News Column

The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, Steve Lackmeyer column

June 29, 2014

By Steve Lackmeyer, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City



June 29--After years of debate over the history, importance and fate of Stage Center, the end is set to start Monday as preparatory demolition begins next week.

Rainey Williams Jr., who is clearing the site at Sheridan and Hudson Avenues to make way for a new OGE Energy Corp. headquarters, told The Oklahoman demolition could start as soon as Monday. The site is expected to be cleared by September as classes begin across the street at the new John W. Rex Elementary School.

Williams promises Stage Center's history will be reflected as part of the new development that will take its place. He also is working with several local organizations on plans to identify and salvage portions of the building to be used as part of a future commemoration of the property.

Stage Center, originally known as Mummers Theater, was designed by John Johansen, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and a member of the legendary "Harvard Five" (which also included Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, Philip Johnson and Eliot Noyes). He was hired not by the Mummers Theater, which was to be the tenant of the Oklahoma City venue, but by the Ford Foundation, which agreed to provide a $2 million grant for a modern downtown home for what was then a 22-year-old theater company.

City leaders, however, were unhappy with Johansen's brutalist design, which called for a building turned inside out.

The theater opened in 1970 to international acclaim for the design, but inadequate funding for operations and a less than enthusiastic response by locals led to the demise of Mummers just a year after the theater opened. The building has had a series of tenants since, was closed in the late 1990s, and closed again for good after it was flooded in 2010.

Protests by architects and preservationists failed to stop Williams from winning approval from the Downtown Design Review Committee to clear the site and build a 14- to 16-story story tower that will become the new headquarters for OGE Energy Corp. The plan also calls for a garage and Williams is seeking a developer to build a second building of about a dozen stories for either a hotel or housing.

"Commemorating Stage Center and its architect are extremely important to us," Williams said. "We have been working with Oklahoma Historical Society Executive Director Dr. Bob Blackburn to develop plans for the commemoration."

Blackburn has advised Williams to use the Historic American Buildings Survey process as part of the effort to commemorate the theater. The process is developed and administered by the National Park Service, which maintains a collection of photos and documents at the Library of Congress.

Williams has yet to announce an architect for the project or release designs for the development. Conceptual building model renderings were provided to the city in January, but they only show proposed layout of the development.

Williams confirmed last month he hired Chicago-based Clayco to assist in planning.

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(c)2014 The Oklahoman

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Source: Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City)


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