After years of debate over the history, importance and fate of Stage Center, the end is set to start Monday as preparatory demolition begins next week.
Rainey Williams Jr., who is clearing the site at Sheridan and Hudson Avenues to make way for a new OGE Energy Corp. headquarters, told The Oklahoman demolition could start as soon as Monday. The site is expected to be cleared by September as classes begin across the street at the new John W. Rex Elementary School.
Williams promises Stage Center’s history will be reflected as part of the new development that will take its place. He also is working with several local organizations on plans to identify and salvage portions of the building to be used as part of a future commemoration of the property.
Stage Center, originally known as Mummers Theater, was designed by John Johansen, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and a member of the legendary “Harvard Five” (which also included Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, Philip Johnson and Eliot Noyes). He was hired not by the Mummers Theater, which was to be the tenant of the Oklahoma City venue, but by the Ford Foundation, which agreed to provide a $2 million grant for a modern downtown home for what was then a 22-year-old theater company.
City leaders, however, were unhappy with Johansen’s brutalist design, which called for a building turned inside out.
The theater opened in 1970 to international acclaim for the design, but inadequate funding for operations and a less than enthusiastic response by locals led to the demise of Mummers just a year after the theater opened. The building has had a series of tenants since, was closed in the late 1990s, and closed again for good after it was flooded in 2010.