For awhile there, from the late 60s to the early 80s, it looked like Oklahoma City might erase all architectural traces of its past. Urban renewal cleared whole blocks in an effort to create a modern downtown. Much of the cleared land remained vacant for years as businesses and people continued moving to the suburbs. By the time the city had learned its lesson about the importance of historic preservation to the life of a community, many of the city’s remarkable buildings were already gone.
Perhaps that hard lesson is what made the Skirvin Hotel such an important symbol to the city’s desire for growth and revitalization as the state approached its Centennial year. The hotel had a glorious start in 1911, grew in influence, struggled as Americans embraced their cars and the roadside motels, fell from grace, survived unsuccessful attempts at revival, and had ended up destitute, just waiting for the wrecking ball. But from the street, citizens still saw a beautiful work of art. They held cherished memories of this Grand Dame on Park Avenue. They had slept in its rooms, celebrated at its wedding receptions, dined with family and made business deals in its restaurants. Surely, we couldn’t let this gem go.
Skirvin, by Steve Lackmeyer and Jack Money, is the story of this venerable icon, from glory days to decline and remarkable rebirth as the Skirvin Hilton. But it’s also the story of what people can do when they share a dream.
I heard a rumor at the Skirvin booksigning at the hotel: a similar book may be in the works for Tulsa’s Mayo Hotel, recently restored and reborn as both a hotel and residential address. I can hope and cross my fingers. These two works would make such great bookends for my Oklahoma shelf!
Skirvin is available from Full Circle Bookstore.