District: Tulsa’s Arts District Becomes One of the City’s Top Destinations | Tulsa World Magazine
It has been a “village”. It was a “belt”. It was a rainbow. It has been a booming city. It is watched over by an artificial cloud, and it is right next to the center of the universe.
It is a place where a king once ruled and encouraged his faithful subjects to dance every week. It is the home of an “old lady” who, for a century, has hosted the best performers, the greatest shows.
And he tried for years to present himself as clever. But he didn’t really reach his full potential until he learned to crawl.
Tulsa’s Arts District has been a lot to a lot of people over the years, but geographically it has always been centered around what is now called Reconciliation Way.
Its westernmost edge includes the place now known as the Tulsa Theater, and it extends north to encompass the Cain Ballroom, which for several years in the 1930s and 1940s was Bob’s home. Wills, the king of western swing. Archer Street serves as the southern boundary, with Living Arts of Tulsa at the corner of Detroit and Reconciliation Way as the eastern outpost.
It is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, with some of its iconic red brick buildings dating back to 1907, and over the past twelve years the neighborhood has been the site of continuous evolution.
And, as with any entity that has been around for a long time, its history has more than a few unsavory aspects, starting with what has been the neighborhood’s namesake for many years.
Reconciliation Way began as Brady Street, named after Wyatt Tate Brady, one of Tulsa’s early businessmen who was one of the city’s founders. In 2013, revelations that Brady had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan led to an effort to rename the street, as well as other places in town that had âBradyâ in their names.
The name was changed in 2013 to “MB Brady St.”, after Civil War-era photographer Matthew Brady, before being officially changed in 2019 to Reconciliation Way. And what used to be the Brady Arts District became the Tulsa Arts District in 2017.
The idea of ââturning this district into an arts district began in earnest in the late 1980s, shortly after real estate developer David Sharp began purchasing a significant number of buildings in the area and leasing them to businesses. , individuals and groups, most of which focused on the arts.
âAt one time, a lot of commercial photographers had their studios here, because of the buildings with these high ceilings,â said Donna Prigmore, who, along with fellow ceramicist Mel Cornshucker, ran Artists Studio at the corner of Reconciliation Way and Boston. . Avenue for 25 years.
Soon, art galleries began to settle in the area, such as the Europa Gallery, Davina’s Fine Photography and the Tulsa Center for Contemporary Art, an ambitious venue that combined a performance space, an art gallery and artist studios in what is now Caz’s Chowhouse and Club Majestic.
However, the challenge was to get the public to visit these places. Attempts were made to name the neighborhood “The Brick Belt”, but at that time the neighborhood still had a bad reputation.
When Sharp purchased its first building (now home to The Tavern restaurant) in the area, its ground floor housed a liquor store that had the dubious distinction of selling more Night Train, a cheap fortified wine, than any other establishment west of the Mississippi. River.
âI closed the store almost as soon as I bought the building and the Night Train distributor came to see me almost crying,â Sharp told Tulsa World. âIt helped a lot to clean up the street. “
But one of the main catalysts that helped earn the Tulsa Arts District name was the inauguration of the First Friday Art Crawl in 2007.
âWhen we started Art Crawl, it was just Donna and Mel’s house, Tulsa Artists’ Coalition Gallery, Tulsa Glassblowing School and Club 209,â said Bob Fleischman, owner of Chrysalis Salon & Spa and President of the Tulsa Arts District. Trade association. âWe also started showing art, even though some were saying, ‘Oh, this is a show, it’s not really art.’
âBut the first big blow came when Living Arts of Tulsa moved in, which drew its supporters to the neighborhood,â he said. âThen when the George Kaiser Family Foundation started to get involved, with the Guthrie Green and the Mathews Warehouse and Tulsa Paper Buildings renovations in Woody Guthrie Center, 108 Contemporary and the like, Art Crawl really took off. “
Fleischman said the involvement of the restaurants and nightclubs that have started to populate the neighborhood has also helped make it a true destination.
The neighborhood is set to become increasingly lively as two major venues are slated to open in 2022 – the Bob Dylan Center, which will be part of the same complex as the Woody Guthrie Center, will house the Nobel Prize-winning singer. the complete archive of the songwriter; while the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture, or OKPOP for short, will showcase the state’s various contributions to the nation’s cultural landscape.
Today, Tulsa’s Arts District is home to some of the city’s most prestigious restaurants, such as Amelia’s, Laffa Medi-Eastern Restaurant and Bar, Prhyme Steakhouse, The Tavern, Sisserou’s and the recently moved The French Hen, as well as the original Coney Island Hot Weiner shop, Mexicali Border Cafe, Elgin Park and Antoinette Baking Company.
âIn the pre-COVID days, it was not unusual for us to have up to 6,000 people in the neighborhood for a first Friday,â Fleischman said. âWe are starting to see more people coming out as the restrictions start to lift. And once the performance venues are back up and running, we’ll start to see more people coming to the area.
Fleischman said only one business in the district – Prairie Brew Pub – closed during the pandemic, but others have moved in, such as Empire Slice, the pizzeria next to Cain’s Ballroom, and The Canopy, an event center.
Prigmore said much of the credit for the district’s success belongs to two men.
âI think the city owes a huge debt of gratitude to David Sharp for everything he has done to preserve these old buildings,â she said. âI fear that a large part of this neighborhood is now parking lots without David Sharp.
âThe other is George Kaiser,â she said. “The Guthrie Green alone has been a huge boost to the region.”
Still, said Prigmore, there’s one thing about all of the advancement in Tulsa’s Arts District that’s bittersweet.
âWhen we started to think about how to develop this area, one of the things that a lot of people wanted was that no new building would have more than four floors, so that it would blend in with it. ‘existing architecture,’ she said. âOf course, that didn’t happen. And I miss that old time a bit, old Tulsa feels like this neighborhood used to have.