The Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places has issued a formal determination of eligibility for Stage Center — originally Mummers Theater — although the owner does not want the recognition out of concern the listing could limit its use.
The State Historic Preservation Office, which prepared the nomination, said listing on the National Register alone would not hamper repairs, renovation or expansion of the property unless federal money was used.
“Because the theater is private property and the owner objected to listing, it cannot be entered in the National Register. Therefore, the Keeper issued the (Determination of Eligibility) to confirm that the building does meet the National Register criteria,” according to the State Historic Preservation Office of the Oklahoma Historical Society.
The downtown property, at 400 W Sheridan, owned by the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, dates to a 1963 Ford Foundation grant. It closed in 2010 after flooding. It recently was listed among Oklahoma's most endangered historic properties by Preservation Oklahoma Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting Oklahoma's historic and cultural landmarks.
Architects and outside parties tried and failed last year to save the troubled structure by getting community support to convert it to a children's museum.
Stage Center was determined eligible “for its architectural merit at the national level and for exceptional significance,” the state agency said. It's “a unique singular architectural sculpture which was the result of a specific design process borrowed from electronic boards; how they work, how elements are put in place, and how communication occurs to create the desired effect.
“It is the work of well-known nationally and internationally recognized Modern Movement ad hoc architect John M. Johansen. Constructed from drawings and sketches before computer-aided design programs were available, its design received international and national attention at the time and it became a recognized source of inspiration to other architects, such as Frank Gehry and Richard Rogers.”
The state agency noted that the American Institute of Architects recognized Mummers Theater with its highest award in 1972.
“It is used in architectural history books as one of the best examples of architectural ad-hocism and individuation. Johansen considered Mummers Theater the best work of his career,” the agency said.
Owners were wary
The Oklahoma City Community Foundation did not want its property on the National Register because it believes it could make it difficult to sell, said Mark Beffort of Grubb & Ellis-Levy Beffort, which is marketing Stage Center to potential buyers.
“We were not the one who filed the application. Someone else did. We just said we didn't want it on the register. We didn't want it at all. We showed up at all of the meetings but never felt it (necessary) to comment on any of the process,” Beffort said. “The foundation has owned the property for quite some time and has hired me to sell the facility. We have no idea what the eventual outcome of that might be.”
Beffort said the foundation worried that a National Register listing would hamstring work on the property and could make it harder to sell.
Renovations done involving federal rehabilitation investment tax credits come with scrutiny, but mere listing on the register does not, said Melvena Heisch, deputy state historic preservation officer. Listing on the National Register usually is seen as enhancing the value of historic property, she said.
“It helps make the general public and community leaders and decision-makers aware of the property, and such increased awareness can cause people to ascribe value to the property,” according to a State Historic Preservation Office handout on the National Register process. “The attitudes of local citizens and officials are key to a successful preservation effort.”
Two new listings
• Founders Tower — originally United Founders Life Tower — at 5900 Mosteller Drive was listed for its architectural merit.
“It is a highly individual mid-twentieth-century high-rise building that showcases a limited time frame in which recent technological developments and the freedom to experiment in architecture gave rise to rare building forms and details, as exemplified in the folded plate roof system and unusual slender decagonal form of this tower, plus its cantilevered balconies,” according to the State Historic Preservation Office. “The unusual form of this building responds very well to its relatively isolated location at one of the highest elevations in the region, highly visible from nearby freeways and Lake Hefner.
“It helped to catalyze the development of the northwest side of Oklahoma City and facilitated the development of other high-rise buildings in the vicinity. United Founders Life Tower was a singular work of an architectural firm of regional renown and it displays innovative framing techniques as well as being an early example of design-build construction.”
• Acre Family Barn, near Canton in Blaine County, also was listed.
“(It) is an example of a Transverse-crib barn dating to (about) 1916. The traditional floor plan of a Transverse-crib barn is simple: a central aisle running parallel to the ridgeline flanked on both sides by a row of three or more square cribs, which — individually or in combination — serve as stalls, granaries, or storage space,” the agency said. “A haymow or ‘loft' for hay and/or grain storage is above ground level. A wagon door is in one or both gable ends of the barn. The Acre Family Barn was listed for its architectural merit because it demonstrates the distinctive features of the Transverse-crib barn as it has been adapted for use in Oklahoma.”