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PROTECTING LANDMARKS: Tulsa would be ‘entirely different’ without Preservation Commission

mid continent tower downtown tulsa
Posted at 7:32 AM, May 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-15 10:16:47-04

TULSA, Okla. — One of the most beautiful things about Tulsa is its historic architecture.

The Tulsa Preservation Commission worked for decades to protect that history for the city. The Commission is celebrating its goals on May 15 by awarding those who have played a big role.

Architecture is one way to connect people with a place's history. By strolling through neighborhoods like Swan Lake or The Heights, people can literally immerse themselves in the history.

However, that requires actively preserving the character of these neighborhoods, a job the commission holds.

brady mansion tulsa historic
Brady Mansion is one of the protected properties in the Brady Heights Historic District.

A number of Tulsa landmarks faced the wrecking ball during the 1960s and 70s—such as the Majestic Theater, the Hotel Tulsa, the Akdar Shrine Temple, and the Page Warehouse—according to the Commission’s history.

“Entire neighborhoods were swallowed up by highway-building and other large-scale projects,” it reads.

Citizens’ concerns spurred efforts during the 1970s and 80s to protect T-Town’s iconic buildings and neighborhoods, leading to the creation of oversight bodies and eventually the current Commission in 1988.

One of the commissioners right now, Royce Ellington, told 2 News Tulsa “would be entirely different” if this institution wasn’t created.

“You would see neighborhoods that had houses built in the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s that would have been bulldozed and houses redone in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s," he said.

Here's how historical protection generally works in Tulsa, according to Ellington.

A neighborhood collectively decides to become a historically protected district. This is to preserve its character and look. Once an area becomes one, the properties within it are protected.

swan lake tulsa houses historic
Houses in Swan Lake, one of several historic preservation districts in Tulsa.

Anytime somebody wants to do something to their protected property, they need to go through a permitting and approval process with the Commission.

Ellington said the goal is not just protecting individual buildings—since a neighborhood is more than just a single building, and a city is more than just a single neighborhood.

"Had we not had something to try to preserve and protect those,” he explained, “then what would happen is, we would tear those down and build new or something that's more contemporary. And then we have a hodgepodge of stuff. We would have an old house and new house, and something in between, and this [historical protection] keeps it where the character of neighborhood stay intact, which is it preserves and enriches our history."

the heights tulsa
Brady Heights is one of several historic districts in Tulsa.

The Commission will recognize Tulsans who helped restore or preserve a neighborhood's historical character on May 15.

Whether it was by renovating, rebuilding, or just sprucing up their property, they will hand out awards in a number of categories.

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