles and by many in the community, a lot of people scratched their heads when they first looked upon all of that concrete and color.

The building’s early arch nemesis was The Oklahoman publisher, E.K. Gaylord, who hated the theater so much that he advocated tearing down the year-old structure when the Mummers Theater dissolved in 1971.  However, even with the controversy, the newly-named Oklahoma Theater Center was featured in such publications as Time, Architectural Forum, and Architectural Record, among others.  However, that didn’t stop one moneyed Oklahoma City big shot from investing thousands of dollars planting shrubs, trees, and ivy around the theater to hide as much of the building as possible.

The building became Stage Center in the late 1980s.

As the 21st century dawned, Oklahoma City found itself finally awakening from its long and hard economic hibernation, thanks mainly to the newly-completed, voter-approved MAPs projects that began bringing tourists, new residents, developers, and even an NBA team to town.  Things were looking up in the Metro, especially in the arts, with the completion of the new Oklahoma City Museum of Art and the opening of more galleries and art spaces in revitalized areas like the Plaza District, Automobile Alley, the Paseo, and Midtown.  By all rights, Stage Center should have been among those about to receive the bounty of the economic upturn, but a historic, 100-year flood in 2010 caused millions of dollars of damage to the aging theater and did what all of the building’s critics and arch enemies never could do, force Stage Center to close its doors for good.

mummers theater stage center

Preservation groups tried to get Stage Center listed on the National Register and others who simply loved the building and knew what an important icon it was for Oklahoma City tried to brainstorm ideas for a new use, such as a children’s museum or theater/activity space for the new John W. Rex Elementary School being built across the street.

People who hated this building for 40 years — and even admirers of Stage Center who had tried to make an impractical building more user friendly — were ready to tear it down and build something more “normal” (i.e., bland and boring), and they finally won the long battle in 2014 to destroy this, Oklahoma’s most unusual piece of modern architecture.

stage center demolition

You can read more about the long, sad history of Stage Center here.


 Downtown YMCA – OKC

Designed by Sorey Hill Sorey

1952

mike brown - YMCA - b&w - sorey hill sorey

The sleek design for the downtown OKC YMCA building was a study in contrasting horizontal and vertical lines that not only gave the building its unique and very dramatic look but also served a practical purpose in using a “solar design for the utilization of light and shading during summer and winter,” something that was very important in the years before air conditioning became widespread.   In addition, the eight story building featured just about every amenity a young boy or rooming guest could hope for, including two gyms, an eight-lane bowling alley, three handball courts, a health club, steam rooms, a rooftop exercise and lounge area, a darkroom, a restaurant, a snack bar, and an ultra-violet room, where, for two minutes under a lamp, users could “soak up as much vitamin D as you can in half a day in the sun.”

There were 212 dorm rooms for guests, a 30-seat chapel, an auditorium, meeting rooms, a daycare, a barber shop, and a 75’x25’, 100,000-gallon pool, complete with a large spectator space.  Many an Oklahoma City resident who enjoyed the water activities as young boys at the downtown Y during the 1950s may recall one particularly interesting and very un-politically correct pool rule … they had to swim naked … and with potential spectators watching!

Because it sat across the street from the Murrah Federal Building, the Y sustained heavy damage in the OKC bombing in 1995 and remained unoccupied, its fate in limbo for several years. Several studies concluded that the building could be saved, but others thought that downtown needed another parking lot, and, as the building was about to be declared a landmark, it was demolished on the sly before anyone could take action. So, the site is now a parking lot.

The failure to save this magnificent structure deeply pained many citizens and preservationists in OKC, so much so that when the word got out a few months later that the Gold Dome at NW 23rd and Classen would be coming down to build a Walgreen’s, the community swiftly came together and organized an effective and prolonged protest, which ultimately saved the building. So, the demise of one building likely saved the other.

If you’d like to read more about this beloved building, go here.

(Quotes from the Oklahoman)


Founders National Bank

Designed by Robert Alan Bowlby

Oklahoma City

1964

founders bank bob bowlby shulman

Rumors have been swirling for the last few years that the Founders National Bank building, which is now a Bank of America branch, is endangered.  Designed by OKC native and Bruce Goff student, Bob Bowlby, the bank opened to great fanfare in 1964 and was even photographed by the legendary architectural photographer, Julius Shulman (see photo here).  Over the years, the Founders National Bank building has become one of OKC’s most beloved buildings and remains quite an impressive piece of architectural eye candy even after an unfortunate remodel about 20 years ago.

This iconic building sits on two acres of undeveloped land and we’ve heard from some very credible sources that the owners have plans for the property — yet another shopping center — that don’t include the bank.  No plans have been submitted to the city yet but that will likely happen soon.  So, to get ahead of the game and spread the word about the developing situation, the Okie Mod Squad put together a petition for people to sign and comment on why they think the building is important to OKC’s architectural landscape.  Within a week, we received over 1,000 signatures and the plight of the building was covered by the local news and in the Oklahoman.  After that, investors interested in buying the building approached the current owners, but the owners said that they were going to hold on to the building.

The fate of the Founders National Bank building is still up in the air.

You can read more about the Founders National Bank and our good friend, Bob Bowlby here.


Sooner Play Tower

Designed by Bruce Goff

Bartlesville

1963

sooner park play tower bruce goff 4

The elegant Sooner Play Tower was commissioned by Bartesville’s unofficial first lady, Mary Lou Price, in 1963.  Architect Bruce Goff’s design for the Sooner Park Play Tower was based upon mathematic principles:  line, sphere, circle, cylinder, spiral and mobius strip,” and it cost $7,000 to build and took approximately three weeks to construct.

The play tower had deteriorated so much by the early 1990s that it was closed to the public.  The structure was further threatened in 2008 when a vandal ran a vehicle into the tower and cut one of the remaining cables.  This event finally galvanized the community to raise the necessary $144,000 to restore and preserve this unique piece of mid century playground equipment.  The tower was dismantled in 2013 and completely restored.  It reopened in 2014 and is once again open for the business of play.

(Quote from the City of Bartlesville website)


Tulsa City Hall

Designed by Murray-Jones-Murray

1969

tulsa city hall 2

When a gaggle of Tulsa architects, led by Murray-Jones-Murray, introduced the world to their plans for a new civic center complex in the early 1960s, they won all kinds of accolades from city planners and other architects around the nation.  However, when the Civic Center Plaza was ultimately realized in the late ‘60s, with its centerpiece being the 10-story Tulsa City Hall, the citizens of Tulsa had a decidedly different opinion of the plan.

The concrete complex was supposed to be a place for people to gather for outdoor functions like concerts and festivals, but other than the Jubilee ’73, an arts festival that is now known as Mayfest, that never really happened.  The concrete plaza was too hot and rather antiseptic, so events were scheduled in more people friendly environs elsewhere and many considered the entire downtown complex a true disaster.

By 2007, leaders decided to build a new city hall and most thought that the building that had long been considered an eyesore would be torn down, but local development company, Brickhugger, stepped in and bought the building with intentions of morphing the aging structure into an upscale hotel.  Many were skeptical that such an maligned building could ever be made beautiful and desirable, but that’s just what happened when it was renovated and opened as an Aloft Hotel in 2013.

tulsa city hall aloft

The developers used historic tax credits to save and revamp the building, and owner John Snyder said, “People thought it was an ugly building and should be torn down, but we fixed it up and found out it’s not an ugly building at all.”

(Both photos of the Tulsa City Hall are from Wikipedia, and the quote is from the Tulsa World)


Bavinger House

Designed by Bruce Goff

Norman

1955

bavinger main

During Bruce Goff’s tenure as the head of OU’s School of Architecture in the late ’40s, he met a young art professor there named Eugene Bavinger. Bavinger and his wife, Nancy, wanted to break away from the typical box-like house they were living in and were looking to build a home that was open and flexible and had room for the Bavingers’ two young boys, as well as their tropical plants and fish.  In addition, as creative souls, they wanted a house that embodied art itself.  After just one meeting with the Bavingers, Goff came up with the fundamental design for their new house — a spiraled DNA helix that rose three stories and contained not a wall one (well, okay, maybe one wall for the bathroom, but really, that’s the only one). Instead of bedrooms, the Bavingers and their tots would sleep and live in UFO-like, carpet-covered pods suspended from the same cables that also held up the roof that grandly wound its way up 55′ to a tight spire on top.

Word soon spread that a very strange structure was being built on the prairie outside of town, and people began arriving by the busload to check it out.  Soon, so many tourists were coming that the industrious Bavingers began charging admission — $1 per person.  Within a short amount of time, the struggling family had earned thousands of dollars from the curious, and oftentimes dumbfounded, spectators.

After five long years of the Bavingers and many OU art and architecture students working on the house, it was completed in 1955.  Soon after, the most archetypically American periodical of the day, Life magazine, published a profusely illustrated, two-page spread on what it dubbed the “space and saucer house.”

Eugene and Nancy spent the rest of their lives in the unusual house, but by the late 2000s, the aging structure was in serious need of restoration.  The skylights that spiraled up along with the roof leaked, some of the cabling needed repair, the pods were in sad shape, and the wood and shingles were rotting.  Following in his parents’ footsteps, Gene and Nancy’s youngest son, Bob, once again opened the house for tours to raise awareness and funds for the restoration effort, but, as often happens, the money didn’t pour in as he must have hoped, especially from organizations that were also concerned with preserving the home.  Over time, tempers flared, and the situation grew more and more bleak for Oklahoma’s most unique residence.

In 2011, Bavinger claimed that he tore the house down “to the ground.”  Later, however, he amended his story about deliberately tearing down the house and claimed that a strong storm and wind gust broke a cable on the house, toppling the spire.  Although offers were made to help the owners repair the house, they refused.

In 2015, they put the house on the market for the crazy sum of $1.5 million and, not surprisingly, the home didn’t sell.

In April 2016, the owners sent out photos of the home being demolished:

bavinger house 4-2016 demolished

Although many held out hope that this was another bit of drama being played out by the owners, the sad truth soon emerged that the home was, indeed, gone and all of the rock and glass cullets and other remains were hauled off to various dumps.  Oklahoma certainly lost one of its most precious pieces of architecture with the death of the Bavinger House.

To read a detailed history of the house, go here.  Go here to view a rare and very early tour brochure of the house, and go here to read a 1955 Life magazine article about the Bavinger House.


First Christian Church

Designed by R. Duane Conner of Conner & Pojezny

Oklahoma City

1956

 

First Christian Church National Roofer mag 8

Bill Alexander, the minister at First Christian Church in the 1940s and 1950s, was no traditionalist, and when he and the congregation decided it was time to build a new church on the 40-acre property that had once been home to the Edgemere Country Club, he wanted something entirely new.  He wanted “the church of tomorrow.”

Lucky for him, a young architect fresh from working at Oak Ridge during the war was a member of the church and was as much of a forward thinker as Alexander himself.  His name was R. Duane Conner.

Conner had been toying with the idea of working with thin-shell roof designs for awhile, and he saw the First Christian Church as the perfect opportunity to experiment with the process.  Because it was so lightweight, thin-shell concrete enabled architects to design buildings without the interior support that had always been necessary, so spaces could be opened up like never before.  Also, roof shapes could take almost any form, and they were very durable and economical to build.  Finally, thin shell concrete was extremely economical, something that Conner had to keep in mind with just a $1.1 million budget to construct a sanctuary, an educational building, and a theater.

 

When it was completed in time for Christmas services in December 1956, Alexander’s “Church of Tomorrow” became a reality and was hailed as an architectural marvel in such publications as Life, Newsweek, and Architectural Record.  Here’s the church on the cover of National Roofer:

First Christian Church National Roofer mag 1

The church was listed as one of the 20 most significant structures in OKC in 2002, it was cited on the 2009 OKC MCM survey, and the entire complex was added to the National Register in 2011.

For decades, the First Christian Church remained a vital part of our community doing such things as sponsoring one of the city’s first Mother’s Day Out programs, hosting countless productions at the Jewel Box Theater, being home to Heritage Hall school during its first years, and opening its doors to victims’ families, survivors, and other mourners after the Oklahoma City Bombing. But by 2013, the aging, increasingly diminishing, and even crotchety congregation was on its last legs.  That’s when Pastors John Malget and Michael Canada took over the reigns and vowed to revitalize the church in a way that Bill Alexander would surely approve.

The two energetic men have enthusiastically reinvented the congregation as the Restoration Church and are working, much as Alexander did back in that small and failing church in Stroud, to entice young and old alike to join in on the Sunday fun and create a new “church of tomorrow.”

One way they are spreading word about the new, progressive vibe at the church was by allowing the Okie Mod Squad to have free reign of their facilities for the first-ever Oklahoma Modernism Weekend in May 2016.  We conducted tours of the church and amphitheater while also hosting an indoor and outdoor flea market and classic car show.  Around 1,000 people attended the weekend and walked through the church admiring its unique architecture.

oklahoma modernism weekend logo


First National Auto Bank

Designed by McCune, McCune, McCune

Tulsa

1959

autobank tulsa

This building started life as the First National Autobank in downtown Tulsa in the ‘60s and eventually became a Chase Bank.  After Chase left, the building was vacant for several years, and so many people feared its fate that they selected this as one of Tulsa’s entries in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “This Place Matters” campaign a few years ago.

tulsa_first national autobank_mccune

The building’s owner was perhaps a little surprised and more than impressed with the effort that he began entertaining offers to convert the space, and the Vault restaurant and Tom Tom Club opened in the modern beauty on the outskirts of downtown in 2012 and quickly became a very popular and hopping destination spot. So, if you’re ever in Tulsa, I highly recommend a visit!


Founders Tower Model

1964

founders tower model

In the ’60s, A.D and Azalee Thomas owned a home that backed up to the Founders Tower construction site.  At the time, there was a greenbelt that separated A.D.’s backyard from the commercial area that included the tower, and he would mow the green expanse whenever it became unruly.  While mowing one day, he noticed something interesting peeking out of a dumpster near the tower … a model of the newly completed building.

Thinking that his grandchildren would enjoy playing with the model, A.D. rescued it from the dumpster and took it home.  Luckily for us, his grandchildren weren’t very interested in the model as a toy, and it quietly sat in his —  then his son, Joe’s —  garage for decades until Joe’s wife, Jonita, contacted the Mod Squads offering to donate it with the caveat that we share it with the community whenever possible

We agreed and received this incredibly rare piece of mid-century modern Oklahoma history in 2014.  Although some of the model’s 170 balconies are missing and it was a bit bunged up here and there, the model was in incredible condition after being rescued from a dumpster and living in a garage for nearly 50 years.  We celebrated our acquisition with a Mod Squad showing and presentation that was open to the public.  Soon after, one of our members whose hobby is constructing architecture with paper, offered to clean up the model, reattach loose and pieces that had fallen off, and strengthen it.  It took him awhile, but he returned the model to us and it looks better than ever.  He didn’t replace the long-lost paper balconies, but those missing balconies are part of the model’s story and we are good with that.

The restored model was unveiled in May 2016 during the Oklahoma Modernism Weekend house tour and will be on display to the public again in the near future — here’s a photo by Squadder Kelly Moore of the model on the tour:

founders tower model - kelly moore


Enid Public Library

Designed by Smith, Day & Davies

1964

enid library front now

 

Originally, a more traditional Carnegie Library occupied a nearby site on the town square in Enid, but over the years, a lack of proper care forced the city to condemn and demolish the building in the late ’50s.  This modern concrete and glass replacement was constructed in 1964 and remains largely original today.  The library’s massive weight is supported by huge concrete pillars.  A floating glass wall breaks up the monotony of the concrete and gives what would normally be a heavy-handed, almost Brutalist structure a much-needed light and airy feel:

enid library front circles detail

Known for its immense grain elevators that surround the city, Enid has one of the largest grain storage capacities in the world.  So, perhaps it’s no coincidence that the library’s vertical lines mimic those of the grain elevators that contribute so greatly to Enid’s skyline.  Here’s a photo from Mike Brown’s collection showing this influence:

enid public library grain elevators

A few years ago, grumblings began being heard that this incarnation of the library should, too, be demolished and a larger facility placed on the lot.  MCM lovers in Enid rallied to save the building and found quite a bit of support in their efforts.  The library was placed on the National Register in 2015 and appears to be safe … for now.


The Jones House

Designed by Robert Lawton Jones of Murray-Jones-Murray

Tulsa

1959

jones house tulsa front

The home was designed by Robert Lawton Jones as his personal residence and was constructed in 1959.

A native Oklahoman, Jones graduated from the University of Notre Dame then began graduate studies in 1951 under the great Mies Van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology.  From there, he headed to Germany to study at the Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe on a Fulbright grant before finally returning to his home state to practice.  Shortly before design work began on this house, he and brothers David and Lee Murray joined forces in 1957 to form Murray-Jones-Murray, which quickly became one of the most influential and successful firms in the state – designed the Tulsa Airport and St. Patrick’s in OKC.

Not long after this home was completed, architectural photographer Julius Shulman came a’calling to capture on film Jones’ modern Miesian box that writers later dubbed “the house in the orchard”.  The resulting images are among Shulman’s most fun and energetic, and that’s really saying something considering that his career spanned nearly 80 years and generated hundreds of thousands of photos:

jones house shulman kid playing tulsa

The same space today:

jones house tulsa den wall

The following photo was such a favorite of Mr. Shulman’s that he made it a double spread in one of his gorgeous Modernism Rediscovered books:

jones house tulsa shulman front kids tricycle

Thanks to Shulman’s photos, it wasn’t long before the Jones House began appearing in both national and international publications — Arts and Architecture, Look, Bauen und Wohnen (a Swiss journal), and Schone Wohnen (a Hamburg periodical), among others.  But to Bob, his wife, Lynn, and their seven — yes, count ’em — seven kiddos, this was just home.  The house was added to the National Register in 2001 and Jones lived here until 2005, when he and his wife moved out of state.

The house sat empty until Tulsa real estate savior, Marty Newman, bought it a few years later.  He then lovingly and sensitively reconfigured (incorporating three bedrooms into one), updated, and restored the home, and it’s again one of the most stunning and distinctive residences in Tulsa.


Citizens State Bank

Designed by Robert Roloff of Bailey, Bozalis, Dickinson & Roloff

Oklahoma City

1958

Citizens State Bank (Gold Dome)

As the first suburban bank in OKC, Citizens State Bank grew rapidly after its formation in 1948.  Within a few years, they had expanded their current building twice and were still running out of space.  The architectural firm, Bailey, Bozalis, Dickinson & Roloff was then hired to design a structure as optimistic and forward thinking as the bank itself, and Robert Roloff’s Buckminster Fuller-inspired geodesic dome was just the design the bank was looking for.

The Gold Dome, as the building came to be known, was completed in 1958, and Citizens vacated its old digs and moved its 86 employees into the funky, Space Age facility, which was one of the very first geodesic domes built for commercial use.

citizens bank neon sign gold dome sign

Citizens occupied the Gold Dome for several decades before Bank One bought it out.  In 2001, the bank decided to demolish the iconic domed structure and sell the land to Walgreen’s so that company could construct another bland, cookie-cutter drug store on the busy corner.  Galvanized by the recent loss of the beautiful YMCA building downtown, concerned citizens, activists, and preservationists immediately organized and formed “Citizens for the Gold Dome” to protest the proposed demolition and wanted to work with Bank One to find other options.

Bank One’s president agreed to postpone the demolition so that a new buyer could be found, and after several months of weekly demonstrations across the street from the bank to keep attention focused on the situation, a group led by Dr. Irene Lam agreed to buy the Gold Dome.

In 2003, the iconic, Modernist structure was placed on the National Register, and in 2007, it was listed among the 100 best buildings in Central Oklahoma by that chapter’s AIA.

The struggle to save the Gold Dome was not over, however.  The new owners fell behind on loan payments to the City of Oklahoma and, in August 2012, the Gold Dome went into foreclosure.

On September 12, 2012, developer David Box bought the iconic structure for $800,000 at auction and sought a demolition permit in March 2013, presumably to replace the Gold Dome with a gas station.

After loud protests from the community, Box backed off and ultimately leased/sold the building to TEEMCO, an environmental services company.  TEEMCO announced grand plans to restore the building, but other than painting the dome a ya-ha shade of yellow and painting parts of the facade a very tacky faux oxidized copper green, not much was done.  Soon, the company’s owner came under scrutiny for not paying his bills and by the spring of 2015, TEEMCO was gone and Box was looking for a new owner.

In May 2015, developer Jonathan Russell bought the iconic Gold Dome and promised to transform it as he has The Rise on NW 23rd.  In April 2016, it was announced that a Natural Grocer will soon occupy the building, making it viable once again.  However, the price for that is losing many of the original elements of the mezzanine and lobby areas.


Meadow Gold Sign

Tulsa

1940s

meadow gold sign tulsa 2009

The Meadow Gold sign was erected for the Beatrice Food Company in the 1940s atop a small building at 11th and Lewis.  It was a Route 66 icon for over 60 years until the building sold in 2004 and the new owner planned to demolish both the building and the sign.  Through the combined efforts of the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Program, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture, and the OK Route 66 Association, the sign was saved and eventually restored.  It now rests atop another small building at 11th and Quaker and remains a Route 66 gem.


66 Bowl Sign

Oklahoma City/Chandler

1959

66 bowl sign day

Long a Route 66 hallmark in Oklahoma City, the beautiful but somewhat tired looking 66 Bowl sign was sold at auction for $3,900 when the still-popular bowling alley closed its doors forever in 2010.  Although rumors swirled that the iconic sign would reappear along the Mother Road again one day, many thought it was likely gone from public view forever.

Well, luckily, the rumors were true and the beautifully restored sign was resurrected along Route 66 in Chandler in April 2016.  This photo shows the sign after it was put up but before the neon tubing was installed — from the route66news.com:

66 bowl sign chandler

A sports complex that includes a bowling alley is being built on the site and the owners very thoughtfully decided to incorporate the vintage sign into their plans.


Downtown YMCA – Tulsa

Designed by Leon B. Senter & Ass.

1953

The downtown YMCA was constructed in 1953 and contained over 100 apartments for visitors and temporary residents.  By 2010, the tired building housed mainly homeless people and was a much larger facility than the Y needed, so they moved to a smaller space in the newly renovated Mayo Hotel and found housing for their residents outside of downtown, and put the building up for sale

Tulsa’s premier developers of older buildings, Brickhuggers, bought the ol downtown YMCA for $625,000 in 2011.  They initially planned to modernize the exterior but the $10 million conversion of the complex into affordable apartments was getting very costly, so they opted to apply for historical tax credits to help with the renovation.  To get the credits, the façade and common areas of a building must remain original.

Also, the basketball courts will remain as a central feature in two loft-style apartments – goals intact, too.

There will be at least 80 units ranging from 400-2,200 sf and starting at $1 per square foot, and the building should be ready for occupation within a couple of months.