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Civic Center approved this week ... a long time ago PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jack Money   
Friday, 29 August 2008 13:45

Oklahoma Cityans took the first vital step to shaping the downtown they have today 73 years ago when they voted overwhelmingly to build a new civic center for their community.

Planners proposed a complex of buildings, consisting of a municipal auditorium, a City Hall and a new county courthouse.

Plans for the work, undertaken by the nation’s Public Works Administration, were unveiled in July 1935, and estimates were that a force of 398 men could build the projects during an 18-month-long period. (1)

A month before the election, they released a site design, proposing to build both the new courthouse and city hall between Walker and Hudson Avenues, and building the municipal auditorium between Dewey and Lee Avenues. (2)

After voters approved the bonds for the work, architects revised the plans, moving the courthouse to its present-day location between Hudson and Harvey Avenues. (3)    

Within months of the election, contracts for all of the work, except for city hall, were issued. In January 1936, workers moved a high pressure water line away from the municipal auditorium site.

A legal battle over some of the land involved in the project made its way entirely to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the cases were merely distractions as work continued on the three separate buildings. (4)

“I see no reason why the decision should interrupt construction,” said Col. Philip S Donnell, administrator of the Public Works Administration in Oklahoma.

In April, 1937, The Oklahoman proudly published details about the new city hall. (5) In September 1937, the Municipal Auditorium opened with a sporting event, and the county courthouse opened for business as well. (6) In December 1937, performer Joseph Meier, who portrayed Christ in the Luenen Passion Play, praised the auditorium for its acoustics. His only complaint? The hall had no organ.

“But that is such a small point when you think of the beautiful building and auditorium,” Meier said. (7)

And in June, 1938, judges opted to let attorneys remove their coats to handle the heat in that building. (8) Of course, as with any building that is used for decades, improvements have to be made. In February 1964, a campaign started to renovate the municipal auditorium, turning it into more of a concert hall and less of a multi-purpose building.

In February 1965, Oklahoma County voters approved a $5.75 million bond issue to build an annex to the county courthouse building. (9) The Oklahoma City Progress Committee, formed to push for the needed improvements after voters rejected the plan in an earlier election, was pleased with the latest election’s results.

“Much credit should go to civic leaders not only in Oklahoma City, but in surrounding city and suburban areas,” said J. Wiley Richardson, a member of the group.

In January 1967, city leaders celebrated a remodeling of the municipal auditorium that turned it more into a concert hall. The work was paid for with a $500,000 bond issue approved by voters. Former Mayor James H. Norick invited the entire city to come check the building out during a two-hour open house after a christening performance. (10)

A promoter of Broadway shows, however, joined other hall users in complaining about fee increases the city implemented to use the facility after its remodeling. Vinita Cravens said it simply was a question of economics. (11)

“I cannot pay it, and if the council sanctions the increase I will have to add it to the price of the ticket. This will mean the taxpayer is paying for it twice, in view of the fact he is already paying for the renovation of the hall through bond issue funds,” she said.

In 1990, Oklahoma City began looking for room to expand its operation in City Hall. The city ultimately bought two nearby buildings, remodeling them and moving many of its employees into those buildings. The work was paid for using about $4 million from the city’s capital improvement fund and $9.7 million from bond funds. (12)

In 1998, workers tore into the Civic Center Music Hall, undertaking a $52.6 million, 36-month-long job that basically rebuilt the building’s substructure, performance hall and backstage areas while still leaving the old building’s exterior in tact.

Like the 1960s remodel, user groups objected proposed increased user fees to help pay for the job. But by the time it was done in October 2001, no one was complaining. (13)

“It’s a wonderful hall,” said Jim Brown, the hall’s general manager. “And as soon as the contractors are out of here, it will be just absolutely fantastic.”

1.) “Civic Center Building Plan Offers Big Source of Jobs,” The Oklahoman, July 28, 1935

2.) “Experts Pick Locations for Civic Center,” The Oklahoman, Aug. 6, 1935

3.) “Fountain Will Be Planned In Building Area,” The Oklahoman, Sept. 10, 1935

4.) “Civic Center Work Pushed Despite Blow,” The Oklahoman, March 3, 1936

5.) “Municipal Building Described,” The Oklahoman, April 18, 1937

6.) “Courthouse Phone Girls Are Busy Lot,” The Oklahoman, Oct. 10, 1937

7.) “Civic Center Hall Praised,” The Oklahoman, Dec. 30, 1937

8.) “Courthouse Ready To Take Off Coats,” The Oklahoman, June 19, 1938

9.) “All County Bond Issues Win,” The Oklahoman, Feb. 10, 1965

10.) “Civic Music Hall Debuts,” The Oklahoman, Jan. 6, 1967

11.) “Music Hall Hike Protested,” The Oklahoman, Jan. 9, 1967

12.) “Workers Moving Offices for City Hall Renovation,” The Oklahoman, Dec. 3, 1993

13.)"Music Hall sets tone of excitement," The Oklahoman, Oct. 26, 2001

Last Updated on Monday, 01 September 2008 14:44