In this month’s Preservation magazine, there is an article about Boston’s brutalist-style City Hall that reminded me of Tulsa’s out of favor City Hall, the old City Hall that is. Out of all the buildings in downtown Tulsa, the old City Hall building, perhaps more than any other, will elicit strong opinions, almost all being very negative. When we had the White Glove Open House back in January, I purposefully put a drawing of the building out wanting to see the reactions. I think I heard 3 (maybe) people say that they liked the building. Numerous people commented that it looks much better on paper than in person. Surprisingly, there were quite a few people who upon first glace mistook the old City Hall Building for the Warren Petroleum Building. I won’t tell you what I think of the building, only that it (and the entire Civic Center) is a very important part of Tulsa’s architectural heritage. The Civic Center is representative of Tulsa’s (and the nation’s) post-war optimism that was so strong in the 1950s and 1960s. It was Tulsa’s second major building boom (the first being the 20s and 30s when we built deco instead of modern) and a time when people took great pride in their city and its built environment. The post-war era was a time, like today, when people cared about downtown and wanted to see the area flourish.
Whether you like the building(s) or not, they are a part of Tulsa’s architectural history and we would lose a significant piece of history if the building is demolished, not to mention the enormous amount of material that would go straight to a landfill. I had a professor in grad school that was constantly reminding us that ‘history isn’t always pretty’ and I think that is applicable in this situation (not that I’m saying Old City Hall isn’t pretty, but I know most people don’t think so). I hope that people will recognize the cultural significance of the Old City Hall and realize how shortsighted it would be to demolish such an important piece of Tulsa’s architectural history just because some people don’t like the way it looks. Sure some may think it’s ‘ugly’ now, but there was also a time when people hated Art Deco; I know some may have a hard time believing it, but it’s true. By the time people started realizing how important the Deco buildings from the ’20s and ’30s were, almost half had already been demolished. Thankfully, people stopped before all of our deco buildings were gone. I really hope that we don’t have to demolish half of Tulsa’s iconic mid-century buildings before we realize how important they are.