Dennis Wells, you are the man. Just when I start to spiral into that dreaded blogger burnout, you provide me with exactly what I need to get going again.
So let’s get this discussion started. First, those of you who have attended presentations by Jack Money and I on our book, “OKC Second Time Around,” might recall that one of our favorite lines is that the 1993 MAPS initiative was a trick – that it was very much a revival of the much hated Urban Renewal program. Further, it has always seemed as if the Myriad Gardens, and the 1989 relocation of the Spring Arts Festival, might have provided the opening for this “trick” to be played.
So imagine my amusement when Dennis today emailed an article from the latest issue of Architect magazine. I think I’ll let do the story do the rest of the talking here and then we’ll pick up the discussion in the comments that follow:
Past Progressives: Greening the City
1973 P/A Award: Myriad Botanical Gardens, Conklin & Rossant
Source: ARCHITECT Magazine
Publication date: March 1, 2009
When the 1973 P/A Awards jury met, the era of federally funded urban renewal was ending, but the dream of transforming urban downtowns remained compelling. The Myriad Gardens plan for Oklahoma City received a rarely bestowed First Award.
The scheme departed radically from renewal precedents by proposing a downtown botanical garden. Its architects, Conklin & Rossant of New York, hadn’t been asked to design a garden, but rather to propose uses for a 17-acre renewal tract. They won the commission with their concept of exposing an underground watercourse as a pond, then bridging it with a conservatory.
Architect William Conklin reports that the P/A Award gave crucial encouragement to civic leaders and donors hoping to expand on the design prestige generated by juror John Johansen’s 1970 Mummers Theater on an adjoining block. Fundraising for the gardens suffered from the vagaries of Oklahoma’s oil-based economy. Construction of the conservatory took place from 1981 to 1985, but its tropical plantings weren’t ready for public view until 1988.
Many planned ancillary facilities such as restaurants, galleries, and cinemas were eliminated—and aren’t missed. One surviving feature is a pond-side amphitheater, site of a popular annual Shakespeare series. Ongoing renovations to the complex will soon include overdue replacement of the conservatory’s acrylic glazing.
The urban revival now apparent in Oklahoma City gathered momentum only in the 1990s, after the gardens were completed. Clearly, this unique amenity has helped to attract further investment and activity to this once-forlorn downtown.
1973 P/A Awards Jury: Arthur Erickson, Hugh Hardy, John Johansen, William LeMessurier, and Donald Stull
Yes, yes, I know it’s in downtown Tulsa, not in downtown Oklahoma City. And yes, I realize there are those of you who might take this post as a sign that OKC Central is being taken over by the Tulsa World. Now, relax, and take this as it’s intended – an interesting glimpse at the renovations underway at the Mayo Hotel in Tulsa. It’s a cool project, and the Mayo is to Tulsa what the Skirvin is to Oklahoma City. Both hotels share glorious pasts through the 1960s, only to be sadly neglected in the 1980s and 1990s. We all know about the Skirvin’s rebirth; it’s interesting to compare it to what’s underway at the Mayo.
The player, by the way, is a bit weird. Just hit the first button on the left bottom row that says “Mayo.”
Oh my, oh my. I would not have wanted to be John Yoeckel today.
For those of you who don’t know John, he’s a well respected civic leader and a member of the city’s Board of Adjustment.
It’s his job to make someone very, very happy or very, very unhappy. Sometimes his vote, along with three other board members, can end up with both results.
Today was one of those days. And oh, how difficult it was to face disappointing either side.
On both sides you had top notch attorneys and well-known architects and urban pioneers.
Both sides represent residents of a MidTown neighborhood who clearly love their community, are doing everything to bring it back to life, and yet can’t even agree what to call it or what it should be.
Yeah, this was a fun case – and the stakes were nothing less than the redefinition of a neighborhood.
The neighborhood in question is defined as follows by the MidTown Association:
Located in the west central portion of MidTown, the Cottage District is characterized by older single family cottages and bungalows. This area contains Red Andrews Park and Municipal Gym, Emerson
School, and considerable amounts of vacant land.
So, let’s meet the two sides:
SoSA (South of Saint Anthony) Neighborhood: Architect Dennis Wells coined the proposed renaming of “the Cottage District,” noting its eclectic mix does not match its name. And indeed, long before this battle began I wrote a story noting the diversity of this neighborhood. Wells allies include architect Bryan Fitzsimmons, who like Wells has recently built a modern home in area that certainly isn’t your standard Dallas style suburban home in Deer Creek.
Cottage District: Randy Floyd and Michael Smith were pioneers in this neighborhood long before Wells and Fitzsimmons. They took a chance on a row of territorial era homes, and their renovations showed that the neighborhood once overrun with drug dealers and prostitutes was ready for a revival. And now for some history:If you go to Bricktown, there is enough urban fabric (brick warehouses) that one can say “this is the area’s character, here’s how it should guide designs for new construction and renovations.” Same can be said for Automobile Alley and the Asian District. But how does one judge the Cottage District/SoSA?Do we judge the area and set design guidelines based on the neighborhood’s original housing stock? That’s a problem for some because so many of the homes were torn down and left as either empty lots, or rebuilt as …
Modern Design Homes.
Yep, the neighborhood has plenty of it. The Classen Glen condominiums set the tone a quarter century ago and Fitzsimmons put an exclamation point on it with his own new home a few years back.
Then came Wells, and now comes yet another proposed modern home.The home, designed for Bill Lovallo by Fitzsimmons, is a two-story, 1,730-square-foot house that would sit atop a sloped lot at 825 NW 7. And while the home lines up with others on the street, a second level fronted with glass panels would face out closer to the street than most of the other homes.
Smith and Floyd argued at a November meeting of the Urban Design Commission that the project violated the neighborhood’s setback requirements. But Lovallo and Fitzsimmons responded that it was in line with at least one other home at NW 7 and Shartel.
That home, an older structure that went through a renovation deemed substandard by many in the neighborhood, was promptly declared an anomaly by Smith and Floyd as they sought to overturn the design committee’s ruling to the Board of Adjustment on Thursday.Smith and Floyd were represented by attorney Leslie Batchelor, who is also a well known innercity advocate and civic leader.
Lovallo and Fitzsimmons, meanwhile, were represented by high-powered and respected attorney Michael Laird, who is also no stranger to urban issues.
Watching the proceedings, I knew that John Yoeckel would end up being the first guy to show his hand. He spoke of his admiration for both sides, and then he announced his vote – he would uphold Randy Floyd’s challenge. He cited the city’s original zoning intent and setbacks as being more important than the anomaly at 829 NW 7.
Next up, board member Stephen Dobbs, who noted there is no allowance for exclusions of “anomalies.”The vote is 1-1. And the deciding vote is left up to Rod Baker, who was absent, and David Wanzer, who had to recuse himself due to ties to Fitzsimmons.
And so we wait for yet another day on this matter to be decided. And one can only imagine the fun John will have at the next downtown social.
For those who follow this blog and my column, you know I’ve written qutie a bit about the potential of a School of Rock making the old Fred Jones Ford factory its long-term future home. But like many people, I got tripped up on whether to refer to the area as Film Row or the Film Exchange. Developer Chip Fudge recently wrote and offered the following bit of education on the area:
Thank you for all of the recent press regarding the Film Exchange District and Historic Film Row.We love the idea of UCO’s collaboration for the “School of Rock”.
I believe Roger Webb and Scott Booker have a very forward thinking vision for this type of public/private partnership and it will be great for our community.
It dawned on me that we have done a poor job of explaining the difference between “The Film Exchange District” and “Historic Film Row”. The District is shaped like a piano (see attachment in orange) and borders Classen on the West, Hudson and Walker on the East, the Arts District on the North and the new I-40/Boulevard on the South. It encompasses a much larger area than Film Row.
“Historic Film Row” refers to the two block area on the 600 and 700 blocks of Sheridan extending North and South from California to Main. “Historic Film Row” is the specific area that was placed on the National Historic Register last year with a great deal of help from the State Historic Preservation office and the documented historical significance by local designer David Wanzer. Historic Film Row was the home of various movie houses: 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures, M-G-M Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Republic Pictures, RKO Radio Pictures, United Artists, Universal Pictures, and Warner Brothers. They used these properties to screen the new films and exchange or distribute them to regional theaters.
Besides the great historic buildings in our District, the area comes with a variety of tax incentives for owners and developers, new market tax credits, state and federal rehabilitation tax credits for historically significant properties, and many employee related tax incentives for companies that relocate to our District.
I am sending this email to Fred and Kirk Hall, along with your article from December 2nd, so that they are in the loop. Feel free to use any or all of this information in any future articles as you wish.
Finally, this project would not have progressed to this point without all of the help from the City of Oklahoma City, specifically Robbie Kienzle, Brent Bryant, Cathy O’Connor, Ann Simank, and many others. As we have discussed in the past, I do not consider myself much of a developer. I have a day job that keeps me busy.
I like to put back together older properties for fun and sometimes for profit. One added benefit has been the education I have received about our homeless issue. I had the opportunity to serve on the Mayor’s “Homeless Task Force” committee and we have great communication with Tom Jones of City Rescue, Dan Straughan of the Homeless Alliance, and now Tim Ulrich of the Refuge Oklahoma City Mission. The Hart building and parking lots will be the anchor of the West end of our District, directly across the street from City Rescue. The bottom line, we are comfortable with our office next to the homeless shelters.
Thanks again for your support. I know we both have a love of the rich history of the great historic buildings in our community. I will keep you posted on all future progress.
Sincerely, John M. “Chip” Fudge
Businessman, Part-time Developer
Watch the council discussion of the Bricktown fire station by going to this link and fast forwarding to 11:30 on the time bar.
“That picture we have, we’re not happy with it. It’s not what we want to build.”
That’s a quote from my conversation today with Deputy Fire Chief Cecil Clay concerning renderings of the proposed Bricktown fire station – drawings that were submitted to the Oklahoma City Council for approval of preliminary design and an ok to move forward with bringing them to final design.
The conversation was like he was speaking Greek and I was speaking Chinese. Both Clay and Fire Chief Keith Bryant said today they want a station that will fit into Bricktown. He kept insisting that I needed to see the drawings of what the interior set-up will be. I kept trying to explain the interiors are of no concern to Bricktown Urban Design or my readers and that they were concerned with the exterior. He kept saying that the exteriors at this stage don’t matter – that they weren’t important to what was being submitted to the city council. I got no impression that they truly understand what it might mean to design a building that is an appropriate fit for a historic urban design district.
Here’s an email I sent to Clay after the conversation:
Cecil, thanks for visiting with me today about the Bricktown fire station design. The following is what I took out of our conversation:
1. The Oklahoma City Fire Department will submit the fire station design to Bricktown Urban Design when the design meets with fire administration approval.
2. The Oklahoma City Fire Department realizes it might have to make substantial changes to the station design if it is rejected by Bricktown Urban Design.
3. You’re not sure how the drawings I posted on the blog were included in the request for approval of preliminary design submitted today to the Oklahoma City Council. You said the council could have approved preliminary design without any exterior renderings.
4. You said the designs I posted are not acceptable to fire administration (something repeated to me earlier today by Chief Keith Bryant).
5. You said changes might include globes and a tower similar to features on the Bricktown police substation.
6. You said the existing station at NE 8 and Lincoln is outdated and can’t be rebuilt at the current site because that land is being requested by the OU Medical Center/Oklahoma Health Center.
7. You said no other locations could be found around Bricktown and no land could be bought along the industrial corridor along nearby E Reno.
8. You said the fire adminstration’s focus has been on interior function. You said that like many houses being built today, you can place any exterior around an interior once the interior is set.
9. You said the pitched metal roof shown on the station design is in keeping with the historic Bricktown warehouse look and that it would be more cost effective on long-term maintenance.
10. You said that to service the people who visit Bricktown, the station needs to be in Bricktown.
11. You said that cost restraints are an issue with this project.
12. You said Bricktown is an appropriate location for a fire station.
13. You said the cost and time needed to redesign won’t be cited as a reason to refuse any changes that might be cited by the Bricktown Urban Design Committee.
14. You said the architects, LWPB, were selected for their experience designing fire stations, and acknowledged you had no awareness of any experience they might have designing structures within historic districts.
Here is Deputy Clay’s response:
Steve,I would once again bring up the fact that the Brick Town Station was voted on in the 2000 bond.
The bond issue stated the station was for the Brick Town area and the bond was listed funds.
I would again let you know I’m available to go over everything I have done on this project.
Cecil W. Clay
Oklahoma City Fire Department
Respond Quickly, Safely, Courteously– Meet the Need!
So here’s the latest on the Bricktown fire station designs. Avis Scaramucci, chair of the Bricktown Association and a member of the Bricktown Design Review Committee, spoke late this afternoon with City Manager Jim Couch.
Now, before I tell you what Couch had to say, consider the following:
- I was told by Assistant City Planner Susan Miller the project should have been submitted to the Bricktown Design Review Committee and was uncertain why it hadn’t been.
- Fire Chief Keith Bryant told me he’s not ready for this preliminary design to be submitted to the Bricktown Design Review Committee. He said he wanted to make sure the designs were complete before sending them to the committee. So, the council is being asked Tuesday to approve preliminary designs without the benefit of knowing whether Bricktown might hate them or whether they’re any good. And Bryant is to have us believe that the city is prepared to scrap the “final” designs and start from scratch if they are rejected by the urban design committee. History tells me that if the design committee were to balk, they’d be told it’s too late and too much time and money has been spent to start over.
- Public Works Director Dennis Clowers pretty much said the same as Bryant, adding the project went significantly over budget already. Does that indicate to you the city would have the resources to start over again once the designs are complete?
So now let’s move onto Avis Scaramucci’s conversation with Jim Couch. He told her it’s city policy to have council approve project designs first, and then have them go to design review committees. If this is policy, it must be fairly new because I’m not so certain I’ve seen it in practiced previously. And come to think of it, I’d be curious as to whether the Walnut Avenue bridge, or the Bricktown police substation ever went through design review.
What I do know is that city staff isn’t perfect. They make mistakes. I make mistakes. I do know the city hasn’t always played by the rules its imposed on the private side. I’ve seen privately sponsored public art projects grind to a virtual halt going through the tedius oversight of the Oklahoma City Arts Commission. No such delays were encountered with the Land Run Monument – city staff simply skipped the commission altogether.
I’m not sure if the city intended to skip Bricktown Urban Design or not. But I do question the logic of having the city council approve preliminary designs and allow them to be finalized without knowing that they are being critized within Bricktown. I’ll be at City Hall in the morning – maybe someone will educate me then.
It’s been suggested by a reader who also happens to be an architect that these Bricktown fire station designs look as if they were “value engineered” – city speak for cutting design features to keep the station within budget. But how can the city insist that private enterprise spend more, or be more creative at doing good design while keeping costs down, if it’s not willing to set the example.
McDonalds insisted it had to duplicate a suburban design already built in Mustang when it wanted to build in Bricktown – but the Bricktown Urban Design Committee didn’t cave when threatened with the possibility the restaurant wouldn’t get built. And guess what – McDonalds came around and found a way to design the restaurant so that it fit into Bricktown.
This project has been mired in controversy for the past several years. Remember, this is not a station that Bricktown merchants or property owners wanted or asked for. They privately fought against it, worried about fire engines racing down Sheridan Avenue, a pedestrian-heavy traffic corridor.
At least one Bricktown merchant swears that this station will result in a pedestrian getting hit by a fire engine racing to a medical call or accident. And such worries have been expressed to city officials in the past, so one must wonder what their liability will be if this comes to pass. Will an attorney dig up these warnings and then use them to get a big hefty settlement from taxpayers?
It was the city staff who insisted it had to build a new station in Bricktown and eliminate the one in the Oklahoma Health Center. And it was Assistant City Manager Jim Thompson who promised the Bricktown Association the station design would be one they could be proud of. So far, the response I’m hearing doesn’t involve a lot of pride.
Question: Is the Bricktown Police Substation something you would point to with pride? Would this fire station design evoke the same response? If this project does involve the old firefighter/police envy, well, sorry firefighters, but you’re not making the greatest impression on readers of OKC Central.
Thanks to poster “lasomeday,” we now have a comparison for the proposed new Bricktown fire station design. I’ve been unable to find a photo of the Mustang fire station complete, but this photo taken in 2005 provides a pretty good idea of what it looks like.
Compare this station to the designs below by LWPB in yesterday’s post. Then compare the fire station designs to the Bricktown police station, which was designed by Small Architects. Which station do you think will catch visitors’ attention and improve impressions of Oklahoma City?
(Photo grabbed from Small Architects site, taken by J.D. Merryweather)