The Oklahoma City municipal attorney’s office is providing the Board of Adjustment with just two questions to consider in weighing whether to stop demolition of downtown’s Stage Center theater.
The Downtown Design Review Committee by a vote of 3 to 2 approved an application by the property’s owner, Rainey Williams Jr., to raze the theater, 400 W Sheridan Ave., to make way for construction of a new OGE Energy Corp. headquarters.
That ruling is being appealed by Preservation Oklahoma, which argues the theater is historically and architecturally too valuable to add to the list of previously demolished landmark buildings.
To win that appeal, the memo authored by Assistant City Attorney Dan Brummitt advises that Preservation Oklahoma must prove the building is functionally viable and retention and restoration of the building is economically feasible for the applicant’s purposes.
Williams’ site plan proposes building a 14- to 16-story office building, a garage, and to solicit another developer to build a second building of up to 12 stories for either a hotel or housing.
David Pettyjohn, executive director of Preservation Oklahoma, said his group learned about the city attorney’s memo on Friday.
“We’re still evaluating it,” Pettyjohn said. “We have an attorney we’re working with and we’ve sent it to him.”
Originally opened in 1970 as Mummers Theater, the landmark was designed by John Johanson, 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).
The building resembles an elaborate Tinker Toy set, and is literally a building built “inside out” in the brutalist architectural style that flourished in the 1960s.
Gold Circle award
Stage Center is the only building in Oklahoma City to win an international Gold Circle award from the American Institute of Architects.
The theater, however, was never fully embraced by the community, and the design was forced upon city leaders by the Ford Foundation, which threatened to yank its funding from the theater’s construction if Johansen’s designs were rejected.
Williams is preparing to rely on Peter Dolese, president of the Arts Council of Oklahoma City and former owner of the building, to help show that no matter how original the design, the theater is not viable for nonprofits and performing arts groups.
“In its current state, it’s not functionally viable,” Dolese said. “When it was opened, it was certainly usable. But there were so many difficult aspects to running the building, that while it was the flooding that closed it, the agencies in it were always struggling. And we were struggling to meet the financial requirements of running the building.”
Pettyjohn on Monday declined to detail how his group will argue against the demolition or respond to Dolese’s comments.