The greeting on Jim Brewer’s cell phone remained the same for years: “This is Jim Brewer; it’s a wonderful day in Bricktown” That message was still in place as Brewer died late Monday at home, surrounded by wife Patsy, his sons Brent and Brett and their wives Lori and Sonya. “That was his view — it was a beautiful day in Bricktown and he wanted others to know it,” said longtime friend John Michael Williams.
From rags to riches
Brewer was a classic rags to riches story — a boy born in poverty who never knew his father and once had to live in a chicken coop. At his death Brewer remained one of the largest land owners in Bricktown with an empire worth millions. In a June interview with The Oklahoman, Brewer explained how he climbed out of poverty, first by working at his uncle’s salvage yard, which then led Brewer to open his own shop.
An acquaintance introduced him to the nightclub business, which then allowed him to invest in oil. Good timing at each step of the way allowed him to buy up key properties in Bricktown at bargain pric- es as the mid-1980s oil bust sank the city and state into a virtual economic depression.
“Most of the businesses I got into over the years, I was lucky,” Brewer said. “I got out and worked, and I worked hard. But I was lucky.”
Williams said Tuesday Brewer’s success involved more than luck.
“He had a unique ability to perceive opportunities where others did not,” said Williams, who initially approached Brewer about investing in Bricktown. “Others saw problems; Jim Brewer saw opportunities. He was a true visionary.”
Brewer was one of three people to buy up the remains of Bricktown when the original development group led by the late Neal Horton went bankrupt.
While Brewer bought buildings along what is now the Bricktown Canal, Jim Tolbert and Don Karchmer purchased a row of smaller buildings along Sheridan that were renovated into offices.
Tolbert recalled it was Brewer who drew the community into the district by hosting parades and festivals and opening the haunted warehouse every Halloween.
“There really wouldn’t have been a Bricktown if not for Jim,” Tolbert said. “Don and I came over at the same time, but it was Jim’s promotional abilities and sense of the area that got it started.”
At the height of Brewer’s influence he was referred to as the mayor of Bricktown and was sometimes controversial as he took stands on paid parking, development of what now is Lower Bricktown, and an unsuccessful effort to tear down the Walnut Avenue bridge between Bricktown and Deep Deuce.
Early encounters between Brewer and former Mayor Kirk Humphreys were confrontational — including an early squabble over Brewer’s resistance to paving his parking lots. Humphreys chastised the Board of Adjustment for giving Brewer permission to leave his lots unpaved.
“I didn’t know you feltso strongly about this,” Brewer told Humphreys after the meeting. Brewer then paved the lots without any more prompting.
“That’s classic Jim Brewer,” Humphreys said. But Humphreys and others recall Brewer also had a tender side, as exhibited when the mayor and other leaders asked him to serve on the board of Downtown Oklahoma City Inc.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Brewer said, tears in his eyes.
“Jim was no stranger to controversy, but cities need people like Jim Brewer who was willing to invest in a place like Bricktown when no one else will and make things happen,” Humphreys said. “We needed his P.T. Barnum flair to make things happen ... He could put money where his mouth was, and he had both in large quantities.”