John Belt, Paseo pioneer, leaves Oklahoma City a masterpiece
Visionary John Belt, pioneer of the Paseo, leaves Oklahoma City a masterpiece. He died recently.
Thursday would have been John Belt's 77th birthday — and for his friends, family, and the community of Paseo, such timing allows for his memorial service to be the ultimate celebration of his life. The service will be at 3 p.m. Thursday at All Souls' Episcopal Church, 6400 N Pennsylvania Ave., and don't surprised if a big birthday party is held afterward throughout the Paseo.
A couple months later, Belt called me back. Life is short, he explained, and he decided it was indeed time to get the building (once the Paseo Plunge) and bring it back to life after 20 years of dormancy.
Belt then moved quickly to turn the nondescript building into his next artistic masterpiece. I was amused as he had to submit the building designs to the Downtown Design Review Committee, which had been set up just a few years earlier.
How, I wondered, could this group really tell Belt what was and wasn't an appropriate fit for the area when he was the master planner of it all for more than 30 years?
Belt never used that card on the committee members — he respectfully but firmly haggled with the group over their proposed changes. And the project went forward, even without a firm plan on the building's ultimate use.
The building wasn't an easy renovation project. It was huge, without a lot of windows, and built so solidly it would likely withstand a 7.0 earthquake.
We talked about this dilemma a few times. He pondered setting up musical practice studios in the virtually soundproof basement. He considered a balcony coffee shop or restaurant. An arts center, retail complex or community gathering spot all were on the list.
As noted by his friends, John Belt almost always wore a suit and tie amid the more casually dressed “funky” folks who populate the Paseo. Yes, he was an attorney tied to pretty powerful interests in this town. But at heart, he was still the song-and-dance man who thrilled audiences in college, community theater, and briefly, in New York City. He was an artist at heart. And the Paseo, with all its colorful buildings, artists, attractions and events, is the masterpiece that John Belt, the artist, has given Oklahoma City to enjoy for generations to come.
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