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Proposal to convert Stage Center into children's museum in Oklahoma City due Wednesday

by Steve Lackmeyer Published: February 28, 2012

With hundreds of supporters signed up in just one month, organizers of an effort to convert Stage Center into a children's museum say they're set to submit their proposal to the property's owner, the Oklahoma City Community Foundation.

The theater, 400 W California, is internationally recognized architecture and is featured in architectural textbooks.

The theater, which previously closed for several years in the late 1980s, may be facing its closest brush yet with a wrecking ball. The theater's survival may hinge on whether organizers of the proposed children's museum can attract $30 million in funding and gain additional time from the Oklahoma City Community Foundation.

The building has been closed since floodwaters in June 2010 devastated the theater. Arts agencies permanently relocated, the building was stripped by copper thieves, and building ownership reverted last year from the Arts Council of Oklahoma City to the Oklahoma City Community Foundation. The foundation agreed to allow the Central Oklahoma Chapter of the American Institute of Architects to issue a request for proposals and that deadline is on Wednesday.

Farooq Karim, an architect with Rees Associates, said the presentation will include engineering studies and renderings that show how the theater can be converted into a children's museum, cafe, and how recurring flooding problems can be eliminated by removing a loading dock at the basement level.

“Right now, everything is pretty conceptual,” Karim said. “The idea is that we change as little of the building form as possible. There might be a surface that is metal that might stay metal, colored exteriors will stay colored. If something is orange and get's repainted, it would only get an updated shade of orange.”

Modifications, Karim added, will include concrete exteriors that will be used as a backdrop for large pieces of children's art. A large banner, he said, would be added.

“Nothing will be permanently changed,” Karim said.

Karim, along with co-organizer Tracey Zeeck, said they are working with John Johnansen.

Stage Center's history began more than 40 years ago as Mummers Theater, which was a popular theatrical company in the 1960s that was outgrowing the warehouse it called home. With downtown undergoing a complete makeover led by the renowned architect I.M. Pei, the theater sought out a similar talent to come up with a design that would be just as eye-catching as the Myriad Gardens.

A $1.7 million grant from the Ford Foundation in 1963 made just such a hiring possible for the theater. Johansen had studied with Frank Lloyd Wright and was one of the “Harvard Five” — five Harvard-educated architects who had led the modernist movement by creating showcases for their work in New Canaan, Conn.

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist 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 Metropolitan...
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A children's museum provides youth with opportunities to learn through open-ended play with no expected outcomes. A typical children's museum includes exhibits that range from small-scale towns that encourage pretend play and exploration, climbing towers, elaborate “mousetrap” interactive displays, giant exploratory sculptures, art rooms and whimsical forests. Children's Museums often also provide separate areas for babies, toddlers and older kids, as well as opportunities for children with developmental delay.

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