There’s a great discussion going on at www.okctalk.com about urban design and development and why or why not it should matter when someone proposes tearing down old downtown buildings. My response is a pop quiz on the above photo: where are these stores located?
I’ve been a bit scarce this week – without going into details, balancing some family matters and also got hit with a bad cold on Friday. If you read Friday’s paper, you might have seen where John Belt purchased the old Spaghetti Factory in the Paseo. This is very, very good and I’ll let the late great Mary Jo Nelson explain why:
Architecture Buff Preserves The Paseo
By Mary Jo Nelson
Sunday, September 1, 1991
OFFHAND, John L. Belt says he doesn’t know how many historic properties he owns. But he knows precisely how many he has sold: Just one.
It took a buyer a full year to persuade the Oklahoma City lawyer to part with his pie-shaped Heierding Building at NW 5 and Harrison.
“It’s true. I am a reluctant seller,” he acknowledged. It was the first time he ever disposed of a parcel and admits it was something of an emotional experience.
Belt, a patron of the arts whose law clients include a list of artists, said he acquires property for income. But he doesn’t buy a building unless it has historical or architectural significance.
Down to the houses he has occupied, his holdings are important to Oklahoma City’s past.
That’s why he bought The Paseo – all of The Paseo except three buildings. It is his philosophy that if a building is architecturally worthwhile to begin with and is properly maintained, it will inevitably turn a profit.
Belt guessed that he owned eight or 10 buildings along Paseo Drive until he counted 14. That leaves only three places along the curving three-block stretch of Spanish mission revival architecture that he doesn’t own. Unique in Oklahoma City, the street begins at NW 30 and Dewey and ends at NW 28 and Walker.
All but one of his properties are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“I’m no great history buff,” Belt said. “I just like some of the old things we had. I’m just trying to preserve some of the interesting remnants we have left. In the past, we had some architecture that was truly significant, even along Broadway. We destroyed all of it,” he added.
He started acquiring Paseo buildings in 1976 when the operator of a small sandwich place where Belt liked to eat lunch discovered the building was about to be sold. The buyer wanted to expand a nearby warehouse. The delicatessen would have to move.
“I remember swimming in the Paseo Plunge when I was a kid and as I walked down the street, I was very disappointed to see what was happening to it,” Belt recalled.
He went back to his office from lunch, checked county records, looked up the owner and made an offer for the building.
“I offered cash and we closed the next day,” Belt said. Hirams, the sandwich shop, didn’t have to move.
“I just didn’t want to see Hirams turned into a warehouse,” Belt said.
He even offered to help the warehouse owner find more space in back rooms along the strip, and threw in an offer to buy the warehouse itself. Six months later, the owner agreed. Belt then owned two Paseo structures.
Next, he made an offer for the Blue Note Lounge, a place where he remembered hearing “some really fine soul music. ”
“All of a sudden, I owned a bunch of property on Paseo and I’ve been very involved ever since. ” One by one over the next 12 years or so, he added the rest, and his tenants became more important to him than the property itself.
- 3014 and 3016 The Paseo, leased to the Rainbow Fleet, a “wonderful” organization offering cultural and educational tools and services to early childhood centers. Without Rainbow, Belt said, “many of these children in day care centers would never have any arts exposure at all. ”
- 3018, a studio and residence for Ron Roberts, a painter and glass artist.
- 3020, rented to Ron Rose, a television artist and theatrical performer who teaches acting and video crafts.
- 3022, occupied by Salli Lamprich, an artist who paints in several media and creates artistic furniture.
- 3017, whose tenant is Colin Rosebrook, described by Belt as “a truly fine ceramicist,” operating both a pottery studio and teaching center.
- 3013, a studio for a group of rock and jazz musicians, and “heavily insulated for sound,” Belt said with a grin.
- 3009 and 3011 Paseo, occupied by Key Largo, a restaurant.
- 3007, rented for The Casino, a small “contemporary house” selling wine and spirits and offering live music and readings along with pizza.
- 3005, a resident studio for oil-on-canvas artist Gary Albright.
- 3005A, an art gallery operated by John Bell.
- 3003A, studio of Diane Coady, a fabric artist whose specialty is silk clothing.
- 3003, headquarters of the Paseo Artists, an organization that promotes activities of all Belt’s Paseo tenants. The association sponsors two art festivals a year, in spring and fall. This year’s fall event is next week.
- 3001, office and studio for Terry Taylor, commercial artist and designer.
The only buildings along the street Belt doesn’t own are 2927 The Paseo, property of architect John Robison who has a design practice there with colleague Dave Boeck; the Spaghetti Factory Restaurant at 3010 Paseo; and the former El Chico restaurant at NW 29 and Dewey. Negotiations currently are under way for locating another restaurant in the latter site, Belt said.
“What we’ve tried to do is keep the area in tune with its origins, and to provide an atmosphere where artists could stay in communication with each other. ” Belt said the street itself and the artist-tenants “nurture each other. ” The lawyer said all his buildings are rented. His latest purchase, at the intersection of NW 30, a former beauty college, is the only structure out of tune with its neighbors. The former owner altered the Spanish mission facade, and Belt intends to restore it to its original architecture.
He has improved all the buildings and the street itself. Each facade has been restored to its original condition except the newest acquisition.
Belt also added new roofs on every structure, new central heating and air conditioning systems, and brought all the properties up to city code with new electrical wiring and plumbing.
On the street, Belt persuaded the city traffic commission to remove parking meters.
“The city council and staff have been exceptionally cooperative through the whole process,” he said. He’s also grateful for support from the neighborhood association in the adjacent residential area.
Belt also added trees, some other landscaping, street lighting to enhance the mission style, and belts of brick along the sidewalks.
“I’ve tried to give it human scale,” he said. He calls his work “progressive improvements,” adding, “The street looks better today than it did brand new. ” The lawyer doesn’t consider himself any sort of preservation hero, although he has registered the strip with the national historic roster.
“I grew up here and I love this city. There is much of the past we ought to hold onto,” he said. But he doesn’t believe everything should be saved just because it’s old.
“There is much of the past that ought to be destroyed. But that which is worthwhile we should keep and enhance. ” To Belt, that includes Paseo, a street created in 1929 by the late G.A. Nichols, one of Oklahoma City’s foremost early developers and founder of Nichols Hills. It also includes such other buildings as the Heierding.
He bought the pie-shaped structure, built in early statehood, when it was threatened with urban renewal demolition, and quickly got it added to the National Register. It will be restored for an architectural studio and headquarters for Elliott + Associates.
Look carefully for the bowling association center and the honorable Larry Jones. This strikes me as something the folks at the local obscure social blog might do. But I could be wrong.
Well, today was as brutal a city council meeting as we’ve seen in quite a while. Brutal in the economic forecast for the next few years, and some dire warnings that expectations need to change. Picture the status quo as a fragile Fabergé egg sitting precariously in the driveway of your house. And picture the economy being your rambunctious 4-year-old racing toward it with a hammer in his hand.
Yeah, it’s going to get ugly. Remember those headlines about OKC being “recession proof”? Forget that – this is no ordinary recession and it’s definitely hit.
This all comes as downtown is going through yet another major transformation. More than a billion dollars is being spent on the central city the next few years. I’m seeing retail continue to blossom, and against all odds, downtown housing is still selling, though at a much slower pace than before. Downtown is hardly struggling – yet.
Ask me how these two opposing forces might collide and what it might look like in a year and I can only answer honestly – I have no clue whatsoever.
Put on your seat belt, say a prayer and God be with you.
Listening to debate at city council today, I heard one person argue that if we want to be a big league city, we need to allow large digital billboards like those seen in other big cities.
Councilman Sam Bowman made the following suggestion, one I’ve not heard before, which might be applicable to every argument that says Oklahoma City should do something because the other big cities are already doing it:
“Let’s be a big league city by being a standard setter. Let’s do it right.”
Extraordinary Measures Takes Extraordinary Measures to Rob OKC of Credit for Scientific Breakthrough
“Inspired by a true story.” Well, that’s one way of putting it. Another way to describe “Extraordinary Measures” is to point out that while Hollywood has never hesitated to portray Oklahoma or Oklahoma City as a backwards place, right or wrong, a dramatic story that was an exemplary example of the bio-tech industry that has emerged on the east fringe of downtown has been rewritten to ensure that neither Oklahoma City or its scientists get any of the real credit.
I first reported on this several months ago (story to follow) and what always struck me as odd was how CBS Films found it necessary to replace Dr. Bill Canfield and Oklahoma City with fictional replacements, but still used the real name of John Crowley. How did this happen? From my reporting it appears as if Mr. Crowley has a better public relations machine backing him up.
Read the following and decide for yourself:
‘CROWLEY’ MOVIE WON’T MENTION OKLAHOMA SCIENTIST’S WORK
Film leaves city’s role on cutting room floor
By Steve Lackmeyer
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Edition: CITY, Section: BUSINESS, Page 1C
It’s a story so captivating it’s being turned into a Hollywood movie starring Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell.
In 1998, New Jersey businessman John Crowley’s two young children were diagnosed with a rare, potentially fatal disease. In the months that followed, he joined Oklahoma City scientist Bill Canfield’s company, Novazyme, and together they worked to develop a drug to combat the disease.
Their story ended up in a Wall Street Journal article by Pulitzer Prize winner Geeta Anand, who then wrote a book, “The Cure.” That story, in turn, inspired a screenplay by Robert Nelson Jacobs, whose previous credits include “Chocolat.”
But the few in Oklahoma City who know about the movie “Crowley” see it as a lost opportunity to showcase the city’s emergence in the bio-sciences field.
Neither the city nor Canfield exist in the Hollywood version of reality.
The only apparent local tie, in fact, is a December visit by Ford, who sources say was doing research for his role as the fictional scientist “Dr. Robert Stonehill” in this story. Crowley, meanwhile is played by actor Brendan Fraser.
CBS Films, which is producing the film, released a statement to The Oklahoman confirming it has fictionalized the tale.
“Our movie is inspired by the Crowley family’s journey to save their children,” producers said. “Their story spanned several years and included countless individuals, companies and researchers. In the process of bringing their story to the big screen, timelines were compressed, and characters and events were changed or otherwise fictionalized for dramatic purposes.”
Early anticipation, lost opportunity
Whether Oklahoma City and Canfield were always set to be excluded from the film is uncertain. While Canfield declined to comment for this story, Marva Ellard, his former partner in a downtown housing development, recalled Canfield happily talking more than three years ago about the prospect of being portrayed by Ford.
“I do know they were talking about having Harrison Ford play him,” Ellard said. “He was pretty excited about it. Bill is usually really reserved, but this was something worth mentioning. He doesn’t usually chit-chat aimlessly.”
A description of the film’s plot released by CBS Films also seems to reflect Crowley’s work with Canfield at Novazyme: “The film is inspired by the true story of John Crowley, a man who moved mountains to build a company that could rescue his children only to face the impossible choice of putting family first or the work that might spare them.”
Publicity for the film also describes Ford’s character as an “unconventional scientist” and a “maverick.” Canfield is well known as being media shy and quirky.
Those not surprised by the Hollywood treatment include Mike Anderson, president of the Presbyterian Health Foundation Research Park, which incubated Novazyme when it was started up by Canfield.
“It’s a lost opportunity,” Anderson said. “Unfortunately, the person creating the story, John Crowley, is not based here and his home is Princeton, N.J., and his contacts are on the Eastern Seaboard. This story was produced in his own environment.”
Crowley did not respond to interview requests left with his office, his publicist and a New Jersey political action committee he chairs. A 568-word entry about Crowley on Wikipedia focuses on his quest to find a cure for Pompe disease, makes one reference to his joining Novazyme in Oklahoma City, but nothing about working with Canfield.
“We are fully aware of the scientific basis of the true discovery of a response to Pompe disease,” Anderson said. “And it’s due to one of the leading glycobiologists in the world, and that is Dr. William Canfield. People in the scientific world know the accomplishments of Bill Canfield and pay due respect. We are also aware of the Hollywood propensity when doing a historic novel to be more novel than historic.”
Both Anderson and Jill Simpson, director of the Oklahoma Film and Music Commission, say “Crowley” is a lost opportunity to showcase Oklahoma City’s role in the scientific world, compared to its frequent portrayals as a Midwestern community steeped in oil and gas and cowboys and American Indians.
“It’s much to our heartbreak,” Simpson said. “We wish they were filming it here. We’re getting them all sorts of incentives information so that maybe we can be considered on future projects.”
Anderson, meanwhile, suggested that Crowley’s ties with Canfield and the local scientific community have been strained if not altogether severed since the pair sold Novazyme to Genzyme, the world’s third-largest pharmaceutical company, for $206 million in 2001.
Crowley initially planned to do another local venture, Cytovance Biologics, with a biopharmaceutical plant being built in the Presbyterian Health Foundation Research Park. Construction had already started, with the assistance of the city’s tax increment financing, when Crowley dropped out in 2005 and took over as chief executive officer at New Jersey-based Amicus Therapeutics.
Canfield formed an investor group, took over Cytovance with a $9 million cash infusion and rescued it from near bankruptcy.
“It’s unfortunate John Crowley walked away from Cytovance,” Anderson said. “Under Bill Canfield, it has become a successful operation. And without question, Dr. Canfield has been the great impetus for this park to come into question. To tell this (Crowley) story correctly, the research started in Dr. Canfield’s lab at the OU Health Sciences Center. It really is where this all began.”
ARTICLE HAD VAGUE REFERENCES
The omission of William Canfield from the “Crowley” story appears to have begun with the Aug. 26, 2003, article in the Wall Street Journal by Geeta Anand.
While Crowley had done interviews previously with The Oklahoman detailing how he had joined up with Canfield to boost his ongoing research into Pompe disease, the Wall Street Journal story stated the financial analyst, desperate to find a cure for his two suffering children, “met with legions of scientists and teamed up with one.”
The story doesn’t mention the “one” was Canfield, though it proceeds to next detail that the startup that resulted was Novazyme Pharmaceuticals Inc., the company created with Canfield.
The remainder of the story details how Novazyme, without mentioning Canfield, developed a promising drug and how the company was then sold to Gemzyme with researchers continuing to race to find a cure for Pompe disease before it could claim the lives of Crowley’s two children.
In reality, the company was started by Canfield in 1998 as Targeted Therapy. Crowley met Canfield in December 1998 at a National Institutes of Health symposium on Pompe disease. Shortly afterward, Crowley joined the company as chief executive officer and it was renamed Novazyme.
And here’s a more recent column by Oklahoman Business Editor Clytie Bunyan
Oklahoma had role that film overlooks
By Clytie Bunyan
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Edition: CITY, Section: BUSINESS, Page 1C
There’s a movie coming to theaters next month that I can’t wait to see. I want to see if the reports I’ve heard are entirely true.
Trailers already are appearing, at least since Thanksgiving weekend, for “Extraordinary Measures.” It’s the compelling story of John Crowley’s desperate efforts to find a cure for Pompe disease. Both of his kids had the rare genetic disease, which frequently kills children before they reach school age.
Harrison Ford portrays scientist Dr. Robert Stonehill, who came to Crowley’s rescue.
What saddened me as I looked around the theater was that most of the people watching the trailer were clueless about the Oklahoma connection. I couldn’t resist whispering to people next to me that the scientist Harrison Ford is portraying is right here in Oklahoma City; that the company affiliated with the research was based here and approaching clinical studies when it was acquired by Genzyme in 2001. But their dubious reaction really ticked me off.
Then I realized they had no reason to believe me. Neither Oklahoma City nor Dr. Bill Canfield, who Crowley partnered with in the company called Novazyme, werementioned in the trailer — and by other reports, not in the movie either.
CBS Films earlier this year explained the omission this way: “… In the process of bringing their story to the big screen, timelines were compressed, and characters and events were changed or otherwise fictionalized for dramatic purposes.”
Clearly Hollywood doesn’t care that Oklahoma got squeezed out of this movie, but Oklahomans should let everyone know that it was under Canfield’s scientific guidance that breakthrough technology was developed to treat Pompe disease.
A rare gem from downtown Oklahoma City’s past emerged from obscurity starting in 2003 and has been developed into the new Oklahoma City Film Exchange District. It was here, between Classen Boulevard and Walker Avenue along Sheridan Avenue (formerly Grand Avenue) that visionaries, developers, and City planners revealed a strip of buildings constructed by young film studios as a Film Exchange.
It was in a young Oklahoma City, that the likes of Warner Brothers, Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Fox Films, to name only a few, found a foot hold for the fast developing movie market and a way to distribute these silent wonders to the central part of the US. It was as early as 1907 when the first film exchange appeared in Oklahoma City above the long lost Olympic Theatre at West Main off Broadway. In 1910 the General Film Exchange was established in the 200 block of W. 2nd Street. By 1928 numerous exchanges operated all over Oklahoma City and served the entire state of Oklahoma and the panhandle of Texas.
Exchanges like MGM and United Artists operated near the corner of NW 23rd and Classen (today a former bank drive-thru). Paramount Pictures operated across the street from Oklahoma City’s beautiful Carnegie Library at 133 W. 3rd Street by 1919. In the mid 1920’s Fox Film was among the studios who came together on the corner of SW 5th and Robinson in what may be the first dedicated Film Exchange structure, while others remained strewn across the city. But the extremely flammable nature of the nitrate film stock stored in these exchange locations may have forced studios to relocate away from the downtown area. By 1930, almost all of the studio offices had moved along Grand Avenue (now Sheridan) and would remain for nearly six decades.
Throughout the 1930’s this small stretch of Sheridan Avenue was affectionately dubbed Film Row. It was here, that theater owners came to screen and lease films for their movie houses. Film Row further offered ancillary wares like posters, projectors, concessions, and much more. Maxine Peek, owner of the former Oklahoma Theatre Supply Company at 628 W. Sheridan, once shared how because of the combustible nature of the nitrate film, her husband would go out and replace an entire projection room at least every two weeks! She also shared how the introduction of ‘talkies’, movies with sound, landed her company contracts to install sound systems in former silent theatres across Oklahoma and the surrounding states.
The Peeks constructed their new Oklahoma Theater Supply Company building in 1946, right next door to Warner Brothers at 630 W. Sheridan. National Screen Services, who controlled the distribution of theatrical advertising materials in the United States from approximately 1940 through the 1980’s operated on the opposite side of the Theatre Supply. All three buildings are among those still standing.
Business boomed along the row as movie theatres became air-conditioned and theater goers were mesmerized by color films, starting with the Wizard of Oz in 1939. But by the end of the 1940s, households would embrace television. It would be in the Oklahoma City Video Vumore and former Paramount Pictures building that the most popular entertainment creation ever conceived would emerge.
In the late 1940’s, Henry Griffing, of the mogul Griffith Entertainment companies, believed that television audiences would pay a monthly subscription fee to view movies commercial free in their homes. Together with Milton Jerrold Shapp, the first installation of Tele-TV (also called CATV or Community Antenna Television), which operated from Video Vumore’s headquarters at 11 N. Lee Avenue, took place in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The Bartlesville Pay TV system opened with the exhibition of The Pajama Game (starring Doris Day), which had just been released in theaters – marking the birth of cable television in the United States.
Through the next two decades the popularity of Drive-In theaters and teen target audiences further added to the success of the Film Exchange. The Oklahoma Theatre Supply Company became the top installer of drive-in speaker systems for numerous drive-in theatres across Oklahoma and the surrounding states. For their efforts, a gold drive-in speaker, celebrating the one-millionth installation was presented to owners Maxine and Eldon Peek. But film fortunes suddenly changed as the advent of technology and economic downturn brought exchanges across the US to a close.
By the 1970’s the only films turning a profit were ‘skin flicks’. But it wasn’t enough and by 1971 Columbia Pictures departed Oklahoma City without fanfare. In 1983 Cablecom General, the last of the entertainment distributors along Film Row ceased operations, shutting down the City’s exchanges and signaling an end for the nationwide film exchange network. By the 1980’s most of Film Row would become a haven for bars, prostitutions, and drugs. As jobless rates and drug use soared, many of the homeless converged on the former Film Row, prompting one headline in the Oklahoma City Times to refer to it as Skid Row.
As the dust settled from the destructive onslaught of urban renewal, the former Film Row stood amazingly intact, although surrounded by homeless and aid shelters. Few businesses, other than bars operated in the area over the next three decades. Only the Oklahoma Theatre Supply Company would continue into the 21st century under the single owner and operator, Maxine Peek. But sales would become limited to popcorn and ancillary concessions among schools and some local theaters. In August 2004, Maxine Peek passed away, 2 months after closing her business of seventy plus years.
Now, nearly thirty-five years after the film exchange disappeared, structures that were facing destruction are being rediscovered and restored for future generations. Starting in 2003, two men, David Wanzer and Bradley Wynn came together and presented a vision of what could revive the film row area to city planners. Wanzer focused on the historic structures of Film Row, while Bradley looked beyond Sheridan Avenue and toward an eventual District. Together, they convinced property owners, city planners, and businessmen to invest in the area, saving it from destruction. By 2007 the small strip of film related buildings were listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Oklahoma City Film District was born.
Today, this young district is emerging as the new hot spot of downtown Oklahoma City as new businesses emerge in the former derelict buildings, including one art gallery. Bordered by Walker Avenue, SW 2nd, Classen Boulevard, and SW 1st & Colcord Drive, the district encloses approximately forty-two square blocks. Streetscape efforts and strong investment from visionaries like entrepreneur John “Chip” Fudge, area property owners, businessmen, and City Planners are quickly brushing away the veil of time and revealing the only known complete film exchange still standing in the nation.
Only now, is the story of this amazing downtown area being uncovered, little by little, piece-by-piece, and photo-by-photo. It’s hard to imagine this unique jewel was almost lost to time. Perhaps with a little more time, it will serve Oklahoma City and her citizens again in ways they can only imagine for decades to come.
To learn more, you can contact Bradley Wynn at email@example.com or visit his Oklahoma City Film Exchange District Facebook Web Page.