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.
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[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.
Oklahoma City just cannot tear down its architectural landmarks fast enough! The city and its developer community have been trying to do away with John Johansen's famous Mummers Theater and now David Box, a local developer, wants to get rid of a unique geodesic dome built in 1958 on Route 66. The developer—who claims among other things that the roof leaks and "you can't just call a normal roofer and say hey we got a geodesic dome here can you fix it"—will give anyone who wants the dome a $100,000 bonus to take it off his property so he can fill it in and "make it safe." The structure was originally built to house a bank and has been declared eligible to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 and was designed by local architects Bailey, Bozalis, Dickinson, and Roloff based on Buckminster Fuller's patented dome.
There is some good news coming out of Oklahoma City where the effort to save the late John Johansen's iconic 1970 Mummers Theater has taken a positive—if tentative step—towards preservation. AN last wrote about the theater on May, 11, 2012 when a recent flood in the building seemed to doom an effort by a local group to purchase the facility and turn it into a downtown children's museum. We've kept up with the preservation effort periodically over the past year and always heard that its was a hopeless cause and would soon be destroyed and replaced by a new building. But the building which Johansen himself said "might be taken visually as utter chaos" has a compelling joy in its elevation and plan that makes it unique and certainly the most important structure in Oklahama City. Though it seems to be unloved by many in the local community who would rather see it demolished, Mummers Theater fortunately also has its supporters who want to see it saved and they are taking steps to free it from the wreckers ball. Just this week the Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Office voted unanimously to forward the building to the National Park Service (NPS) for designation as a national monument. Though the owner of the propert,y The Oklahoma Community Foundation, has objected to the listing, its still a positive step for this important building. A designation by the NPS would not in itself offer protection for the building but would be a sign that it has value and merit. So the fate of the building which Johansen said "gives the impression of something in-process" appears to be still that in process. Stay tuned.
John Johansen's iconic Mummers Theater in Oklahoma City may be demolished in the next year. Built with a $1.7 million grant from the Ford Foundation, the so called "Brutalist" building was closed in 2010 due to flooding and a local Oklahoma City group has been trying to purchase it for a downtown children's museum. When the building flooded, the theater moved and ownership of the property was transferred to the Oklahoma City Community Foundation who been negotiating with the museum group to transfer ownership to them. But negotiations have broken down over a request by the Childrens Museum to pay the foundation $25,000 to hold a right of first refusal on any sale of the property for one year. It's a sad day for this great building but the foundation seems determined to do away with it and the estimated cost of $30 million is more than the museum group can raise in a year. Meanwhile Johansen, who was one of our most important architects in the 1960s and 1970s and at 96 lives in Cape Cod, may witness yet another one of his buildings falling to a wrecking ball. His 1967 Mechanics Theater in Baltimore is facing similar fate as preservationists and developers fight over the building. Mechanics Theater was denied landmark status in 2007 and its fate may already be sealed.