Preservation Nation

With the recent greenwashing of America, it’s become very fashionable to care about the environment, to practice the three “Rs” (reduce, reuse and recycle) and to “build green.”
One of the ways in which Tulsans have expressed their sustainability savvy is to become suddenly, vehemently possessive of the city’s historical architecture, specifically its unique collection of art deco.
While some locals and organizations, like the Tulsa Preservation Commission and the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture, have had conservationism on the mind long before it was chic, more and more are making an effort to appreciate, preserve and promote local architectural gems.
In October, preservationists flocked to Tulsa for an annual convention, taking notice of and showing appreciation for the outstanding architecture locals sometimes walk past. It was then that the city and the news media went out of their way to promote local art deco, and it was then that locals started to take notice, too.
Show and Tell
In years past, books and other texts have been written about Tulsa’s art deco in an effort to promote and preserve what is still left. Jack Frank, owner of Jack Frank Productions, used those as resources for the latest video in his Fantastic Tulsa Films series, titled Tulsa Deco: A Fun Tour of Art Deco Buildings.
Frank’s first two films are a collection of local, homemade films from the 1920s to present day. As station manager at OETA-Tulsa in the 1990s, Frank began producing stories about Tulsa’s early history and airing home videos from the 1920s and ‘30s. Soon, locals were digging through their closets, attics and garages, finding their own home movies and sending them to Frank. He now has the most extensive collection of local home videos in the state.
His first two films quickly gained popularity for their depiction of Tulsa’s early history through the eyes of the everyman. For his third film, though, he wanted to focus on Tulsa’s art deco, something he feels sets the city apart from others in the country. He used the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s convention in Tulsa as a good excuse to put out a video that would promote the city to outsiders and locals alike.
“I didn’t necessarily want to focus a lot on the past but celebrate what we have today,” said Frank.
What resulted is a fun hour-long video that takes viewers on a tour of some of Tulsa’s most notable and recognizable art deco buildings. While the video provides some historical context, including an account of state of Tulsa as these buildings were being built during the oil boom, Frank said he wanted to tell the story through regular folks who live in Tulsa and appreciate the city’s architecture. He also interviewed a few out-of-towners who had stopped in Tulsa to appreciate the art deco.
Local Pride
“Tulsans often put themselves down or don’t take pride like they should in their town. I wanted to give them something to be proud of,” Frank said.
Some of the buildings on which Tulsa Deco focuses are the Boston Avenue United Methodist Church, 1301 S. Boston Ave.; the Pythian Building, 423 S. Boulder Ave.; the Warehouse Market, 925 S. Elgin Ave.; the Tulsa County Fairgrounds Pavilion, at 17th Street and Louisville Ave.; and the Tulsa Fore Alarm Building, 1010 E. 8th St.
Frank’s video is fun to watch. It is insightful and education without being cheesy, clich√?d or preachy. He said it took about six months to shoot, edit, interview and get the show on DVD.
One of the best elements of the film is Frank’s interview with Robert Powers, who used to head up the Tulsa Historical Society and passed away last year. Frank had kept the interview he had done with Powers in the 1990s for an interview with OETA and used it intermittently throughout the film. The full interview is included on the DVD’s special features and offers additional insight and information into Tulsa’s art deco.
“Powers was the most knowledgeable person about Tulsa history that I’ve ever met,” Frank said. “And he had this funny way of telling stories that made them so interesting.”
Another interesting point made about art deco is that it will never exist again. What art deco is left in this country is all there is. There will never be new art deco.
The movement came, the video explains, when Tulsa was overflowing with oil money. Tulsa’s oil barons built buildings “just to watch them go up,” the building explains. And part of what makes art deco art deco is the craftsmanship, the attention to detail. Builders can’t construct that way now because it is too cost prohibitive. Which is another reason, as the video points out, it’s so important to maintain and utilize what the city still has.
Gone, but Not Forgotten
Tulsa lost much of its art deco during Urban Renewal in the 1960s, when “things built in the teens and ‘20s were considered old, obsolete and not very beautiful,” Frank explained.
“Urban Renewal wanted to replace the old architecture with skyscrapers made of glass and metal and give the city a more modern look.”
Now, Frank said, the trend is to appreciate the past and historical structures. People shake their heads in disbelief at the history lost to demolition (for a look back at some of the art deco Tulsa lost, “The Ones We Lost,” this page).
Frank’s video and other mainstream promotion of art deco and historical architecture have prompted people to make more attempts to preserve what structures Tulsa still has left.
“I didn’t set out to do a video to promote Tulsa, but rather to show the beauty of the buildings,” said Frank. “But as a result, it has helped Tulsa promote itself as a deco haven.”

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