To be perfectly honest I really wasn’t sure what to expect for this marathon field session heading to Oklahoma City. I knew of the rivalry between Tulsa and OK City, and that OK City is the state capital but not much else. Farin and I headed out early one morning (after stopping at Topéca for our road-trip coffee –- make sure you don’t miss this fantastic local coffeehouse).
It is a two-hour drive to Oklahoma City from Tulsa. And what a gorgeous drive it is! Now, I have driven through rural landscapes before, but what strikes me as unique and oddly beautiful are the oil derricks lazily pumping oil -- many of them were just off the interstate.
I have been told that Montana and the Dakotas are big sky country and since I have never been to any of those places I don’t have a comparison -– but to me Oklahoma would rank as one of the top when it comes to big sky country. The sky seems to go on forever. This was particularly evident during our drive back to Tulsa. I kept thinking that I needed to pull over and try to snap a few shots of the sky. However, I have learned that my memory is far better than any picture I could take, so I quickly talked myself out of stopping -– besides we were on I-44 and I wasn’t too keen about pulling off the highway onto the shoulder. What I will share is a painting by Birger Sandzen. For those of you going to Ponca City with Ponca City: Where the 20s Still Roar field session, you might have an opportunity to see this painting in the Public Library. Somehow Sandzen captures the colors we saw in the afternoon sky that day.
So back to Oklahoma City -- Dr. Bob Blackburn and his fabulous team were our guides for the day. Dr. Blackburn will be leading two of the three field sessions heading out to Oklahoma City. For those of you in the know Dr. Blackburn is the featured speaker in Tuesday’s Special Lecture.
The first stop of this field session is at the Murrah Memorial. Initially, I didn’t quite understand why we were stopping here -– isn’t this recent? Well, believe you me, this is a sacred place. I came to understand that some of our preservation colleagues were working in the Journal Record building, which was in the immediate vicinity of the explosion. The damage encompassed a six-block radius. I t is hard for me to imagine seeing it today. The memorial is silent and very moving. It feels like an oasis, a place for reflection. Now I understand why we started our day at the Murrah Bombing Memorial.
Next stop, the Skirvin Hotel; what a gem this is! Where do I begin? This is the kind of project that dogs a city for years and then an investment group -– Marcus Hotels and Resorts to be exact -- comes in after being enticed by the passion, planning, and protection of the SHPO's office and returns this grande dame to her glory days. John Williams, General Manager for the Skirvin, speaks as passionately about the restoration and financing as he does of the history and stories of the “good old days” at the Skirvin Hotel. John’s enthusiasm is contagious and I could just see myself planning to return for her 100th birthday -– which I must add is very tempting. We have been promised that it will be quite the event!
Next stop: the Gold Dome. This 150-foot-diameter dome was an early example of the geodesic dome patented by the Buckminster Fuller and is a 2007 National Honor Award recipient. This is a space that as to be experienced in order to be fully appreciated. Once a bank, the Gold Dome now houses the Oklahoma Main Street program, an eye doctor, restaurant, and multicultural center. Almost all of the original features of this modern gem remain intact.
We ended the day at the Overholser Mansion. This is a work in progress, but let me tell you that it was a treat to get to experience in the interior of this once fine three-story, French Chateau-style house. The weekend before we visited, Liz Carr, the museum director, had been covering everything in plastic to prevent damage to the furniture from falling plaster. It is easy to see why the community cherishes this old lady. Liz has her work cut out for her, but she is enthusiastic about the future of the Overholser Mansion.
I have taken you on an abbreviated version of the day –- mainly hitting the highlights. There is so much more that Dr. Blackburn and his team covered. I will leave it to them to share and you to discover. Make sure you don’t miss this fantastic opportunity to experience Oklahoma City, its neighborhoods, and its treasures!