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Owners of Oklahoma City's Stage Center decline listing on National Register of Historic Places

by Richard Mize Published: April 13, 2013

The Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places has issued a formal determination of eligibility for Stage Center — originally Mummers Theater — although the owner does not want the recognition out of concern the listing could limit its use.

The State Historic Preservation Office, which prepared the nomination, said listing on the National Register alone would not hamper repairs, renovation or expansion of the property unless federal money was used.

“Because the theater is private property and the owner objected to listing, it cannot be entered in the National Register. Therefore, the Keeper issued the (Determination of Eligibility) to confirm that the building does meet the National Register criteria,” according to the State Historic Preservation Office of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

The downtown property, at 400 W Sheridan, owned by the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, dates to a 1963 Ford Foundation grant. It closed in 2010 after flooding. It recently was listed among Oklahoma's most endangered historic properties by Preservation Oklahoma Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting Oklahoma's historic and cultural landmarks.

Architects and outside parties tried and failed last year to save the troubled structure by getting community support to convert it to a children's museum.

Stage Center was determined eligible “for its architectural merit at the national level and for exceptional significance,” the state agency said. It's “a unique singular architectural sculpture which was the result of a specific design process borrowed from electronic boards; how they work, how elements are put in place, and how communication occurs to create the desired effect.

“It is the work of well-known nationally and internationally recognized Modern Movement ad hoc architect John M. Johansen. Constructed from drawings and sketches before computer-aided design programs were available, its design received international and national attention at the time and it became a recognized source of inspiration to other architects, such as Frank Gehry and Richard Rogers.”

The state agency noted that the American Institute of Architects recognized Mummers Theater with its highest award in 1972.

“It is used in architectural history books as one of the best examples of architectural ad-hocism and individuation. Johansen considered Mummers Theater the best work of his career,” the agency said.

Owners were wary

The Oklahoma City Community Foundation did not want its property on the National Register because it believes it could make it difficult to sell, said Mark Beffort of Grubb & Ellis-Levy Beffort, which is marketing Stage Center to potential buyers.

“We were not the one who filed the application. Someone else did. We just said we didn't want it on the register. We didn't want it at all. We showed up at all of the meetings but never felt it (necessary) to comment on any of the process,” Beffort said. “The foundation has owned the property for quite some time and has hired me to sell the facility. We have no idea what the eventual outcome of that might be.”

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by Richard Mize
Real Estate Editor
Real estate editor Richard Mize has edited The Oklahoman's weekly residential real estate section and covered housing, commercial real estate, construction, development, finance and related business since 1999. From 1989 to 1999, he worked...
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