Life is full of quirky connections, and when it comes to The Oklahoman moving back downtown into Century Center, my own involvement is about as quirky as it gets.
Without Century Center, my family may have never made the move back in 1977 to Oklahoma City.
Century Center was the half-finished shopping mall I wandered as a kid. Century Center was where I wasted an entire summer's pay earned running errands by cramming an endless supply of quarters into the brightly colored Pac-Man game.
I may be one of the only people left in town who truly remember that the mall was once a home to an F.A.O. Schwarz toy store, or how great the pizza was at Jersey Lil's.
My father, Robert Lackmeyer, who died last December, led the development of Century Center and the adjoining Sheraton Hotel on behalf of his employer, J.D. Posillico. We were living in New York at the time, and he was flying extensively to Oklahoma City where the company's investments also included construction of Willow Cliff Apartments and the acquisition of a couple of existing apartment properties.
Century Center represented an early and rare victory for the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority. The city had razed hundreds of buildings, including several hotels and countless storefronts, to make way for a new, 21st century downtown.
The plan, however, was fizzling by the mid-1970s, just a decade after clearance started.
My father's company agreed to build a full-service hotel and retail mall on a block that previously was home to the Criterion Theater, Baum Building and the Wells-Roberts Hotel.
A local developer was tagged by local power brokers to oversee design and development of the mall, while my father oversaw development of the hotel. The hotel opened to rave reviews in January 1977. The mall stayed empty until Posillico bought out the local developer from the deal.
It was after the hotel opened that we moved to Oklahoma City. I often went downtown with my father, and I saw the last gasp of what remained of Main Street.
I yearned to visit the Chock full o'Nuts coffee shop in the old Local Federal building simply because it represented the coffee constantly consumed by my grandmother in New York. I never got that chance, however — the building was razed to make way for Leadership Square.
During those giddy years of the early 1980s oil boom, I saw the Galleria towers rise (now known as Oklahoma and Corporate towers), final construction of the Underground pedestrian tunnels, and the ultimate demise of the Urban Renewal Pei Plan.
My father was never a big name in the development world. By the early 1980s he had scaled back his work with the Posillico family and was operating his CPA firm inside Century Center while still managing its operations. Our connection to the property ended in 1983 when he moved his firm to northwest Oklahoma City.
But Robert Lackmeyer was, and remains, the only person to have truly created a vibrant hub of retail downtown in the post Urban Renewal era. In its brief heyday, the mall was home to the F.A.O. Schwarz, a fitness center, gift shops, salons, travel agencies, a western wear shop, ice cream parlor, florist, and a collection of restaurants.
The oil bust killed the mall, and by the time I started work at The Oklahoman, when it was still at NW 4 and Broadway, Century Center was a ghost of its former self. A handful of offices, one restaurant, a tag agency and Taylor's Newsstand were all that remained. And by the mid-1990s, they too were gone.
Century Center was a bold experiment, but designed badly. But its location was, and remains, in the heart of the city. I'm happy to report that in one year it will be OPUBCO's new home.