Mid-Century Modern on Preservation Oklahoma’s Most Endangered Places List
by Lynne Rostochil.
After the recent battles we’ve been facing trying to landmark the First Christian Church and save the Central National Motor Bank, it has been heartening to know that we’ve received the unconditional support of Preservation Oklahoma (POK). This isn’t the first time that POK has been a champion of Oklahoma’s mid-century modern architecture; in fact, the group has placed several mod buildings on its annual Most Endangered Places list over the last 18 years. Let’s take a look at some of the buildings that have been featured on the list and what has happened to them.
Back in 2001, the lovely downtown YMCA building in Oklahoma City was added to the list.
Damaged in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the building languished for a few years before it finally came down in June 2001. The site is now a surface parking lot — ugh!
The Citizens Bank (a.k.a. Gold Dome) made the list two years in a row, 2002 and 2003:
Since then, the building has ridden a crazy roller coaster ride of insensitive owners and even harmful maintenance (thank you, TEEMCO), but it looks like it’s in good hands with current owner, Johnathan Russell. Hopefully, it will be restored in the near future.
The Bruce Goff-designed Hopewell Baptist Church was on the list in 2003 and again in 2010 and 2011:
While the building has received a new roof and is stable, there is still work to be done to the church to bring it back to its original glory. It’s well on its way, though, which is great news!
In 2007, Blackwell’s four mid-century modern schools designed by CRS made the list:
Since then, one of the schools has been demolished but the other three are still around and in good shape.
Oklahoma’s Lustron homes made the 2008 list:
Nine Lustron homes have been found in Oklahoma, and they are all in varying states of condition.
Route 66 structures have appeared on the list numerous times, including motels in 2008, signs in 2018, and bridges and other structures on other lists.
In 2010, the collection of Brutalist buildings that comprise the Tulsa Civic Center Complex were teetering on the brink of demolition and showed up on the list:
Since then, the old city hall has been converted into an Aloft hotel and other buildings have been spruced up. The complex seems secure now.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for a 2012 and 2013 entry, OKC’s Stage Center:
This controversial architectural wonder came down in 2014 after years of battles to try to save it. Such a loss!
Another entry on the 2013 list is the streamline gym in Pocasset:
Although it’s still there, it looks like the gym is still not used and is in danger of being demolished.
Speaking of pre-war design, another Goff-designed structure, Riverside Studio, has made the list twice, in 2015 and 2018:
Although it’s occupied by the Spotlight Theatre, the building is in desperate need of repair and the group doesn’t have the funds to get the building in shape. While the studio remains, its survival is in jeopardy.
One more pre-war mod is the Getty bunker, which was on the 2014 list:
This concrete building was constructed during WWII and is where J. Paul Getty lived during the war when he managed Spartan Aircraft at the nearby airport. Sadly, this historic structure is still faces an uncertain future.
Here’s one final pre-war gem that made the list — the beautiful streamline Union Bus Station in OKC:
Despite impassioned efforts to save it, this beloved icon and several of its Main Street pals came down in 2015. The building was replaced with a parking garage, but the blue vitrolite and sign were salvaged and used in the new structure.
One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s three Oklahoma designs, Westhope, has made the list twice, in 2014 and 2018:
The home is still there and looks in decent shape, but the owner rarely, if ever, makes an appearance in Tulsa, and the house continues to suffer from deferred maintenance.
One of OKC’s favorite buildings, Founders Bank, claimed a spot on the 2018 list, too:
As we all know, this amazing structure was unceremoniously demolished last fall and will likely be replaced with other architectural treasures, such as a fast food restaurant or vape shop. Lucky us….
One building that we’re fighting to save from a similar fate is the First Christian Church, which showed up on the list in 2017:
Sadly, the church’s fate is still up in the air as it awaits a new buyer. Fingers crossed that it gets an owner who will treasure it as much as the rest of us do.
Finally, Preservation Oklahoma values mid-century modern architecture so much that the style has been on the list in 2006, 2009, 2016, and will show up again on the 2019 list.
While mid-century modern structures on the list haven’t always fared well, there have been numerous success stories, as you can see. Many more traditional buildings that appeared on the list have also been saved, including the Skirvin Hotel, the Tower Theatre, Page Woodson/Douglass High School, and many others. That’s why it’s so important to focus attention on threatened mid-century modern structures and all of the buildings on the annual list, for that matter. Each one is a valued piece of history and/or architecture and tells Oklahoma’s rich and fascinating story, and each one also has a savior out there somewhere who can keep that story alive.
The unveiling of the 2019 Most Endangered Places list will take place at the POK headquarters at the Carriage House at the Overholser Mansion in OKC on Monday, March 4th, and you can get tickets here. I hope to see all of you there!