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Oklahoma City's changing skyline often will require loss of older buildings

The threatened Stage Center theater sits on a block where buildings were leveled decades ago to make room for the theater in Oklahoma City. Now the architecturally significant building could make way for a new tower downtown.
by Steve Lackmeyer Modified: July 27, 2013 at 12:00 pm •  Published: July 27, 2013

More than four decades ago, city fathers decided to level a block of old buildings to make way for a modern theater.

That theater, first known as Mummers Theater and later as Stage Center, has provided generations of Oklahomans with great memories of musicals and plays, amazed visitors with its unusual design, but also was a troubled building from the very start.

John Johansen, one of the premier architects of the 20th century, didn't care whether people liked his designs or not. And Stage Center had plenty of detractors who couldn't understand this building designed “inside out.”

I met Johansen in 2008, and the man was as stubborn as ever when it came to the idea that his work stood out, and not always in a way that made it popular. He was proud that the Ford Foundation, which paid for the theater, forced the design on Oklahoma City with the caveat that if they didn't go with Johansen's plans, the money would be yanked.

The theater is loved in architectural circles throughout the world, but like many of Johansen's designs, it has always gotten a mixed response by locals.

Graves of older buildings

Now, this building is set to be torn down to make way for a tower rising at least 20 stories into the skyline. And if one is to consider carefully the comments made Thursday by Mayor Mick Cornett, this won't be the last demolition sought to make way for a new tower.

Consider that decades before Devon Energy Center was built, the historic Warner Theatre stood on that site. The Huckins Hotel stood where Continental Resources tower now stands. Other proud old buildings were torn down to make way for what is now the SandRidge Building, Chase Tower (also known as Cotter Ranch Tower), BOK Plaza, Leadership Square, Oklahoma and Corporate Towers.

Oklahoma City's skyline is built on the graves of older buildings, many of them far more beloved than Stage Center, though none of them as internationally acclaimed as the quirky landmark.

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's...
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