So let’s delve back in history, shall we?
Today I’m meeting with some students from the University of Oklahoma, speaking about the history of Urban Renewal. And I can think of no place downtown that symbolizes the dramatic changes Urban Renewal brought than here at Devon Energy Center.
First, some history from Oklahoman archives about the Warner Theater (pictured above):
“Sale of the old Warner Theater, the Midwest Theater and 10-story Midwest building, and the Sooner Theater to the Cooper Foundation, Lincoln, Neb., for ‘about $1 million’ in cash was announced Monday.
The sale wil liquidate Midwest Enterprises, Inc., of Oklahoma City, with about 25 stockholders participating in the proceeds, said John Sinopoulo, president. It owned the properties.
The purchase by the Cooper Foundation was made as ‘a long-time investment and illustrates our faith in the future of downtown Oklahoma City,’ said Kenneth E. Anderson, Lincoln, general manager.
The deal, handled by Harrison Levy, pioneer city realtor, involves both the oldest and the newest of downtown theater enterprises.
The Warner was built just at the turn of the century (1905) by one of the city’s oldest civic leaders, Henry Overholser, and was known for years as the ‘Overholser Opera House.’
It was used by many of the most famous stock and opera companies in theatrical history, by bands and symphony orchestras, and other entertainment units.
When purchased by John and Peter Sinopoulo (1916-17), it was turned into a combination vaudeville-movie house and lived again as the ‘Orpheum Theater’ on that famous vaudeville circuit.
Levy said it is the only theater in Oklahoma City completely equipped with stage, dressing rooms, scenery handling machinery, and other equipment, for legitimate stock companies.
J. I. Meyerson, manager of the Oklahoma City Downtown Association, who was in on the negotiations, said:
‘We’re hoping to see the Warner come back into its own as an entertainment spot, and for conventions, since it is just across the street from the Sheraton Oklahoma.’
Sinopoulo said Midwest Enterprises Co. actually has been inactive since 1930, when the firm entered into a long-term lease with Warner Brothers for operation of the then just-completed Midwest theater, the Orpheum (now Warner), the Folly (now Sooner) and the Palace, which is now a parking lot.”
So we know in the early 1960s that downtown’s theaters, and Main Street itself, were far from doomed. Yet a few years later Main Street, and these grand theaters, were set for destruction. Urban Renewal defenders say they simply sought to redevelop a Main Street that was already dead. But those who take a dim view of the Urban Renewal era say it was Urban Renewal that killed Main Street.
First, understand that Urban Renewal had big plans for this area:
The area now looks like this: