For local preservationists, the Biltmore Hotel is at times the equivalent to the rallying cry of "Remember the Alamo.” The image came up again and again during the debate at last week's Board of Adjustment meeting regarding proposed demolition of buildings on the SandRidge Energy campus.
The Biltmore was certainly the largest building to fall during the Urban Renewal era. The explosion that took down the 26-story, 600-room hotel in 1977 was televised across the country, so certainly it made an impression. It's even fair to say the Biltmore demolition may have played a significant role in souring public support for the Urban Renewal program, which stalled out just a couple years later. But what if the building had stood? Let's play this parlor game out through 2010. First, understand that the Biltmore Hotel was not an initial target of the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority or the famous international architect, I.M. Pei, upon whose plans the agency acted. All of the original renderings showed a Biltmore Hotel being integral to early plans for the Myriad Gardens. It was planned to be a part of the new downtown, not just the old downtown. But the truth isn't always what one might remember. I've talked to numerous people, including folks who had an ownership interest in the building, who say it posed a huge challenge to anyone who wanted to make it relevant to the 21st century. First, consider that the building was constructed from reinforced steel and concrete with low floor to ceiling heights. It accommodated window air conditioners, not central heat and air, while other buildings such as the Skirvin, First National, the Colord and Ramsey Tower (now City Place) all featured higher floor-to-ceiling heights that allowed for the addition of modern air conditioning. Then consider that the hotel was stripped of much of its interior to pay bills.