A recently opened public space could be the turning point for Tulsa’s Brady Arts District, once known for the race riots that broke out there in 1921 but now the target of a multi-million dollar redevelopment effort.
Guthrie Green celebrated its opening on September 8, two months after its namesake’s birthday. Woody Guthrie would have been 100 years old in July. Wind gusts during the opening ceremonies had some suspecting the Oklahoman folk singer’s ghost was in attendance, said project architect Chris Lilly of Kinslow, Keith & Todd (KTT).
If Guthrie’s spirit lives on in Tulsa it is due to heavy investment from the George Kaiser Family Foundation, a local non-profit which has purchased the comprehensive Woody Guthrie Archives and housed them in the Woody Guthrie Center directly across the street from Guthrie Green. Now Kaiser’s support for projects like Guthrie Green are integrating the city’s assets into a new urban fabric.
“There’s a good blend of new and historic elements,” said Stanton Doyle, senior program officer for Kaiser. “It has kind of helped unite the neighborhood.”
KKT teamed up with SWA Group landscape architects to convert a 2.7-acre truck loading facility into a public park for Tulsa’s burgeoning arts district, north of downtown. Their original idea was to integrate the loading dock directly into the stage design by reusing an original slab from the structure, but that proved infeasible.
“It’s a terrific example of how a city like Tulsa, a second-tier city in population, can use a small site to catalyze redevelopment of a downtown district,” said Elizabeth Shreeve, principal at SWA Group. Ten large fuel tanks excavated during remediation revealed the extent of the site’s industrial legacy. Records indicated the team would recover two such tanks.
The team carried a theme of reinvention through several design elements, starting with a geothermal heat pump system to offset energy costs in a city once known as the oil capital of the world. LED lighting, bioswales, and solar panels on the pavilion add to the green’s environmental profile. Along the west side of the park, a series of “fountain gardens” expresses water in its various forms—steam, bubbling water, mist—to “poetically tie in the idea of the water-based heat pump systems that are creating energy for the area,” explained Shreeve.
The park is just the latest in a series of recent developments for Tulsa, anchored by the Cesar Pelli-designed Bank of Oklahoma Center, a multi-purpose arena nearby. It joins the ONEOK minor league baseball field and the mixed-use One Place, which includes the city’s first high-rise office tower in years.
That momentum is exciting for KKT’s Lilly, who was born and raised in Tulsa. He worked for Pelli Clarke Pelli for four years and returned from the firm’s “culture of learning” ready to help revitalize his hometown. Recent developments hint at a new direction for a once-troubled downtown, whose skyline can be viewed from the new green. That visual connectivity was a goal of the design, Lilly said, as the restrained architecture of the concert pavilion slopes outward to direct views into the park and surrounding areas. In that sense, the project’s community-building effect came to be by design.
Several local businesses reported record sales during the park’s opening weekend, according to Doyle. One would have been hard pressed to find children and families strolling in the district 15 years ago. “I think it opened a lot of peoples’ eyes to the neighborhood, who may not have even known the neighborhood existed,” said Doyle.