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  • Cathy O’Connor

The Opportunities and Responsibilities of Historic Preservation

Oklahoma City’s historic structures tell the story of commerce, culture, civil rights efforts, state history and the business and cultural icons who were key to that history. These often neglected landmarks and buildings are worthy of the thoughtful planning, time and resources necessary to restore and preserve the structures to continue to serve our community.

The preservation of historic structures can make a significant impact on property values and job creation, perhaps even more so in areas of the city that haven’t experienced steady growth. The city has seen great success in creating unique districts and economic hubs, and those efforts are bolstered by the cultural identity of historic buildings. The Alliance for Economic Development is currently involved in efforts to save and restore several historic buildings significant to the black community in Oklahoma City.

Lyons Mansion, Oklahoma City

Lyons Mansion in Oklahoma City's Deep Deuce district was recently acquired by Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority. Image via WikiMedia user MisterBadmoon

Deep Deuce was historically a hub of black culture, art and music in the 1920s and 1930s. One of the few remaining vestiges of that history is the Lyons Mansion. Built in 1926 by S.D. Lyons, founder of the East India Toiletries Company, the mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority, managed by the Alliance for Economic Development, acquired the mansion earlier this year to ensure its preservation.

The Oklahoma City Redevelopment Authority, another entity managed by the Alliance, recently purchased the Brockway Center at 1440 N. Everest. Another historic black landmark, for many years the house served as the local office for the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, an organization fighting for black civil rights.

The Jewel Theatre on Northeast 4th Street was built in 1931 and played a pivotal role in the development of the area. The building now stands as the only remaining historically black theatre in the city. The land use plan for the Innovation District identifies the Jewel Theatre as an important community asset to be preserved. We hope to see the theater become a key component of a larger plan to restore the commercial corridor along Northeast 4th Street.

On the same street, the Henrietta B. Foster Center is slated for redevelopment as a proposed MAPS 4 project. Named for a beloved Oklahoma City school librarian and community advocate, the center was originally built as the only YMCA open to black residents. In the spirit of community equity and learning, the renovations to the center are intended to support and develop minority small business and entrepreneurship.

I look forward to seeing these and other historic properties developed into places that bring people together and contribute to our growing economy. Thoughtful and careful preservation ensures that Oklahoma City maintains its unique cultural heritage while creating new spaces for our future.

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