The sad saga of the destruction of John Johansen’s Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City has just gotten even sadder. AN has reported numerous times on the effort to save Johansen’s 1970 tour de force Stage Center theater, but that battle was lost in 2015 when the extraordinary building was destroyed to make way for a complex of four corporate towers designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects. The theater was destroyed and the site is now a vacant lot with a large rainwater-filled hole in downtown Oklahoma City. The Oklahoman newspaper and its reporter Steve Lackmeyer report that the tower project, meant to be a home for OGE Energy Corporation, has been put on hold due to the downturn in oil prices by its developer and builder Clayco. But Lackmeyer reports that the story is more complicated and may in part have been stopped because the developers wanted a government subsidy to build the project and it was not forthcoming. OGE acknowledged that “their vision is no longer feasible (and) this is a prime site and deserving of a bold development and OGE is committed to preserving it.” How sad that the site once had one of the boldest buildings in the United States and certainly the most distinguished work of architecture in the city and was destroyed to make way for a failed “bold development.”
Posts tagged with "John Johansen":
[Editor’s Note: Opinions expressed in letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions or sentiments of the newspaper. AN welcomes reader letters, which could appear in our regional print editions. To share your opinion, please email email@example.com. ] Thank you for your piece on Oklahoma City—much needed attention to what is happening there. Having grown up in Edmond, just north, I have watched good buildings disappear over time. Seeing Johansen’s model of Mummers Theater as a child was the first I became aware of architecture and that buildings could be different. I was truly amazed that what I was seeing was a theater! It was heartbreaking to watch it come down and I am still suffering from survivor’s guilt. I very likely would not be an architect if not for that building. Much of the concern over the fate of these buildings come from the coasts and I know that your work will help inspire the many in Oklahoma who value architectural diversity. Lyn Rice Terreform-ative
Despite pleas for preservation from some of the nation’s top architects, demolition work has begun on a nationally significant example of “Brutalist” architecture in north America, the 1967 Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland, designed by the late John M. Johansen. A yellow backhoe with a spike-like attachment began chipping into the theater’s concrete exterior earlier this month, ending any chance that the building could be saved. One local preservationist was able to salvage the original letters from the building, but nothing else. The Mechanic is one of two major Brutalist works by Johansen targeted for demolition in recent years, along with the 1970 Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Owners of the Baltimore theater, a development group headed by David S. Brown Enterprises, plan to replace it with a high rise containing 476 residences and street level commercial space. Shalom Baranes Associates of Washington is the architect. Named for local businessman Morris Mechanic, who built it, the 1,600 seat theater at 1 N. Charles Street was designed to be the sculptural centerpiece of Charles Center, a 33-acre renewal project in downtown Baltimore. When it opened, the theater was hailed as a symbol of the city’s rejuvenation. The building was considered a prime example of the architectural movement known as “Brutalism” or “New Brutalism,” because it involved creating an unadorned, free form building with raw concrete -- “breton brut” in French. Johansen, a pioneer in the movement, described the theater as “functional expressionalism,” because the exterior was designed to express what was going on inside The building received numerous awards and accolades in architectural circles, but it also sparked controversy. One theater critic, unimpressed with the exposed concrete interior, lamented that going to the Mechanic was like watching performances inside a storm drain. A public official likened its shape to that of a poached egg on toast. In 2009, it was ranked Number One on a British publication’s list of the “World’s Top Ten Ugliest Buildings.” Johansen defended it to the end. “The Mechanic Theatre is one of my favorites,” he said in 2007. “It’s right up there at the top of the list. It’s a dear, dear building. It’s not brutalistic, as some say. It’s like a flower, opening its petals. It has drawing power.” The theater closed in 2004, after a larger performing arts center opened in the restored 1914 Hippodrome Theater several blocks away, with more seats and backstage facilities designed to accommodate touring Broadway style shows. The Mechanic was dormant for years, and eventually was acquired by Brown and owners of a parking garage underneath. They initially asked Baranes to prepare a design that retained most of the theater’s shell as part of a larger development, but opposed efforts to have the theater designated a city landmark -- a warning signal to preservationists. Before he died in 2012 at age 96, Johansen, the last of the “Harvard Five,” pleaded with Baltimore officials to designate the theater a landmark and not issue a demolition permit. To support his case, he submitted a hand-drawn design showing how the theater could be incorporated into a larger mixed use center. More than a dozen well known architects wrote letters to the city supporting landmark designation, including Hugh Hardy, Richard Rogers, Richard Meier, Kevin Roche, and James Stewart Polshek, who urged public officials to save the building from “the wrecking ball of greed.” Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation added the Mechanic to a “special list” that offered temporary protection from demolition. But two other civic bodies in Baltimore, the Planning Commission and City Council, never agreed to add it to the city’s permanent landmark list, which would have given it more protection. Saying they could find no tenants for the repurposed theater after years of looking, the developers abandoned their initial plans, asked Baranes to design a mixed use development without the theater on the site, and applied for a demolition permit. They waited out the six month protection period afforded by the preservation panel’s emergency listing and received their demolition permit earlier this year.
[Editor's Note: The following are reader-submitted responses to the editorial “Acceptable if not Noble” (AN 03_04.30.2014_SW), which considered the imminent demolition of John Johansen’s Mummer’s Theater in Oklahoma City and the renovation of Ulrich Franzen’s Alley Theatre in Houston. Opinions expressed in letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions or sentiments of the newspaper. AN welcomes reader letters, which could appear in our regional print editions. To share your opinion, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. ] There were local groups working hard to preserve and repurpose the Mummers Theater and conceptual plans put forth that incorporated the existing theater into a larger cultural and commercial mixed-use complex. My father supported and encouraged these efforts as an important and necessary evolution of this building, and architecture in general, to reinvent itself by adapting and embracing new ideas and technology. The counterforce was money in the hands of opportunistic, short sighted men and women with too much power and too little imagination. Christen Johansen Rhode Island School of Design Franzen would have added the fly loft. And zinc cladding does not exactly bring to mind corporate office buildings. Craig Hunt
Fans of John Johansen's legendary Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City have yet another reason to shake their heads in amazement. Not only is the idiosyncratic modern masterpiece set for a date with the wrecking ball, there is now a proposal for the building that may replace it. Kestrel Investments has filed an application with the Oklahoma City Planning Department to demolish Mummers—now known as Stage Center—and put in its place a 14- to 16-story tower that would become the headquarters of OGE Energy Corp. Designed by local architectural practice ADG, the $100 million proposal master plan also includes a second tower of eight-to-12 stories that would be developed separately. Both towers are located adjacent to a multi-story parking structure that includes retail and restaurants. A daycare and play area will overlook Oklahoma City's Festival Square. If approved, the project could begin construction as soon as 2015 with completion of the first tower slated for 2017. In July, Kestrel purchased the site for $4.275 million from the Kirkpatrick Center Affiliated Fund of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, which acquired it from the Arts Council of Oklahoma City after floodwaters and vandals damaged the theater in 2010. The fate of Mummers now rests in the hands of the Downtown Design Review Committee, which must approve the demolition permit before Kestrel can clear the site and start construction on its new development. But Johansen's masterpiece won't go down without a plaque, or something, in memorialis. Rainy Williams Jr., Kestrel's president, told The Oklahoman that he hopes to include a tribute to Mummers as part of the new project. "Our thought is that it will be something to recognize the architectural significance of Stage Center, and hope to do something that marks that legacy and seek ideas from the arts community as to what that might be," he said.
[Editor's Note: Tracey Zeeck is an Oklahoma native and resident who has been leading the effort to save and preserve John Johansen's classic Mummers Theater in that city. She responds here to a letter to the editor in the Oklahoma Gazette. ] In 2012, armed with good intentions and a passionate group of friends and family, Farooq Karim of REES Associates and I decided to respond to an RFP and save John Johansen's Oklahoma City masterpiece, Stage Center (Mummers Theater) from the wrecking ball. We would turn this vestige of 1970s brutalism into a children's museum and light up downtown with joyful sounds of creative play. We had two months to create the plan, submit the RFP and raise $30,000,000. We didn't make it. Fast forward to 2013: Johansen, who had blessed our transformation plan, has since passed away and an Oklahoma City developer has purchased the property. He will tear it down and build in its place a 20-story office building next to our city’s newest monument, a 50-story glass building housing an oil & gas company. I recently stumbled upon this letter to the editor in the Oklahoma Gazette, and finally there are words…
“Tinker toys” they say “grain elevator, cotton gin.” and I say yes Art in imitation of the functional The compartmentalized sphered cube holistic three-dimensional sculpture holding sculpture. Let’s say a tribute to the workplace of the farmers hip deep in their work using sheet and cast metal enhancements and to construction workers birthing steel-boned concrete poured with native stone and sand, transcendent technology saving backs, protecting the future So sons and daughters could be teachers and doctors And their progeny artists and philosophers. Is this hearing place obsolete? After founding, nursing, and sustaining numerous theater companies, those ineffable entities, neither thing nor place, nor just knots of artists contending with themselves, but also made of the eyes and ears of those who looked outside the TV sets of the last forty years, the CinemaScope, and now away from the handheld screen with tight drawn hoodie, and listened with tears and laughed out loud, actors holding in compliment, in concert with their momentary peers.Read the full poem at the Oklahoma Gazette website.
Oklahoma City investment company Kestrel Investments has purchased recently deceased architect John Johansen's Mummers Theater for $4.275 million and plans to demolish the revolutionary building to construct a 20-plus story mixed use tower in its place. The news came as a blow to local and national preservation groups who worked unsuccessfully to save the groundbreaking architectural work by finding a new tenant and use for the idiosyncratic structure. Johansen completed Mummers in 1970 during a heady period of experimentation within the fields of art and architecture. His decision to separate out the facility's program elements and mechanical systems into discreet enclosures linked by bridges and tubes was inspired by the assemblies of electronic chip boards and established a hitherto unknown vocabulary for architecture. The building was renovated in the 1990s by Oklahoma City firm Elliott+ Associates Architects and rebranded Stage Center. It was closed after extensive flooding damaged the facility in 2010. According to News OK, The Oklahoma City Community Foundation gave the Central Oklahoma Chapter of the AIA five months to find a buyer for the site. When no buyer stepped forward, Kestrel's bid was accepted. No architect has been announced, nor designs unveiled, for the new tower. Kestrel is still working on finding an anchor tenant for the development. If and when the project goes through it will be the first new speculative Class A office space to be built in downtown Oklahoma City in 30 years.